When Customer Service Sucks, It Really Sucks!

Ron's dinner at Libretto in MedillinAt some point during a long-term travel adventure, there is bound to be a snafu somewhere along the way. Included in our itinerary are multiple frequent flier tickets. Being the consummate reader of travel blogs, newsletters, and forums, I prepared mentally for having something go wrong with one of ‘freebie’ tickets during our four-month plus escapade. United was wonderful getting us from Budapest to Toronto without a hitch. Delta came through for us with flights from Montreal to Mexico City.

Fingers crossed, United will get us home from Quito to Budapest, though the itinerary has changed since the original booking. We now fly from Quito to Panama City, Panama City to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Vienna, and finally Vienna to Budapest. For both of us, the total paid was $296, so we cannot complain at all.

Having problems going from Medellin, Colombia to Cuenca, Ecuador was out of my field of vision until I read an e-mail from CheapOair where it stated that LAN Airlines (South American consortium based in Chile) does not have a luggage agreement with TAME Airlines (Ecuadorian). Cold sweats started when I realized we had less than two hours go find our luggage in Bogotá, find TAME to check-in and board our flight to Quito. I was able to get boarding passes for the first leg of the journey, but TAME refused to be helpful.

We went out to dine for our last night in Medellin. Strangely, either many restaurants close on Sundays or they close early, like 4:00 PM early. Just by luck, we decided on Librettos Pizza.

After a month in Colombia, we have tried all the customary dishes multiple times; a pizza sounded great though they do have pastas and meat dishes as well. How many new ways can one find to make pizza? The chefs or cooks at Libretto have reached new heights in imagination.

Their well thought out menu is in Spanish and English. I had a pizza with a Pomodoro base, ham, caramelized bacon and arugula. It may sound ordinary, but what made this stand out is the crust. We have never had a crust like this before. Thin crusts are ordinary, but this was more of a cracker consistency that worked perfectly with the toppings. Sharing a salad, we never finished it all. Zucchini, roasted peppers, eggplant, crimini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes dipped in balsamic vinegar, mesclun, penne pasta, and pesto sauce made us wish we had larger appetites.

Planning on an early night due to a 4:30am taxi, we were home by 6:30pm. Just as I was checking e-mails, at 6:57pm a message arrived from LAN Airlines. Our flight has been ‘rescheduled’. We were due to leave at 7:30am and arranged for a taxi at 4:30am.LAN

This is where the fun started. In the e-mail, they provided a link to reschedule. The link showed a local number for Colombia with the instructions to choose option 4. Each time I called, it was only a recorded message that disconnected when completed. Finally, I decided to try the US number for LAN; they reportedly have 24/7 service.

After painfully explaining what happened, the agent said he would get back to me in an hour with an e-mail due to our not having a phone at which we can be reached. To pass the time, we watched a movie. No e-mail came forth.

With my second call, the agent told me the chances for alternate flights on Monday were slim. They could get us into Quito around midnight, but Cuenca would have to wait for the next morning. As an alternative, they could get us there with less hassle on Tuesday. Opting for that choice, we were given flight times, however, we had to contact our travel agent to have them reissue the tickets.

This did not make sense to me since they are e-tickets. However, they assured me this was mandatory for completion. When I called the travel agent, I was to tell them it was an INVOLUNTARY CHANGE OF FLIGHTS. I rung off with LAN around 8:45pm, but now it was time to call CheapOair to complete my unwanted mission.

As I said, I had anticipated the frequent flier flights, which came dirt-cheap to cause me a problem, but part of the journey came at a high dollar amount. Can I say it is not fair?

Starting at 8:45, I double dipped with CheapOair. I used their live chat and called at the same time. If I was going to be on hold with both, I wanted to double my odds of getting to someone faster. As luck would have it, both agents came live at the same time. I thanked the online agent and spoke to the other.

After telling the man the issue, he seemed kind, suggesting he would look at our booking to see CheapOAir Poor Servicewhat had happened. He asked for a number to call me back if we were disconnected, but I told him this was a Skype call. We did not have a phone here. After 10 minutes of listening to their horrendous music, he returned to say he apologized for the wait, but had to put me on hold again. Feeling like this was close to a resolution, I assured him it was not a problem.

I was wrong. After another 32 minutes (Skype keeps track on the time), the line changed from horrid tunes to a chipper voice asking if I would participate in a customer service survey. When I did not respond, I was disconnected. I think she said “Suck it!” before the service hung up on me.

Another attempt kept me on hold for 14 minutes, ‘as agents were busy helping other customers’. When I gifted with another live person, I went through the entire routine once again. The maddening thing is that each call they want to verify your name, address, phone number, blood type, HIV status, and Astrological sign before commencing to assist. This agent did not pretend to offer any help other than giving me the information that he would have to transfer me to the Change Desk, where they could make the needed changes. Once he transferred the call, the recorded message stated “Thank you for calling. Our office is closed on Sundays. Our normal business hours are…” Click! Disconnected yet again.

Third try, after waiting 21 minutes for an agent to speak to me, he also offered that the only resolution was to transfer me to the Change Desk. I promptly told him about the most recent unpleasant experience, but he insisted they were open. “It is Monday where they are” he said. Based on his accent, I guessed this office was in India where it could very well be Monday. Feeling lucky, like a Google search, I acquiesced. One transferred, “Thank you for calling. Our office is closed on Sundays. Our normal business hours are…” Click! A primal scream erupts from my inner soul.

