Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Service of Someone at the Other End of the Line

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Vintage telephone operator

In the middle of Tuesday’s snowstorm, while we were crawling in traffic, I listened to a friend call a hotel restaurant–our destination. She wanted to say we might be late. She also wanted to ask which entrance we should take as there were several. [One of us had recently recovered from a broken ankle which sported a pin. She wasn’t in the mood for a hospital reprise from a misstep in slush/ice/snow.] After as many as 25 rings she ended in voicemail, left the message and asked that someone return the call to inform her about the entrance. Nobody called.

On phone in snowShe next tried the hotel switchboard—where the operator answered the entrance question—and after many more rings, still nobody picked up. On our arrival–the room was almost empty due to the weather–my friend asked the hostess if there was a phone at her station and recounted her experience. “Someone picks up downstairs,” the hostess replied, noting that yes, there also was a phone at her station.

After this the service was perfect.

Delta takeoffMy friend was due to leave the city Tuesday evening but her flight was cancelled. This well-travelled Elite Service member called me the next morning to tell me of an astonishing thing that just happened when she called Delta Airlines to gauge her chances for her Wednesday afternoon flight. A computer voice welcomed her by name, apologized that the airline had to cancel her Tuesday flight and asked her to push a letter on her phone if she wanted to speak with someone. She did, expecting to wait ages when almost immediately a live person asked her, again by name, how she might help her.

Even though when we spoke** she still didn’t know whether or not the afternoon flight would go—all Wednesday morning and night flights had already been cancelled—this 30 year Elite Service member was brimming with delight that it had been so easy for her to reach a live voice, at an airline no less, under these stressful [for them after a storm with so many cancelled flights] circumstances! “It was a first,” she said. **She was scheduled to depart on the afternoon flight when we spoke again just before takeoff.

Hooray for Delta! What a difference an easily accessible caring voice can make. Wonder why more businesses don’t realize this [especially one, like the hotel restaurant, that’s already paying for two people to answer a phone and nobody does]?

Children playing telephone 1

Service of Tourist Symbols: Eiffel Tower, Tower of London, Lincoln Memorial, Grand Canyon & Statue of Liberty

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

 Statue of Liberty

You know you’re in Paris, London, Washington DC, Colorado or New York when you see the Eiffel Tower, Tower of London, Lincoln Memorial, Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty.

“I’m really here!” I say to myself or to anyone who’ll listen and feel a thrill as I approach such sights. But many landmarks and parks haven’t been open to tourists here. Imagine traveling from 50 to thousands of miles only to learn that you can’t get in.

Grand Canyon National ParkAs of Sunday, the Governors of NY, Colorado and other states have opened their landmarks as much for financial as symbolic reasons. Businesses around the sights are suffering losses. [I heard one newscaster say that the Feds will reimburse the states for costs involved when the Federal purse reopens, but haven’t heard this repeated.] Cost to New York to open the Statue of Liberty: $61,000+ a day.

Visitors to the Washington memorials still aren’t able to visit. The West Point band didn’t play in the Columbus Day Parade this year. Note: The debt crisis didn’t affect the Congressional health club which remains open.

Are our symbols as essential as some of the services we’re missing because elected officials  on both side of the aisle have lost sight of their missions? Clearly not.

Yet I am appalled that so many of our proud symbols have been dismissed, disrespected and ill-treated by our leaders, men and women who seemingly won’t budge from their fierce positions for fear of diluting their own political images.

What do these closures say about this country to foreigners? The outcome of political inaction/gridlock is more than embarrassing and discouraging and symbolic of a system that’s gone off track. Is the damage repairable?

Closed door

Service of Con Jobs: Pedicabs join list of scammers NYC tourists should avoid

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Con game

One of the foreign students I mentor—I’ll call her Daphne–shared her experience with me because she doesn’t want anyone else to fall for what happened to her. Read on and you’ll see she’s far from alone.

