Great Expectations

As I mentioned in an earlier post, managing logistics is a major component of the ex-pat teacher lifestyle (or maybe it’s just me LOL). We move around so much, and each move is SO of full of variables we are always juggling Plan A, Plan B, Plan WTF, Plan Oh Shit….I can imagine that travel agents, shipping companies, car rental companies and hotels all must hate us, since we always have multiple bookings at the same time for multiple Plans. We’re probably the reason ‘non-refundable’ deposits came into being.

About 3 months ago, I had to start making my plans for how I was going to take my stuff away from Burkina this June. There are several options available, but each one has its issues. And not just cost…the cheapest way is, of course, to send it by sea freight in a container. But that takes up to 3-5 months to arrive, and you MUST be at the receiving end to collect your stuff, but by then I’ll be in the DR. And I can’t just ship the stuff to the DR: one of the strange constraints of that country is that they advise against bringing goods there by container; tariffs are too high and the system is so corrupt you might end up paying thousands and thousands in ‘hidden fees’.

So I needed a way to get my stuff to Maine when I was there, so I could put it in storage and take the minimum with me to DR.

Sea freight was out, but bringing it as excess baggage was a possibility (and my favorite way, as everything gets off the plane with you). But there was the real possibility I’d have a couple of things that were too large for excess baggage. Like this really great buffet table I bought here, and a really cool sun mask that’s about a meter across.

Another option was Air Freight, but it would require a second visit to the airport to clear customs, and then again I might sell off the large things and not need to do it that way. I just didn’t know yet. But my school here wanted to book my summer plane tickets postehaste.

With these various strategies, I had to book my plane ticket in a manner that left as many options open to me as possible. I spoke to my travel agency (who I won’t name, but they are a serious headache. When I had a Business Class flight to South Africa rescheduled by the airline, they didn’t even rebook me in Business class and ended up keeping that money, and charging me for the FREE rebooking!). Anyway, I had my travel agency book me on flights from Ouagadougou to Paris, through Atlanta to Maine. Just in case I was bringing a bunch of excess bags, I had them book me with the longest layover times to ensure I could be sure my stuff made the connections (when I flew from DRC to Maine, I had 26 excess cases!) The result was that I had 8 hours in Paris, 7 hours in Atlanta, and got into Maine at 11:35 pm. No worries…all options were open and I don’t mind long layovers.

Now, in the ensuing two months, I’ve decided to keep the buffet table and mask, and now I know that I’ll definitely be using air freight. That narrows my logistics, but I figured I can live with the layover times in my flight schedule. Besides, my travel agent said the flights were non-changeable anyway, unless I wanted to pay about $500 in fees. No way.

BUT, about two weeks ago, the airline sent me a message saying the flight from ATL-PWM was leaving 25 minutes later. No worries, right? Unfortunately, that got me into PWM at midnight instead of 11:35, and the car rental agencies close at 12:30. So the likelihood existed that I would not be able to get my rental car, and I’d be stranded at PWM, sleeping on a bench until the car rentals open at 6am.

Then it would get weird. I’d have to collect my car early the next morning, drive 90 minutes up to my friend Mark’s house, swap the rental for a pickup truck, drive the 90 minutes back to the airport. Collect my air freight, drive the 90 minutes back to Mark’s place, put my stuff in storage (which closes at 8pm). Then the very next morning after that, start an all-day drive down to Virginia for a tech conference. No, it really worked better to get the rental car the day I arrived in PWM and drive up to Mark’s that night.

So I figured I appeal to the airlines and tell them that if the ATL-PWM flight had been scheduled to arrive that late in the beginning, I never would have booked it, and would they just move me to an earlier ATL-PWM flight, since this was all their fault.

So I called, got a friendly guy named Greg who researched flights for me. There was an earlier nonstop ATL-PWM flight leaving at 3pm, but my CDG flight only landed at 2PM and I would not clear customs in time. But he did find a flight that connected through Detroit that would work, leaving ATL around 5pm and getting me to PWM at 10:30. So I told him if it was a free rebooking, then go ahead and do it.

He went offline for a minute and checked with his manager, and (probably because of the all the bad press airlines have been getting lately) he said sure, they’d redo that flight for me for free. But he had to manually change my ticket to a fare class that allowed rebooking, and would I mind waiting a minute? No worries, I’ll wait. Five minutes on hold beats six hours on a bench at PWM any day.

Then he came back online, said he’d changed my fare class and was connecting me to a booking agent who would complete the transition. I thanked him, and he sent me off to Christine.

Christine mentioned that no info had come with the forwarded call, and what did I wish to do? I explained that Greg was moving me to an ATL-DET-PWM flight so I could get to Maine in time to get my rental car, and she started looking at flights. Then I asked her “Hey, can we just change my CDG flight to get me to ATL earlier so I can catch the earlier flight?” She said “Sure, you’re holding a totally rebookable fare, let’s just do that!”

She ended up trimming time off my CDG layover, getting me to ATL in time for the 3PM flight and getting me on a nonstop ATL-PWM flight, arriving at 7:10PM!

Then I asked “Hey, are you able to look into the price to upgrade me to Premium Economy?” She said “Sure, let me just check the fare!”

The OUA-CDG flight had no Premium Economy seats, but she got me Premium cabin from CGD to ATL, and ATL to PWM…all for only $109US.

So at the end of the day, I got a very affordable upgrade, better flights, shorter layover, and I get back to Maine in time to see my friends before they all go off to bed. With no rebooking fees, and no hassles.

And I had her take my travel agent’s contact info off of my account.

NOW, if you are still reading this, you may be asking yourself “What’s the big deal? He got his flight changed. So?”

Let me spell it out for you. More often than not, when you travel a bunch like I do with several plans on the table, the options start to naturally divide themselves into two piles….the ‘horrible’ options, and the ‘choice’ options. And usually, one totally best Choice option comes to the surface as the variables start to strip away. And more often than not, it all hinges on ONE key person (who usually doesn’t even know how key they are) who shuts the door on you. And you end up with one of the Horrible options, having to drag 5 oversized suitcases through JFK, or having to spend the night on a bench somewhere, or having to put in a 23 hour day doing something, or paying an extra thousand dollars for a rental car, or something….just because this one person would not yield.

So in this case, what is so fantastic and what prompted this overlong blog post was that this great guy, Greg, at Delta made the decision to change my ticket class to a ‘changeable’  class. That alone opened all the doors to a very simple and totally elegant solution.

If he had said (what was totally available to him to say): “Sorry, Mr Buck, but your ticket is non-changeable. Sorry about your later arrival, but it’s only 25 minutes, so if you want to make any changes it will cost you $500.

And I’d have refused…just not worth that much…and ended up crammed in the back of a Delta/AF flight for hours, fuming away. And spending HOURS at two airports, watching flight after flight that would have been great for me taking off. And then arriving in PWM in time to collect my bags, totally jet lagged and ragged out, and finding a bench in the closed airport and trying to sleep for a few hours. Then putting in a 15 hour day shuffling stuff back and forth… get the gist. And hating the airlines, my life, logistics, and that stupid brief glimpse at daylight the whole time,

So that’s what this is all about. That ever-so-thin barrier between getting home feeling great and refreshed, and having some airport policeman drag you off the plane by your arms.

Yeah, life is funny sometimes. It’s probably good to notice.



2 responses to “Great Expectations

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