CheapOairTrying again, for this call I held for 22 minutes before an agent answered. All over again with the verifying information and the problems that needed resolution poured from my lips before being asked. They had me trained like a robotic puppy. I know the commands before prompted. He asks my reservation number again since I spilled it out by rote, he did not catch it. He asked for a number to call me back…same routine, same crappy answer. He asked to put me on hold while he checks into this matter. I was on hold for 43 minutes. When he returned, he assured me the matter was understandable and he would transfer me to the Change Desk. NO!! I screamed, anything but the Change Desk. I explained my anxiety. “Sir, I can assure you the Change Desk is open. We work in the same office. I know for a fact they are open and can assist you.” Demurely, I agree to a transfer. “Thank you for calling. Our office is closed on Sundays. Our normal business hours are…” Click!

By now, it is well past midnight. At 11pm, I sent a message to the condo people to ask if the place was open for another night and to cancel the taxi. They agreed to our additional night and would collect the money by 10am tomorrow. They will cancel the taxi.

Thinking maybe just maybe I would have better luck with the live chat, I tried it again. Within three minutes, Christian was on the line. His name should have been an omen. Just like all the others, he wanted to verify my life history. Thinking ahead, I had it all typed out in a document that could be copied and pasted to save time. I pasted it into the message box.

Christian asked for my billing phone number. Duh! It was provided already, but I sent it again. Minutes passed, which you can see on the live chat, the time stamps, but Christian was MIA. “Hello, are you still there?” I asked. Two minutes later, he wrote “I need your billing phone number.” I sent it a third time, but Christian was either blind or stupid. He asked yet again.

Finally, after another eight-minute delay, he said it was not what they had on file. I replied it is the same number given to the swarm of other agents I have spoken to this evening. Agreeing to disagree, he continued with playing as if he wanted to assist me in my problem. After getting my reservation number for the third time, he typed “Give me a moment” which is script parlance for I am putting you on hold while I go to the bathroom, get a cup of coffee, see what Belinda did over the weekend, and then I will return.

Christian resumed the conversation after a 20 minute wait only to tell me their system does not show any changes, therefore, I must be wrong about the flight being canceled. Mind you, his English was so incredibly poor; I need to dig out my old decoder ring to piece it all together.

Listen Christian or rather look Christian, I have an e-mail from LAN airlines. I am copying and pasting the English part. Sorry, I do not have it in Urdu, Hindi or Klingon, but you will get the gist. Strangely enough, the confirmation from CheapOair changed showing CANCELED in large red letters within my e-mail, though it was the old e-mail. I copied that too, since I could not attach any files.

Like many Christians, this one only believed what his scripting said, so if the system does not show there was a cancellation, then by god, there were no cancellations. That was the end of Christian. He just ignored me after that making it synonymous with a disconnected Click!

It was now 1:00am. Ron kept suggesting I give up until tomorrow; he had and went to bed. My fears were tomorrow would be too late. I did not want to miss getting the seats and I certainly did not want to start over from the beginning.

One more attempt at calling, I had a good feeling about this one. Now at 1:00am, one would not expect a long wait for an agent, but I was on hold for 18 minutes before someone answered. Rather than start with the verifying information they needed, my tactic was to appeal to their heart by telling them I been trying to resolve this since my college graduation, but to no avail.

Assured once again that this was going to be resolved, I did not fall into that trap of believing once again. The proof is in the ticketing, Buster. Show me the tickets, damn you! Back on hold, this time for 49 minutes. During all of this hold time, I was able to multitask. I had read all of USAToday and almost completed the NYTimes online. Had I known this is what the night was going to be like, I could have done the NYTimes Sunday crossword puzzle from all of 2015 to current, but hindsight is 20/20.

Just as Skype showed my online time at 49 minutes, “Thank you for calling. Our office is closed on Sundays. Our normal business hours are…” Click!

That did it. By this time I did not care if we had to establish residency here, I went to bed. It was then after 2:00am.

Agitation kept me tossing and turning, so by 6:30 I was up and showered, waiting patiently for all offices to open at 9am.

I do not even need to put the CheapOair number into Skype now. I open Skype and it dials it automatically. It took 19 minutes to reach the first agent. I explained I needed the Change Desk and why. Perhaps my voice pattern had been distributed to the entire office by now with the sign “If you hear this voice, pass him to someone else as soon as you can.” He said he would transfer me and asked that I be patient. My patience lasted 24 minutes before someone from the Change Desk answered, but at least they were open.

The young woman took my information and asked to put me on hold. By now, this is like being put in a dark room you need to escape from, but bear traps cover the floor. You gotta do it, but you are not going to like it. Forty-two minutes later, she returned to tell me she was waiting for the airline to confirm the changes. Holding, holding, holding, 23 minutes more, she returned to tell me it was all completed. I should have e-mails from both the airline and CheapOair confirming it. No seats assignments, but they can only do this at the airport.

While we were speaking, both e-mails appeared in my Inbox. I was so grateful; I could have hugged her if I could.

Unlike Republicans, I am not going to blame Barack Obama for this mishap.

Hours of time wasted, but we will get to Cuenca.

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI. We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.