This young juggler with multiple internships in a graduate program was late for class. She was stranded three avenues and 19 blocks from where she had to be, in a part of NYC far from the subway, at a time there were no free taxis. A pedicab came along and she jumped in. In her country, pedicabs are cheap.

pedicab 1Arriving at school—having heard a song and dance throughout the ride about how the driver wished he could afford to go to the college she was attending [and where he was driving her]—she asked what she owed. His reply: $125. She questioned this [!] and he handed her a rate card that noted he charged $3/block; $4 an avenue, 20 percent sales tax along with some mumbo jumbo. “I was too shocked to do the math plus he had a calculator so I figured he was right,” said Daphne. After negotiation he gave her “a discount” and she paid $108.

On her return home that night after class she called the Consumer Affairs office—she shared his name and other information in his email as she’d paid by credit card and he’d sent her an electronic receipt.

How muchShe learned that he didn’t have a pedicab license and wasn’t authorized to drive one or pick up passengers. She was advised to tell her bank to cancel the charge but the bank clerk explained that because she signed off on the charge, he couldn’t do that. However, if she could present a letter of complaint written by Consumer Affairs about this driver and her experience she could file a claim which the bank would consider. [Someone suggested that she say that she had signed nothing. This lie was out of the question she said.]

Lessons learned: Always ask the price or for a rate card and before entering a pedicab in NYC, ask to see a NYC pedicab license and as of this week, a timer.

Mark SimoneIt could have been worse. On the Fourth of July talk show host Mark Simone [photo right] on WOR Radio reported that a pedicab charged $425 to a group of four. A website, commuteronline.com, noted more precisely that the amount was $442.54. Simone said that the driver falsely signed a document to get his license. He claimed that he had not received prior summonses when in fact there had been six. Simone declared that pedicabs should be forbidden in the city as they cause traffic tangles and the drivers are unscrupulous.

On July 5 WMAC Northeast Public Radio covered “How to Spend $442 on a 15-Minute Cab Ride.” Quoting a pedicab driver and president of the industry association, Laramie Flick about this incident: “Before the ride, [the driver] told them it was a dollar a block. After the ride, he told them it was a dollar a block, yes, but it was $100 minimum per person. Then he asked them for a tip.” The “them” were the passengers. The website commuteronline.com noted that doormen at major NYC hotels report trying to help frantic passengers who were similarly fleeced.

Pedicab 3Mayor Bloomberg signed a law at the end of last year in which pedicab drivers must charge by the minute and the timer must be in clear view. This is what Daphne wanted people to know. Nevertheless, according to commuteronline.com, the city isn’t bending over backwards to support the victims.

However WMAC noted: “New York City does not want tourists to leave town feeling like they got hosed by a pedicab driver. So the city worked with Flick and the pedicab drivers to come up with new rules, which are set to take effect next week. The drivers can still choose their own rates. But those rates have to be posted clearly, and they have to apply to all customers. Per minute. No matter what.”

According to Findlaw.com: “The pedicab driver shall provide passengers with a receipt  listing the amount of the charge for the use of the pedicab, the license number of the pedicab business and a telephone number of such business to which complaints by consumers shall be directed, the pedicab driver’s  license number  and  the  telephone number at the department where complaints by consumers can be reported.”

Eons ago I visited Daphne’s country. We’d spent too much on taxis so we opted for a pedicab on a route we knew. Like Daphne we didn’t ask the price but figured it had to be less than the taxi fare. When we arrived the driver charged precisely what the taxis had! We noted this but in the end, not wanting to be the ugly American, we paid.

When you’re overcharged in a foreign country, what do you do? What has your pedicab experience been anywhere in the world? Are you infuriated and ashamed as I am that these NYC conmen target young people like Daphne and countless tourists with such a scam?

 Tourists in NYC

Service of Travel II

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Airport Trave

It’s vacation travel time again—three friends are leaving for trips this week.

I’ve covered the topic in countless ways: About a friend’s nightmare–literally spending the night at an airport when her flight was cancelled in “Service of Travel” and in “Service of Gagging Customers,” about the aftermath of the Costa Concordia accident. There was “Service of Good Samaritans,” about railroad travel and an amazing, caring conductor; “Service of Tourism,” about Portland, Maine that does a stupendous job and more.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Wait a Minute or 20

Customer service nowA colleague was on hold for 22 minutes Friday in response to an urgent message left by her airline about her return flight three days later. The recorded wait message repeated incessantly “we will be right with you” instead of a truthful “There are 40 people ahead of you,” or “Your wait will be approximately 20 minutes.”

