Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

When your travel agent changes your itinerary for a profit

Photo Credit: Damir Bosnjak

Originally published as “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” on on September 21, 2008.

As usual, the words come once I depart, and I’ve departed, and the words are coming. I haven’t written a true blog entry since my last journey out of the country, back in November 2007, and as I sit on Virgin Atlantic Flight 68 to London’s Heathrow Airport, eyes singed from an inconsistent 4 hour sleep, not sure if I was too hot or too cold. My face was cold, my chest was sweating, and my legs had goosebumps. It was really, really confusing. I always considered humans warm-blooded creatures, but I felt like a reptile for the last few hours. But I digress. I almost did not make the flight, why? Because I tend to never learn that if my parents recommend someone to get me a “deal”, it never works out the way I want, and sometimes, spending a few extra bucks up-front is worth saving high blood pressure in the end.

And I was also trapped with a full bladder, unable to find a way past the lady who wouldn’t have woken up if a piece of overhead luggage fell on her face. Finally when my kidneys were screaming for mercy I had to climb over her, which wasn’t an easy task. My yoga is paying off though.

It felt like a terribly-timed joke when the person at the check-in counter at JFK told me there was no record of me flying on the printed itinerary I had in my hand. This itinerary was given to me by a travel agent at St. “Mark” Travel. I’ve changed the saint’s name for anonymity purposes (and yes, naming your business after a saint is pretty common among us Coptic folk). The agency accepted payment and booked my flight for me. Must’ve been some mistake, I thought, between e-ticketing or something of that nature. I was directed to the ticket counter, which believe it or not, is a separate department. The agent at the ticket counter told me that I was not booked on this flight but after about 15 minutes of phone calls and green-screen searches she discovers that I was booked for a flight that left yesterday.

How could that be? My itinerary, confirmation number with the airline, all pointed to my flight being today. This didn’t make any sense. Until some new information surfaced…

The Virgin Atlantic agent discovered something very interesting. Apparently 2 days after I booked and paid for this ticket, someone at the travel agency actually cancelled my ticket, and re-booked me on a different itinerary and a return flight to a different city than what I had booked! They also let me know that there was a significant price difference, and that the money was refunded to the travel agency.

Of course, one could say that after years of practical jokes I’ve played on loved ones, that this was the ultimate payback. I was kinda hoping Ashton Kutcher would run out from behind the lady in red and let me know how punk’d I truly was.

However, that didn’t happen.

I do not hold St. Mark himself, nor do I hold any patron saint of a travel agency personally responsible.

So what were my options? Pay the 200 dollar change fee to get on this flight, and pay the full price of the return ticket to fly to Boston from the city I was now flying back to? I don’t think I had a choice because “your ticket has a restriction, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Deep breaths. About to call the travel agent…

”Paul, you’re a consultant”, I thought to myself, “you can totally be professional and get answers without getting flustered.”

When I told her what happened, she said “Oh yea? Your ticket is different than what we booked? Why did that happen?”

“I’m not sure why it happened, I was hoping you could tell me”

After 20 minutes on the phone, it turns out I wasn’t going to get any answers, because she asked me back the same questions I asked her. I guess they thought it would be ok to just change my itinerary and hope I’d just figure it out.

Believe it or not, I’m writing this with a smile on my face. Why? Well it’s because I’m going back to Kenya! And two, I’m sure the 400 bucks will find its way back to me, either via my friend the travel agent, or by some karma related act of the universe, or maybe St Mark himself will hand me a check,

I’m not sure of the details yet.


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