Thursday, January 7, 2010

before I even get on the plane

Yesterday afternoon, Orbitz tells me my flight this afternoon from Chicago to Hartford is canceled. I've never heard of anyone canceling a flight on 24 hours' notice. And why didn't United email me? They have my address, they sent me mail about online checkin and other stuff for this flight.

I called United. This was really my only mistake in the process. I talked to a very polite, mostly intelligible woman in Southeast Asia, whose language skills were fine but whose comprehension was dim. She didn't see that the flight was canceled. Then, in another screen, she did. She couldn't seem to understand that I didn't care how I got from San Francisco to Hartford, as long as it happened by the end of today. Eventually she seemed to say she'd reserved a spot for me on a 7:55am itinerary (instead of my 8:47am), and I just needed to show up in person at the counter and get the ticket changed.

That rang wrong for me (really? she couldn't actually change the ticket herself?) and since ticket agents can be either busy or nonexistent in the mornings, I drove to SFO to make sure things were sorted out. There, I encountered a very polite young man who tried to help me, but fixated on my having said "The woman on the phone said she did...", as though the woman on the phone were reliable. No!, I said. She could easily be crazy! I trust you. Forget I ever mentioned the woman on the phone, and let's work with the options we have right in front of us, yes?

(He, also, could not initially see the flight was canceled. But there it was, in the other screen.)

He summoned a more senior agent, a middle-aged Asian woman. She, too, could not initially see that the flight was canceled, and then fixated on what the woman on the phone might have done. With the calm, patient demeanor that comes with years of experience, she was every bit as befuddled and useless as her younger co-worker.

Finally she seemed to understand that I would like to re-book my itinerary. (My stating "I would like to re-book my itinerary" didn't get through the first five times.) She said, "Okay, there's a flight leaving at 10 tonight. You want it?" My watch says 7:15, I'm not quite packed, I'm 20 minutes from home, I have no reasonable way to get to the airport.


Another 5-10 minutes to re-book the flight. The clock runs down. I call a couple of friends to ask for a ride, race home, pack, jump in the car...zoom through baggage check and security in 15 minutes, and arrive at the gate an hour before the 40-minute boarding period starts.

Beats spending a night or two stranded in Chicago.

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