Once there was a live voice she asked the customer service staffer why she’d been bumped and was told “I don’t know” and was then given an option for her return flight of the day after her original flight.

Could the airline run smoothly if its operators and crew showed up a day late for their jobs? And what if, for this phone call, she wasn’t on a landline or with access to electrical outlets but on the street or on a bus with a mobile phone that needed a charge?

All Aboard

Railroad tracksArthur and Pauline Frommer are my companions on Sundays as their weekly radio travel program coincides with house and garden work and errand time. I looked up Arthur’s early May blog post “Americans Were Recently Made Aware of How Much We Spend on Air Transportation As Compared With How Little We Spend on Rail Transportation,” because I couldn’t forget what he’d said.

As a result of reports about the Sequester’s affect on air travel, he figured out that air traffic controllers cost the Federal Government $13 billion a year, “And that’s only a fraction of the much larger amount spent each year by the federal government on air transportation,” he wrote. He continued: “By contrast, we spend about 1 billion dollars a year subsidizing Amtrak.”

He reported that he’s reprimanded every time he suggests the government subsidize railroads with comments such as: “How horrendous!” and “How incredible to suggest that the federal government should dig into its pockets for rail transportation. How anti-American! How anti-free-enterprise!”

He wrote that he responds, “Absent from their arguments is any mention of the infinitely greater sums the federal government spends on highways and vehicular traffic, and on airports and aviation.”

CNN.com corroborated Frommer’s figures and identified the fact that many are choosing the railroad.  “In fiscal year 2012, Amtrak was approved to receive an operating subsidy of $466 million. The remainder of government help for capital improvements and debt service was estimated at $950 million,” according to CNN.

“Nearly 90 percent of the rail service’s ridership since 1997 has been on trips under 400 miles. Along with a 55 percent jump in passengers, it generated a positive operating surplus of $47 million in 2011, according to a new report released by the Brookings Institution.”

Ruining It For Others

PinnocchioIn “Service of Reviews,” in a previous post, I wrote about the self-serving, fraudulent kind, a subject also inspired by Arthur and Pauline Frommer.

In a recent program they mentioned yet another executive caught red-handed. I found, on line, the complete story in the article “TripAdvisor reviewer exposed as hotel executive: A senior executive at one of the world’s largest hotel groups has admitted breaching TripAdvisor’s rules by posting dozens of glowing reviews about the firm’s properties,” by Oliver Smith in The Telegraph.

Smith reported that Kwikchex–that he described as an “online reputation management firm”–identified the reviewer and his true stripes. TripAdvisor rules, wrote Smith, state that reviews “‘written by ownership or management; including past employees or anyone associated with/related to employees of the property in question’ will not be permitted. It adds that ‘individuals affiliated with a property may not review other properties of the same type (accommodation, restaurant, or attraction) within the same city or town, or within 10 miles of that property.’”

The executive admitted he’d written the reviews explaining that he’d visited and graded each property, had given high ones to competitors and hadn’t always been complimentary about his own. Smith quoted why the executive chose to use a pseudonym: “Because I cover such a wide range of travel experiences, it would not be appropriate to review them as a company representative….. However, it is fair to say that my professional position should have been mentioned in any reviews of hotels.”

Shop Early and Often

Booking airline tkts on line“Attention All Passengers: The Airlines’ Dangerous Descent—And How To Reclaim Our Skies,” a book published last year by a well regarded travel journalist, William J. McGee, opens eyes on a range of topics.

The disclosure that Arthur Frommer landed on in his blog is worth sharing. He wrote McGee “is claiming that numerous airlines have begun collecting data on their passengers and would-be passengers–their previous purchases, the extent of their cost-conscious attitudes, their race, income and gender, whether they make impulse purchases or else ‘shop around’–and then tailoring the prices offered to them according to those personal characteristics. Two passengers requesting the same flight at the same time are quoted different prices on the airlines’ websites!”

