Around 7am, an hour after we were supposed to have taken off, Megan and I walk over to the U.S. Airways gate in Concourse B with a new spring in our step. Carrie, the American Airlines Customer Service Representative, or Mouthful of Syllables, had reserved seats for us on a flight out of Charlotte.
Christmas is coming after all this year.
We waited for over an hour as Donna, a Customer Irritation Specialist (CIS), attempted to find the ticket that Carrie just transferred. Apparently, a confirmation number, such as D02N67, meant zilch. Apparently, all that the number confirmed was a phone conversation with Carrie. “Tickets” have to manually be “moved over” in the airport from the old carrier to the new carrier. Then why do we have computers, cell phones, and software to expedite this process?
Using a walkie talkie, a couple of telephones, and another CIS, Donna finally tracked down or transferred or created our new tickets in the system and moved our virtual bodies onto a virtual plane. Loading our physical bags onto a physical plane was another ordeal entirely.
At first, American Airlines couldn’t locate them. We handed Donna our baggage claim stickers and told her our names about six times.
“Church and Ashburn.”
“No, Ash-burn. Ash starting with an ‘a.’ Like the tree.”
“Do you see a bag for Ashby?”
“No, Ashburn! A – S – H – B – U – R – N. Ash-burn.”
“Lou, scratch that. The name on the bag is Ashburn. No, not Ashby. Ashburn. With an ‘a.’ You don’t see it? You’ll have to look? Alright. Well, call me back. I need those bags.”
Geez, what a circus. Next, I expected to see a bear ride by on a beach ball.
Having our bags brought over was similar to potty training a child: lots of sugary sweet cooing and promises of rewards; stern faces and finger shaking; false threats and an ultimate powerlessness to make the child, or baggage carriers, do anything.
After over an hour of waiting, only two of our bags were brought over.
Donna informed us that she was heartbroken, just sick to her stomach, that she couldn’t let us on the flight without all our bags. U.S. Airways had given us suckers, and as soon as we got the cellophane off, they took them back.
Though Donna was sincere and her Southern femininity would permit nothing more than being pierced to the heart for not being able to help two darling little honeymooners, I still put my face in my hands and Megan still scratched my back, in an attempt to console me.
“I know how much you hate inefficient systems.”
Yes, I do feel a piquant loathing for bloated corporations with elaborate systems designed to defer responsibility and a warped veneer of a customer service policy, consisting of frowns, shrugged shoulders, and lots of adverbs like “very,” “so,” and “really” to convey the extreme depth of their empathy for the discomfort of your situation, which they have caused.
Thank you. May we also have some paper cuts and lemon juice?
Perhaps no one is to blame, not the faulty fuel valve, not American Airlines, not Donna, not the guys out on the tarmac looking for a duffel bag belonging to “Meegan Mashburt.” I tried to force myself into this charitable attitude as we retraced our route from an hour before.
Back at the American gate, we explained the latest development to the CIS, and she told us about a relevant paragraph in the international travel regulations.
Donna must have been reading Us Weekly and overlooked the part about international travelers being permitted to fly without their luggage in the event of a carrier switch. Their bags just can’t fly without them. If Megan and I had missed the flight, every one else on the plane would have exhaled loudly and rolled their eyes at one another as the pilot explained that they had to unload our bags. If my rump is in my seat, however, my bags can follow me to my final destination and go through customs without me.
Did you get that, Donna? You could have let us on that flight. Thanks for your confectionary niceness. Thanks for your apologies. They both really meant a lot.
“Insidious” is a better word than “insincere” for describing certain “I’m sorrys”—for example, those said after both U.S. Airways and American realized that two honeymooners had traded six hours on the beach for stained carpet and expensive airport food. We could have still been snoozing in a soft bed at The Hermitage Hotel or eating gourmet bacon underneath a vaulted ceiling with chubby angels shooting arrows at lovers, but Donna told us that she was transferring our ticket back over to American Airlines.
I was ready for blood, which meant that I allowed the faintest tinge of frustration and anger to color my tone while I maintained a cool composure. I was also packing a trusty weapon at my hip: “If you can’t do something about this situation, I’d like to speak with someone who can.” But I knew that whoever was responsible for the morning’s mishaps, that person was not this CIS, and besides, you never get the best service and you rarely get the desired outcome by raising your voice, losing your temper, and belittling the person behind the desk. You do get the best service by quietly sharing your feelings and politely asking for what you want. Mentioning that it’s your honeymoon never hurts.
Megan and I were the very last people in the original line, so the CIS must have been feeling relieved. She upgraded us to First Class on both flights, though we still missed our 12:20pm connection to Providenciales, which meant another two hours in the Nashville airport and a six-hour layover in Miami.
At 9:45am, a man’s voice came over the PA to tell us that a mechanic was looking at the plane and the reason it was taking so long was that he had never fixed this particular problem before.
Was sharing this particular detail really a good idea? The customer service manual must not explain the difference between honesty and candor and their effects on hearers. I doubt that he read the following guidelines for our situation:
“After the passengers have gotten up at 4am to make the flight, have been told by the captain to board the plane, have been told by the captain to get off the plane, have tried in vain to be placed on other flights, have sat in the terminal for four hours, and have drunk cocktails of anger, frustration, and fatigue, be sure to communicate the inexperience of the person fixing the plane and let them draw their own conclusions about a mechanical failure while their bodies hang thousands of feet above the earth.”
Thank you, sir, for the boost of confidence in your airline. When you say, “It was a pleasure serving you today,” I say, “The pleasure’s all mine.”
The good news is that we didn’t die.
To be continued…