June 12, 2013

Travel 101: A Remedial Course…

When using a “budget” travel site- in this case-Orbitz-it seems like a good idea. Even after you pay over $3000 for two sets of tickets. Even after you get your head around flying on Brussels Airlines to get back to the US. Even after you change your seats for the Nice to Brussels to Dulles, Washington DC leg.

It’s all good and then the day before the flight, you naturally check in to get boarding passes-not possible by the way on international flights. You have to check in in person so your passport can be verified. And therein lies the rub.

When I checked our confirmation, my last name was gone and my husband’s middle name was missing. We called United (our carrier for San Francisco to Edinburgh) and, after holding for a few minutes, were told we had to work through Orbitz. Okay. We contacted Orbitz who then called United and we were put on hold. An hour and 15 minutes into the Brandenburg Concerto, the friendly, frequently unintelligible young woman from Orbitz had United on the line and they changed out names. Whew!

Not so fast.

The United rep said that the return trip would have to be changed by Brussels Airlines. Another round of the Brandenburg and 42 minutes later we were speaking to the Brussels rep. Yes she could add Mike’s middle name. No, she couldn’t add my last name (the same as my husband’s). Her suggestion? Rebook the flight from Nice. Great idea except it was $3700 one way. I’ll spare you the fruitless attempts to get refunds–a waste of breath, 30 more minutes, and the development of a distinct loathing for the Brandenburg concerto.

A call to the helpful and sympathetic folks at my travel insurance company netted a bargain $2100 fair from Nice to Dulles. (Full disclosure: there was-is- an $809 fair through Istanbul, takes 39 hours and requires a 19 hour layover in a city where citizens are currently rioting against the government. No thanks.) The customer care lady also suggested calling the airlines directly and asking for a supervisor, which we promptly did. This time the man at Brussels Airlines looked at our itinerary and said that the tickets had been issued on United stock (whatever that means) and that United could change the names. Of course it was after business hours by then so my husband decided to call Orbitz first thing in the morning: 4:30 AM our time; 6:30 Central where the office is located.

So we left Redding at 7:08 PM a mere eight and a half hours after our planned departure. We arrived at our park and ride motel around midnight and lay in bed vibrating with anxiety until exhaustion overtook us and we finally slept. For four hours.

Round Two: simultaneous calls to Orbitz and United, both put us on hold. After about 20 minutes of dueling Brandenburg and Muzak, Orbitz picked up. On hearing our sad tale, the representative called United (ah, Brandenburg Concerto, I missed your dulcet tones for those few moments and then you were baaaack). What followed was an absurd conversation between the articulate Orbitz rep and two different United representatives. The second one stated unequivocally that United could not change our names and PS my husband’s name was still missing the middle. This rep couldn’t hear us so everything had to be said to the Orbitz lady and then repeated to the United rep. Mike then asked for a supervisor and got a phone number.

You guessed it. On hold with the BC…. I decided to take a shower and not just because I didn’t want Mike to hear whimpering and swearing. The latest United employee looked up our tickets and said our names (all six of them) were on all our tickets. Mike claims he asked him 3 times about the Nice to Dulles tickets (I would’ve probably asked ten times).

So what happened? Was there a magic interface between two different systems or just an update/correction? I was skeptical; Mike was hungry. He went to breakfast and I logged onto to Orbitz where Mike’s password didn’t work and Brussels Airlines which was down. Got through to Orbitz and they sent me an itinerary which looked exactly like yesterday’s-the one that started this quest. Simultaneously hyperventilating and logging onto to United’s site, I saw For the First Time all of our flights and with the RIGHT NAMES. I also noticed that we have a different confirmation number for our Brussels flights. Ah ha! Maybe.

I still don’t know if everything is okay and whether we will be able to board the plane in Nice on July 5th. Mike, who is more optimistic under stress than I am on my best day, is sanguine. I will keep checking various sites and may relax if I see consistently the right names. In the meantime I’m keeping score.

First there’s the fact that the flight I’m currently on left SFO 29 minutes late, cutting into our time in Newark. Not that I want to be in Newark but I would like to make the flight to Edinburgh. Second, the woman waiting next to me in the terminal engaged in stress eating, polishing off a personal pizza, what looked like a delicious homemade hoagie, a bag of mixed nuts, a bag of trail mix, and a Gatorade. When she started eying my red vines I prepared to body block her. Luckily we were finally allowed to board. Third my sojourn to the lavatory coincided with a duck and roll by the plane and let’s just say it’s hard to relax when gripping the side bar next to the toilet while the captain urges us all to put on our seat-belts. Finally, there’s the matter of the family/chick flick/slightly suspenseful film that folks flying East in United economy will be subjected to until June 15. When the inevitable end inevitably happened I sniffled and then cried. Not because it was good but because I was exhausted and perched on the edge of reason from…everything.

So I’m keeping score. If the tickets are really okay, I’m prepared to let go of plane delays, scary eating exhibits, manipulative movies, and bathroom challenges. If….