In Pauline Frommer’s interview with McGee it was clear that you get the best price if you don’t buy the first time you visit an airline website. Keep checking at different times.

Unrelated to this interview, Pauline Frommer has frequently advised callers planning to travel with others not to book all the tickets at once because you’ll pay more for each ticket than if you book one at a time.

Do you have tips—and/or positive/negative airline customer service experiences–to share? Do you believe online customer reviews? Should the government increase its railroad subsidies?

Modern railroad station

 

 

 

Service of Unintended Consequences

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Transparent backpack

One business will get a jolt as a result of the Boston Marathon bombings because it appears that backpacks won’t be allowed at future ones there or in NYC either. Not every one of the some 45,000 runners who finish the NY Marathon depends on them but enough do. Add the smaller events here and elsewhere and the numbers add up. Fanny packs are allowed and will take their place. Perhaps transparent backpacks will eventually be allowed.

pickpocketThe increased incidence of pickpocketing in Europe will fatten the wallets of manufacturers of money belts and other contrivances to keep tourist cash and credit cards safe. Pilfering got so bad at the Louvre that guards went on strike. Security felt that the Paris police were too easy on the children who perpetrated countless daily thefts. [Why children? They get into the museum free.] On a recent “Travel Show,” Arthur Frommer noted that Paris isn’t the only European city to report record theft and suggested his listeners take care.

Airline limits on luggage have impacted that industry and orthopedic surgeon and audiologist waiting rooms flourish from the fashion for platform heels and ear pods on portable music devices.

Matchlighting candleHave you scrambled for matches to light candles on your dinner table or to add calming fragrance to the atmosphere? So few restaurants use matches to promote their businesses.

Finger nails are out for Android and iPhone users who expect to type on screens. Look around: There are fewer claws than in the past.The technique for those who use voice-to-text systems harkens back to the dark ages when executives had secretaries and typing pools. They chatted into Dictaphones with letter or memo copy and secretaries typed what they heard. As in days of yore, you can also ask your phone to add a comma and a period. There was no wink symbol then.

BicylesNew Yorkers are split about what to expect from the 10,000 cycles in the bicycle share program again about to launch: Increased lines in ERs perhaps? I’d written about the initiative last summer in “Service of Exercise” when we first expected it and haven’t changed my mind: Thumbs down and I’d like to be wrong.

I saw an able-bodied 50-something man walking briskly across Third Avenue at 43rd Street last week. Suddenly he fell flat on his back. He hadn’t seen a deep hole surrounding a manhole cover and lost his balance and his footing. We’re putting thousands of bicycles on these unsound streets?

New York drivers are unforgiving and rushed. If you’re crossing where they want to go—what’s a green light?–there’s a 70-30 chance they’ll stop. Maybe the unintended consequence the Mayor anticipates is a more cordial driving attitude. That would be nice.

Do you have examples of good and bad unintended consequences or some that are yet to be determined?

 courteous taxi

 

Service of Transitions

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Paris Poster

I’ve mentioned previously the advice a colleague gives her hotel clients: Welcome and encourage all travelers, not just the business guest who, while exiting the airport, checks in through a smartphone application [app] to learn his/her room number and doesn’t need a porter or any reception services. Remember the traditional traveler who wants to check in with a person: You need them both.

GrandHotelRomeI thought of her warning–no doubt she knew of hotels that forgot their tech-deprived clients when eliminating jobs and/or services–when a friend described his frustrating experience reading a printed travel magazine from a major publisher. It was designed to be read on a tablet or smartphone and was almost useless as a printed document.

Information in the cover story about Rome, such as the address or phone number of a featured shop, hotel, restaurant or tourist attraction, was nowhere on the printed pages or in the back where editors sometimes tuck such information.

By comparison, last week’s New York Magazine listed an address and phone number for every one of hundreds of entries in its “Best of New York 2013” issue covering countless categories. Now that’s a keeper.

Trevi FountainBack to the travel magazine: Its print edition has lost its way. It’s no longer of service to its readers and in so doing may soon divert most of them to the competition.

