Monday, March 2, 2009

Adventures in Air Travel

Have you ever gotten to the airport to catch a flight and been told they don't have you registered as on a flight? That was me, yesterday. I was in Minneapolis, sitting in on a preached retreat for men, and was headed to Los Angeles, where I am looking at film schools for the next couple weeks. And when I got to the airport at 2pm, having no bags to check and the flight at 2:50, the computer terminals wouldn't let me check in. And the attendant, coming over, at first started to process my ticket, but then told me wait, it appeared that I didn't have a seat on any plane. Then it was that I had had a flight, but according to their records a number of exchanges had occurred, and now I didn't have a flight. Then it was that no, I did have a flight, but it was from Laguardia to Los Angeles, not from Minneapolis. Which was pretty much the same as not having a flight. And they couldn't help me, because I'd bought the ticket through Orbitz, so I'd need to call them.

Orbitz: ten minutes on hold without speaking to anyone. Then, I tried another number: spoke to someone right away, who then put me on hold to get someone more advanced to help me. 25 minutes on hold, never spoke to anyone. At some point I got my computer out and tried to Skype Northwest Airlines while I waited on hold with Orbitz. 7 minutes in, I spoke to a very nice agent. She saw my record, couldn't understand why I had been refused the 2:50 flight, and was set to advocate for me. I hung up on Orbitz. But after she put me on hold to get help, the line cut out. I tried calling back immediately and was told, I kid you not, our lines are too busy, we can't take your call. The same when I tried it again.

All told I sat on the floor of the airport, just waiting to talk to someone who could explain to me what was going on, for about an hour. My flight came and went. And I went back to the Northwest agents at the airport, looking for help.

Now, two little insights I'm taking with me from the whole experience. First, getting all stressed and panicked doesn't really help. I missed my flight; but in the big scheme of things, so what? No one was sitting at LAX wondering where the heck I was. Eventually things were probably going to work out. It was just an unexpected interruption -- which is usually how not only airport travel but God works. So, why not consider it as an adventure? (It's the grace of the Chinese con artist. In BeiJing, Chinese men and women wander the streets looking for Anglos to fool into giving up their money. Within days of my arrival I ended up with this guy who said he was a Buddhist very interested in Christianity, shelling out dough at a "tea service". The whole thing was a scam, the guy had been leading me on all along to get me to overpay big time for the tea. When I realized what was happening, part of me wanted to be upset. But hey, because I went with it I got to hang out with this guy and also witness a tea service of sorts. They might have been fooling me, but it was a great experience, too, so who cares?)

So, that's lesson #1: interruptions make life more interesting.

Lesson #2: Being on hold is an astonishing experience of powerlessness. What can you do? You can't talk them into taking your call faster. You can't hang up and call back -- or you can, but maybe you lose your place in line. You have absolutely no power at all. Even having multiple phones is not likely to do you any good. All you can do is sit there and listen to Pachelbel's Canon in D cutting in and out, interrupted by a recording that you hope each time is actually a service agent coming to help you.
If you've never been on hold for 25 minutes, I really recommend it. It's not hanging on the cross, mind you, but it sure does give you a sense of your own limitedness. Really, it's brutal.

1 comment:

jm said...

Jim! Don't leave us hanging! Are you still in the airport? How did it all end?