5 May - 26 July 2000
Through out the entire time, ever since May 8th, we have been fighting, i should say FIGHTING with our airline trying to get our, "easy to book" open ended ticket booked for a seat back home.
It started with a few phone calls to the various offices of the airline, and a friendly visit to the Budapest office. They all refered us to another office and said that they did not think they could book the ticket for us. Generally they were friendly, but completly unable to help. Each office treated us like we didn't understand them, despite the fact that we had been working on this problem for quite some time.
This ment that during our entire Eastern European swing we were constantly trying to figure out how to make an international phone call to one country or another -- researching phone numbers and phone cards and international rates. And when we did get on the phone, we would have exchanges like this one: (talking to the Frankfurt office because the Warsaw office told us they couldn't help us and we should try Frankfurt (who we had already spoken to!):
Cheryln explained our problem and told him we were in northern Poland. Instead of responding to our problem he said, "Why don't you talk to the office in Warsaw, instead of paying international rates?" Of course we were paying international rates to have this blockhead explain this to us instead of helping!!
So we kept calling one office and being referred to yet another, this went on for WEEKS. And we were rather frustrated because time was getting short and we were being told that we did not have a valid ticket -- despite the fact that we had it in our hands. If we could not book a seat by August 8th we would loose our ticket and the $1000 bucks we spent on it!!
Then it got ugly. We finally decided that we were going to have to talk to the main office in Toronto -- as some of the branches had suggested. However, it is very difficult to call a 1-800 (free) number in North America, from Europe. In fact, up until just a couple of years ago it was IMPOSSIBLE. It is now possible, but costs $0.75 per minute! Of course, at this juncture the airline decided to redesign their website, and it was not working for several days while we were trying to find the number to call in Toronto. We finally called the Frankfurt office and got the (non 800) number in Torongo.
Now we just had to figure out how to pay for it. European pay phones operate with pre purchaced cards -- which is great if you live there, and not terrible if you are just passing through and need to make a couple of short calls -- but very difficult for calls of undetermined length. We didn't know how much the call was going to cost, it could last 2 minutes, or it could last 40. So should we buy a single $5 phone card and have it expire before they could help us? Or should we buy $50 worth of phone cards and be stuck with $45 unused that we couldn't do anything with. Post Offices in Europe have always had booths where you could make long distance calls and pay afterwards, but unfortunatly, in the massive privitazation of anything that moves in Eastern Europe, the American companies that have bought the Posts have abolished the cabanas. We wasted a week or so looking for a cabana in 3 countries.
But then we got lucky -- we were at an Internet Club in Riga Latvia that had an internet phone program and a lightning fast connection. It cost the same to surf the web, do email or use the phone to call North American (only). This was exactly what we needed and it made it, essentially, free.
So we called Toronto. Cheryln talked to the agent for a long time, about 20 minutes, but we were told that we did not exist -- that we did not have a ticket. She essentially accused us of lying. We were amazed that they could not look us up in the computer with anything written on the ticket, our names, flight dates, anythign. The snotty agent even eventually stopped talking to us and just sat on the phone wishing we would go away! I went back to the hostel, got more information from our backpacks and returned to call a second time. (Cheryln was, understandably, not really interested in doing the talking this time.) I talked to a second person for about 20 minutes with the same rude result.
This was very depressing. We walked back to the hostel (it was very late at night, due to the time differece.) not knowing what we would do. We were worried that the ticket would expire and we would be out $1000! To make matters worse, a very good friend in London was offering us a room to stay in for a month or two! A month in London is something i have wanted for years! And the opportunity to decompress, relax and digest the trip, and perhaps write about it, was so lucrative, that the thought of LETTING the ticket expire occured to us. Of course we did not have the money to go to London.
But we KNEW we had a ticket, we held it in our hands -- and it cost a TON! Spending almost every day trying to figure out who and how to call next was driving us batty! So in desperation, i decided to phone the travel agent in California who sold it to me. (Should have thought of that long ago!)
But again we were faced with the problem of calling an 800 number from Europe! To make matters worse, we were in Finland where in the interests of competition, there are now half a dozen different kinds of payphones in each city (and different ones in different cities!) each with it's own phonecard that only works in that phone! It is a nightmare. Finally we decided to do something we would not normally do. The phones take credit cards. Normally an intelleget person would not stick their credit card in a phone, but we were desperate.