To find an address or phone number you have to be at a computer to type in each email address–such as palazzoesposizioni.it. Try getting that one right the first time from the italicized 8-point type. I got it wrong—left out one of the z’s–which is easy to do as most of the addresses are long and, for many of the readers, in a foreign language. Then what? Where do you write the address? There’s no room on the printed pages.

My friend wrote, “What a waste of money—I can’t be the only reader who feels cheated.”

Saving the article as-is for a trip file is out of the question. Who would subscribe or pay $5 for another newsstand copy?

Why, when companies jump on the latest bandwagon in search of new customers, do they so often forget about at least half of everyone else? Even the slickest and once smartest can be embarrassingly clumsy in making a transition or adding technology. Have you noticed similar examples in these or in different industries?

Change

 

Service of Did You Get the Message?

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Megaphone

With all the technology at our fingertips, I wonder how well we have learned to effectively communicate, absorb and act on information, especially in giant organizations and companies.

Oh what a tangled web we weave….

TenTripTktI buy a 10-trip web ticket on the Internet—have been doing so for years.  When I handed mine to the conductor, she said, “It’s expired.” I said, “I just got it in the mail!” She pointed to a date on the ticket which must have been the date the ticket was processed. She took it as the date the ticket expires. I explained the situation and convincingly as she didn’t make me pay, but the confrontation was heated and I didn’t like all the fuss.

The next conductor punched my ticket without a word so I asked him what the deal was and he said that scads of tickets were mailed with the distribution rather than the expiration date and not to worry about it—the conductors all received a directive about the glitch.

ConductorPunchingTktThe ticket-collecting conductor for my third ride on the web ticket had not read the directive as I had to again explain the situation, with pairs of rider’s eyes staring at me suspiciously from behind Kindles and newspapers as I argued for my cause.

So it got me to ponder how, when you run something as big as Metro-North and there’s a mistake like this one, a company gets out the word effectively.

Metro-North has the email addresses of all the web ticket buyers. Why not send a copy of the directive to carry in our wallets at minimal cost in time and none in out of pocket.

Sticker shock

CarRegisinWindowI thought of this when a friend told me about the letter she received from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. It explained that the department “has identified a defect in the registration documents supplied by our vendor that has prevented the printing of most registrations and window stickers that were ordered starting January 1.”

The letter went on to say that her registration is processed and everything is in order and if kept in the vehicle, the letter should serve as proof should she need to show it to law enforcement officials. Further, all police agencies and courts were notified.

Since then, she got the sticker. In the interim, this friend, who lives in Westchester, had received no summons for an expired registration.

The police and traffic staff in NYC have an easier time checking registration dates on parked cars in city streets to fulfill their ticket quota and I wonder: Did they all get and retain the message? Recipients of the letter wouldn’t put it in their car windows because both name and address are clearly typed in a bigger font than the body of the letter. My parents, parked on a city street, once got a ticket for being one day overdue.

Drug test

PharmacyI renewed a prescription on the phone via press one press two, punch in your Rx number, for an ordinary drug from a store that asks you for the date and time you expect to pick up your order. When I got there an hour or two after the time I’d noted, the pharmacy attendant said that the meds were on back order and asked if I could return the next day. The next day I got a call to tell me my prescription was waiting for me.

To save me a fruitless trip, shouldn’t they have also called to tell me when it wasn’t?

Are my expectations too high? Do you have examples where someone didn’t get the message and instances of a company or organization communicating them flawlessly, where everyone involved heard and remembered?

ShorttallBasketballPlayers

Service of New York City

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

blanchebdy2012-0051

I love a lot of places around the world and have an affinity for cities. I was born and grew up in New York yet I don’t think I take it for granted.

I like hearing foreign languages when I walk down the street or enter a concert hall. I love cityscapes from office or residential windows. And for an exercise-lazy person like me, this is the perfect place because I race around and walk miles without noticing it. There’s so much going on to distract me in the street and in shop windows that it’s as easy to exercise as to sip a milkshake.

Here are a few more things about New York that I like especially:

Crazy good ideas such as the setup–photo above–that I happened by  last week, between 5th and 6th Avenues, a block from Rockefeller Center. I don’t know if the man on the stool charges for sips. The sink contraption is connected to a fire hydrant–he’s leaning on it. He thought of filling a bowl with water for dogs as well.

nyny-vuillardsmall3We get museum exhibits that feature favorite artists such as Edouard Vuillard. Advertised in the subway, it’s easy to stay abreast and not miss any.

