Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Don't Miss Your Flight

My husband and I bought airline tickets to California months ago to attend the 50th wedding anniversary party of my beloved older cousin and his wife.  They were like parents to me through college, with my having chosen to go to college 3,000 miles away from home.  They essentially adopted me.  For years, I spent nearly every weekend with them waterskiing, shopping, going to the theatre, doing chores around the house, and watching soaps -- whatever there was to be done.  I simply loved them and loved spending time with them.  

Ten years ago, I moved to the East Coast, and I haven't seen them since.  So when my husband and I received an invitation to the party, we immediately purchased tickets.  The timing was perfect, actually, as I had just received a special "companion ticket" on Delta.  All we had to do is pay one full fare, and the second ticket was only $99.  

Let me abbreviate the story of all the problems I had booking that ticket.  When I booked it, a Delta agent told me that I would receive an e-mail within 24 hours confirming my purchase.  Day 1, 24 hours:  Delta called me to tell me they hadn't ticketed me because they "didn't have" the voucher number of the companion ticket.  I gave them the number for the second or third time, and the very polite agent told me I would receive a confirmatory e-mail within 24 hours. Day 2, 48 hours:  No confirmatory e-mail.  Day 3, 72 hours:  I called Delta to inquire as to the status of my ticket.  A very nice woman, who I am guessing was somewhere in South Asia, told me my ticket had been cancelled.  She attempted to book me at a price that was $300 more than my original booking.  I asked to speak with her supervisor, as this mix up was Delta's fault.  She kindly informed me that there was no supervisor on duty, and I would have to call back the next day.  Day 4, 96 hours:  No confirmatory e-mail.  I phoned Delta the next morning and was told again that I had no ticket.  This time, the ticket has risen by $400 above my original booking, and my original flights were no longer available.  Again I asked to speak with a supervisor.  After putting me on hold, the agent told me that her supervisor had authorized her to overbook the flight and ticket my husband and me on the original flights at the original price.  Day 5, 120 hours:  I received my confirmatory e-mail.  Even though I still had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, I only faintly believed that something would still go wrong with the flight.  

My husband and I missed our flight.  Let's chalk it up to New York City traffic.  It wasn't the first (and I'm certain it will not be the last) flight I missed sitting in the back of a cab in hopeless gridlock.  This time, I was actually in the passenger's seat of our Volvo, but the circumstances were fundamentally the same.

I called Delta from the car, and they advised me to try to stand by on the next flight.  That sounded reasonable and very much like the routine drill when one misses a flight.  I was slightly nervous about it, but it was Friday afternoon, and we were not expected at the party in California for 24 hours.  Nevertheless, my nervousness was amplified a bit because my relatives had asked me to perform a recommitment ceremony in front of all the guests.  I was thrilled, delighted, honored at this request.

When we got to the airport, there was an enormous line of people, who like my husband and I, had problems.  The Delta hall was full of frantic, ill-fated passengers bound for Atlanta and Germany and points beyond.  We struck up a conversation with a young man behind us who was on his way to Oregon to a family party.  Like us, he missed his flight on account of traffic.  Delta told him it would cost him $900 to be put on the next flight.  We assured him that Delta was mistaken.

During our two-hour ordeal at the Delta ticket counter, we were confronted with Delta's new policy.  There is no longer "stand by."  In other words, if you miss a flight, you cannot try to grab and empty seat on the next flight free of charge.  You must be rebooked, and a seat must actually exist.  You can't depend on taking the seat of someone who doesn't show up.  You can't even get past security.  If they rebook you for a flight on the same day, it will cost you $50 per ticket, or an extra hundred for my husband and me.  Unfortunately, there were no coach seats.  I pleaded my case.  I sobbed.  I told them about the recommitment ceremony.  At least one agent, Mr. James Hopkins, felt very sorry for us.  He did everything he could for us.  His kindness helped to blunt the sting of the earlier agent we'd worked with, Ophelia, who laughed in our faces when she told us there were eight first class seats available on the next flight, and she could rebook us at a cost of $2200 -- plus $100 rebooking service charge per ticket.

Mr. Hopkins tried to get us on flights out of other airports and to other airports.  He picked up the phone again and again to fight our cause.  In the end, the best Delta could offer us was for us to pay $2000 extra to fly on the first flight the next morning.  But Mr. Hopkins told us to keep hope alive.  He advised us to go home and get on the phone and try to talk Delta into helping us out.  My husband did try.  Like Mr. Hopkins, he was tenacious but fruitless.  

We missed the anniversary party.   We missed seeing beloved family and friends gathered in one place to celebrate a beautiful union and years and years of happiness that I was fortunate to be a part of.  I cried for days.  I cried during the party that I wasn't a part of.  I cried after.  I made desperate calls to my sister and brother to find out what happened.  Any tidbit of information.  Was I missed?  Did they realize I tried my best?

It still hurts, and I think it will for a very long time.