Friday, August 14, 2009

Air Travel: Who's In Charge Here?

Oh, this is already shaping up as one of those days.

I'm on assignment in a town in the middle of Nevada where the only Internet connection I could get in my hotel was at 3.30 a.m., I am guessing because of electronic interference last night from the slot machines in the lobby. This is no problem, though, because I went to bed at 8.

That isn't what has me worried as the day dawns. Rather, it's my adventures so far, this day being so, so young, in simply trying to change an airline itinerary to depart from Denver to Tucson today, rather than tomorrow, as I had originally booked.

I fly this morning from deepest Nevada to Denver on a twin-engine prop plane. No problem foreseen there, because if I wanted I could drive the two miles from my hotel to the "airport" and see a plane waiting there in the dust. I have already met the nice gentleman who runs the airport. I have the utmost confidence that I will get from Nevada to Denver on that piston-prop without a hitch.

The problem so far was in asking US Airways, on which I had booked the Denver-Tucson leg of my return trip, to make the change.

Am not sure how big a problem this will turn out to be (it's only 5 a.m. and my travel-day is so young and full of promise!). But so far, I've had reason to ask a question that I think needs to be asked a whole more more often these days, as airlines hand off flights willy-nilly to subcontractors and competitors.

Who the hell is in charge here?

Here's the day so far:

Around 3.30 am, finally able to get online, I checked the US Airways site to see if I could make the simple itinerary change -- today, not tomorrow -- online.,

Nope, you have to call. OK, fair enough.

The lady answers and I can tell she's vexed because I'm on a cellphone with an iffy signal, and it isn't easy for me to understand her inarticulation. Like, she reads off confirmation codes in what she evidently believes is a universal verbal semaphor: "G as in gopher, P as in Paul, M as in monster ..."

My brain doesn't compute that very quickly. "Cannot you hear me, sir?" she asks impatiently. Lamely, my armor and lance still hanging in the closet at this hour, I explain that I am on a cellphone in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, it's decided that the switch will be made, same flight new day. Even though I understood myself to have a fully refundable ticket, she insisted there would be a $150 change fee.

But now she's mumbling something about United Airlines. Wait, I'm dealing with US Airways, right? No, now it seems as if I am dealing instead with a United flight, operated by United Express, which in turn seems to be operated by some other company whose name I didn't quite git, I mean get. And then, inexplicably, she puts me on hold and I listen to an extremely loud series of commercials for US Airways for 10 minutes before I hang up in despair.

I call back, and a somewhat more pleasant woman named Danielle answers (I didn't git, I mean get, the first one's name) -- though Danielle doesn't seem to be especially interested in the fact that I had just received the runaround from a previous agent, who I presumed had gone to breakfast when she became bored with me.

Danielle taps away, always a welcome sound. No, the previous change had not gone through. Aha! I say, but Danielle seems to disapprove of that impertinence. The change is made, though. It's a refundable ticket, as I knew, so it would be an even swap, today for tomorrow. Danielle has done it.

Still, the flight now was to be on United Airlines, operated by United Express, operated by, what was it? Ajax Airlines & Storm Door Company? The confirmation and flight numbers remained the same, she assured me.

Could she e-mail me the confirmation?

"It probably won't get to you before your departure," she said. My departure, at this point, was still more than 12 hours away.

Not at all confident with this, I go back online to check-in, anxious that the hotel connection will be down again. The connection works, but the check-in doesn't. The US Airways site basically tells me to get lost.

"Your are not able to use Web Check-In for this reservation. Please see details below," it says, adding: "Your flight originates on another airline therefore we are unable to check you in. Here's how to fix it: Please proceed to the airport ticket counter of your originating carrier to check in for your flight."

Wait, I think: YOU'RE my originating carrier. Do I go to you or to United at the difficult-to-maneuver Denver airport, on a short turnaround time from my flight from deepest Nevada?

I go to the United site, and after a lot of fiddling around, I see that none of the information I had was correct. The flight number was different, and so was the confirmation number. But hey, at least United had it. I checked in, without being able to print out the boarding pass. But at least I have a seat tonight from Denver to Tucson, on whatever they're calling the plane and the operator.

I hope.


1 comment:

ChefNick said...

Oh, I so feel your pain. If I had my way I'd fly Air Canada, well, everywhere in Canada, but once I leave this airspace it's anyone's guess as to what or who I'm flying.

It might be a shell game -- "Guess who the REAL carrier is today?" -- to avoid responsibility in case of mishaps.

I've been lucky so far, but I feel your pain.