 

 

nyny-breadssmall1I adore bread. As a child, tasty bread in this city was nonexistent. You had to go abroad for toothsome options.  Now we have so many delicious types it’s manna heaven.

 

 

 

nyny-bagels-small1Bagels are a favorite–poppy or plain–toasted with butter, sigh. There’s a bagel for every taste. This is the variety in one store.

 

 

 

nyny-pizzasmall199 cent pizza made by a Sikh [whom you don’t see because he’s behind the exiting customers]. We took out Mexican food for years from a place where the cooks and owners were Chinese.

 

 

 

Most people love the place they are from or where they now live. What do you like best about where you are or were born?

lovewhereyoulive

Service of Exercise

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

 morebikelane-003small1

I am concerned about the mid-July rollout of a bicycle share program in New York City because I predict that there will be gory, even fatal accidents all over the place. If only the bike share program focused on less-traveled areas, but it doesn’t.

In preparation, bicycle lanes have cropped up all over the city. I pass one on my way to work every morning [photo above]. The setup in this spot can be scary enough for cars and it cries out for accidents without adding bicycles to the flow. Not only do some bikes ignore their marked lane, riding in and out of the space designated for cars, cabs can be parked to let off passengers to the left of the bike lane, [left as the traffic goes], and still other vehicles come in from the street to the left where there is only a stop sign. Pedestrians know that not all drivers interpret that sign as they should–do bike riders from out of town know this?

morebikelaneuse3Routinely, taxis, vans and speed demons skid and weave through traffic, accelerating with less than half a block of empty space, even on rain-slick roads, showing concern for neither pedestrians nor other drivers. Why will they suddenly become gentlemen and gentlewomen behind their wheels simply because there are potentially 10,000 rental bikes sharing their streets?

There’s little room for indecision in NYC traffic and my guess is that visitors from bike-riding countries, who might jump at the chance to use them, may not be sure of where they are going. Result: Bang, crash!

pedicabApart from messengers and pedicabs, New York City doesn’t have a bike culture although I have a friend who rides everywhere on his. Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch spoke about the failed bike lanes during his administration. On a radio interview last week he said that after they languished pretty much unused, he gave citizens a month to show him they wanted the lanes and when not enough did, he cancelled the program.

The difference is that now people will be able to rent the bikes where in the day, there wasn’t a convenient citywide rental program with 600 locations. Bikes take up a lot of space in people’s often compact apartments and there are fire laws that don’t permit bikes  to be parked in apartment hallways.

bikerhelmetThere are arguments pro and con regarding the benefits/necessity of bike helmets and the city program won’t require them anyway. Safety aside, who, apart from bike owners, would have a helmet handy? Tourists wouldn’t think of packing theirs. The thought of renting a helmet [with cooties] is not appetizing.

Bike riding is healthy sport–good for the heart–though maybe, given the exhaust in big cities, not so great for the lungs. What do you think of the bicycle share program? Will people figure out how to steal them by using fake ID? Will pedestrians be at risk? Will there be lawsuits when riders fall and claim their bike was broken?

bikeaccident

Service of Travel

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

family-travel

As some airlines are reported to squeeze more money out of infrequent flyers and those who book later rather than sooner, I thought that Catherine C’s recent experience was an especially fitting one to share on the eve of Memorial Day weekend.

According to recent airline shenanigans, frequent travelers flying coach on these airlines are given first dibs for window and aisle seats. Standard travelers who don’t reserve early can ensure that they will sit next to family, friends and colleagues by forking over $25 each way. So you had planned to travel with your bride/groom, grandma or the kids? Such folly! Be prepared to say “See you when we land.”

Catherine C has written several guest posts on this blog such as “Service of Pets” and “Service at the High End.” The recent harrowing travel experience she shares was caused by weather.

flyingbadweatherWeather is an inevitable factor for all in the travel business. Yet there were so many ways that the airline and airport might have turned the inconvenience of storms into far less of a stressful nightmare for Catherine and countless others, as she describes:

I had a horror story of a flying experience recently.  Talk about lack of service.

