Friday, June 5, 2015

Online Terrors

Dear George,
My sixtieth Menominee High School reunion is coming up in July.  When I got the invitation, I had mixed feelings.  I’ve enjoyed my past reunions, but I always get anxious about big social events.  Mostly I worry about leaving Katja home alone with our aging sheepdogs.  They have trouble getting up off the floor or climbing the stairs, and they can't get into the bed at all.  The dogs weigh eighty pounds apiece, and I'm the heavy lifter in the household.  Katja, though, says she would do fine taking care of them, and she encouraged me to go.  When our friends Bob and Lois invited me to stay with them, that was the clincher. 

Katja looked over my shoulder as I was making airline reservations on the computer.  "You really enjoy doing this," she commented.  "No, I definitely don’t," I replied, "it makes me nervous.”  I was searching for the best flight from Cincinnati to Green Bay on the Odysseus travel website (pseudonym).  Our computer is so antiquated that it seemed to take forever, and the server crashed twice in the middle of my mission, requiring that I start over from the beginning.  Gargantua Airlines (also a pseudonym) offered the best options.  I found a convenient departing flight at about 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon and a return flight from Green Bay at 5 p.m. on Sunday.  Odysseus said I could save a lot of money by booking my flight and a rental car together, so I checked that out.  A car rental combined with my flight would be an additional $253.  That seemed sort of high so I checked the price for just renting a car all by itself.  The four-day price was $82.  I vaguely wondered if Odysseus was gouging its customers.   In any case, I made one reservation for a flight, a separate reservation for a car rental, bought a travel insurance policy, and paid with it all by credit card.  Pleased with myself for being such a well-organized and astute decision-maker, I looked over the confirmation report that Odysseus provided.  The flight plan I’d purchased came as a complete shock.  Much to my horror, I discovered that they listed me as departing from Green Bay at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday morning (rather than 5 p.m.).  I couldn’t imagine how that happened.  6:45 a.m. was impossible.  It meant I would have to get up in Menominee at 3:30 a.m. and be on the road by 4:00.  There was no way.   

In a state of panic, I rushed to the den to get the Yellow Pages and found an 800 number for Gargantua Airlines.  After an agonizing ten-minute wait because "all our agents are busy with other customers," I reached a pleasant woman named Shirley and told her that a terrible mistake had occurred.  Explaining what had happened, I said I'd made the reservation only thirty minutes ago and hoped that she could help me to fix the problem.  I added that I had purchased travel insurance just in case.  Shirley said that she would be more than happy to help and that there would be a $230 fee for a reservation change.  My heart sunk.  I repeated, "It was only 30 minutes ago.  I don't even know how this happened.  I didn’t do this.  This was not the flight I chose."  Shirley explained that, if I had bought my ticket directly from Gargantua Airlines, they would be able to change my reservation without any fee.  But since I had purchased it through Odysseus, she would have to charge $230.  She said I could try contacting Odysseus and see if they could do anything.  She gave me their 800 number.  She suggested that I might want to buy my tickets directly from Gargantua in the future.  I thanked her and said I definitely would.  

All of the agents at Odysseus were very busy with other customers, but I listened to their telephone music and eventually got connected to a friendly fellow named Sanjit.  I think he might have been located in India. Between my imperfect hearing and Sanjit's thick accent, we had some difficulty communicating.  I explained what had happened to me and also that I had travel insurance. After a few questions, Sanjit said that Odysseus would allow me to cancel my reservation.  I was overjoyed.  He put me on hold while he completed the process.  Once he was done, Sanjit encouraged me to check my itinerary more carefully before I made another reservation.  He was very fatherly, and I promised him that I would be more careful next time.  In truth, I thought I’d been careful the first time. 

Traumatized by my experience with Odysseus, I went to the CheapTravel website to make a new reservation.  They listed the same Gargantua flights, but now they cost a hundred dollars more than Odysseus had charged.  I didn't care.  I felt I'd just saved $230, so I was still coming out ahead.  I scheduled the flights I had originally planned to and from Green Bay.  I read the itinerary aloud five times before I clicked the "Book Now" and "Pay Now" buttons.  I’m pretty sure I got it right.  I did get a voice mail the next day from CheapTravel to inform me that there had been a change to my return flight schedule.  I’m not positive what the change was, but that’s o.k.  If I get marooned in Minneapolis, I’m sure my travel insurance will cover any hazards.  Wish me luck.

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