So we stayed up until 1am and called, only to get a message that they were closed on July 4th. We had COMPLETELY forgotten that it was a holiday!!! (Do a Homerlike forehead slap here!)
However the follwing day in the follwing city we DID talk to them, it cost a ton, and the manager we were eventually switched to was not helpful -- and he kept saying, "Oh, you just need to talk to the airline." and "I don't think we sell that kind of ticket anymore." But our friend Jennhx had called for us the day before, and he finally put two and two together and in the last 30 seconds before our $25 limit ran out, i got his email address.
This proved very useful, and after several nice emails to him i remembered something that a year in Europe had made me forget. To get anything done in the US, you have to YELL at someone. (I was amused, and very pleased that when i mentioned in an email that we were having trouble, SIX people emailed me and offered to yell at someone for me!) So i wrote a very forceful letter and poof! The agent got us put into the airline's computer system! Wow, after only 2.5 months of trying! (Why weren't we in there before? We wanted to know, but that explains why they said we did not have a ticket!)
"Now", the agent said in his email, "all you have to do is call the airline and book a seat." But of course now there were only 3 weeks left before the tickets expired and all the seats were booked. As soon as we spoke to them they said, "You should have booked a month or two ago!" This was very annoying.
There was nothing left. Our friendly travel agent told us via email that he could set up us on a waiting list for a standby flight in 7 days. Strangely enough, every time we had checked on flights (without discussing our ticket details), the only seats left were in 7 to 10 days -- nothing else for the rest of the summer. This happened EVERY TIME we called! These ONLY seats kept moving, first May 15, then May 25, then June 1, June 12, June 24, July 1, July 8, July 11, July 24 and finally July 30.
Well, we tried working with several different offices in several different cities -- even going out of our way 6 or 8 hours each direction on a train to visit the Copenhagen office and there we FINALLY found someone who would work with us. She was not very nice, but she was helpful. Unfortunatly all she could offer was a VERY roundabout ticket with 5 flights and an overnight in an airport on a date that was only a week away when we were three countries away froIt was the FIRST time anyone had offered us a seat! m the airport (and our storage suitcase was in a different city from the airport!)! We were very unhappy, but we booked it, of course.
She also told us some interesting things. She told us that the ticket we had could easily have the routing changed -- something the agent had told us from the start was impossible. She asked why there was not a tentitive date set on the ticket and said that the seats could not be booked with out it. When i told her that the agent told us that they could not book a tentitive date because the ticket would not be open ended and it there would be a 100% fee to change it. She laughed and showed us the compter which said there was a waivable $125 fee for any changes. She said that even if the airport was busy that day they would waive the fee.
We walked away from the office in a terrible mood talking about how we we SHOULD be happy at this point, we finally got a seat. But we weren't. We dropped everything, cancelled plans and abandoned a couple of friends and headed towards the city with the airport...
But before we left town i stopped at the Royal Library in Copenhage to check email and i spent an hour carefully, but angryly, writing a very severe letter to the travel agent, detailing what the airlines had offered us and what the airlines said the agent had done wrong AND telling him how flexible we were and what we expected.
I was very stressed for the next two or three days while visiting our Danish friend because i felt i had been so mean and unfair to the agent.
The next time i checked email the travel agent was happily offering to extend our ticket and book us on an (almost) direct flight out of London on September 14th. I never knew i was so good at nasty letter writing, but when i look at it, it does all the right things -- it explains the problem, mentions what he has done RIGHT, but details the mistakes his agency made, and why i think it is his fault and it tells him what i want. If you want to read it, i have posted it for your enjoyment.
We said yes, of course!!! I think he was surprised, that i accepted. He must have picked up on me talking about how flexible we were (and a hint i dropped about London) and suggested something that was easy for him but that he thought we would hate. We were thrilled -- i had been wanting him to extend the ticket as a solution for quite some time, but i guess i had been sutbtle, not direct, in that suggestion.
We emailed Justin. He was perfectly happy to have us stay for a few weeks. We are very indebted to him, can you believe how generous he is being?!? We, again, feel extremely lucky.
So we are now saying an tearful goodbye to our beloved "hometown" of Bonn, and at the end of this week will travel to London where we will move in with Justin for 5 weeks, do his dishes, paint his house and relax.
We are set to arrive at SeaTac September 14th at 8:50pm on Air
Canada flight #697 (from London via Toronto). We are very
happy about the opportunity we have and we are very much
looking forward to going home!
© Copyright Mark Canizaro 2000
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