I was coming home from a business trip to Florida, flying to Newark on US Airways via Charlotte.  We were warned, on takeoff, that there would be bad weather en route to Charlotte.  In fact, when we got near, we were forced to circle. 

Because we still couldn’t land, we diverted to Greenville-Spartanburg for fuel. Once there, we were seventh in line and waited a long time.  Eventually, it was our turn but lightning strikes forced another halt. 

When we finally took off–just short of three hours on the ground–it was past the time I should’ve been in Newark. I can’t say the pilot kept us updated as often as would have been nice. The airline did actually give us each two little cookies and didn’t charge. 

When we finally landed in Charlotte, we were not told that the rest of the flight had been cancelled. We were just herded off the plane. We may have been the last flight to land. 

Someone handed me a card with two phone numbers: One to call to rebook and a second to order a discounted hotel room. “Good luck,” he said.  “I doubt you’ll find a room.” 

I was able to use my mobile phone to rebook but nevertheless had to go to the desk to get the ticket issued. There were two agents: a man and a woman.  Fortunately, I got the man.  The woman was quite nasty.  Two colleagues who were with me-I’ll call them G. and L.–got stuck with her.  The best the agent could do for me was an 11:30 flight the next morning.  I wasn’t happy, but at least the seat was in first class.

I later realized that he wasn’t doing me a favor. One of my colleagues was lucky and was booked two flights earlier than mine and one was booked on the flight after that. 

sleepingairport1By now it was around 2:00 am.  It took some 30 minutes working our iPads and iPhones to find out there was no room at the inn and we’d be sitting up all night at the airport.  There had been so many cancellations and we were so late getting in, we didn’t stand a chance.

So we made “camp,”  but here was no place to sleep.  We were forbidden the gate areas, which left the cold concourse with noisy cleaning crews.  Nothing was open, so there was no food. 

Cockroaches came up out of the planters onto the floor in waves, forcing us to get our bags and gear off the floor.  It was 5:00 am before anything opened. Thank goodness for Starbucks, which was first. 

At 5:30 the US Airways Club opened. One of my colleagues is a member and got us in as guests.  The woman at the desk didn’t look happy, and grudgingly helped get two of us on the standby list for earlier flights to Newark.  We were 20th and 21st, I think. 

In the club there was food, newspapers, nice bathrooms, comfy chairs, TV – civilization.  When the early flight rolled around, we all went to the gate.  G. was ticketed and L. got on standby. Both of them fly US Airways frequently. I once did and was in its frequent flyer program, but not for years.  So I didn’t get on the first or next flight either. 

I went to the gate for the 11:30 flight and checked in with the agent.  Giving her my ticket I said, “Tell me I am definitely on this flight.” “No,” she said, “It says you went standby on that last flight.” I told her they never called my name and before leaving the gate I asked whether they were done calling standbys, which they were. 

“How can you do this to me?” I asked her, explaining what the last 12 hours had been like. I didn’t raise my voice; I just looked as exhausted as I was.  I’ll add that I was well dressed, which may have helped.  She didn’t say anything but clicked away for ages and finally handed me a new ticket for the same first class seat.  When the next passenger came to the desk, I overheard that she and I both had been rebooked to the next flight: a commuter flight in another terminal. 

So, the storms were not the airline’s fault and there was no obligation on its part.  But:

1) Why did the airline provide so little information along the way? 

2) Why did one of the gate agents have to be so bloody nasty? 

angrycaller3) Why, in situations like this, is there no provision for people who have to remain in the airport?  No place to rest, eat, warm up? Why can’t the airlines keep their clubs open? 

4) How can they play the kinds of games they do with ticketing?  You have a confirmed ticket but bump you without telling you so as to give the seat to someone they value more than you? 

Ironically, one of the presenters at the conference I just attended had worked at Virgin America, which aims to be the antidote to legacy airlines. I thought quite a bit about that while going through this experience. I think I may give it a try.

What else might the airline and airport have done in such an instance? Have you similar experiences to share? Have you noticed improvements in air travel?

line-at-airport

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