Trapped in Georgia: Still no tickets for tomorrow’s flight

By | February 23, 2009

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I got the letter from the nurse in Georgia, confirming that my wife was too ill to fly today, at 3:00pm today, Eastern time.

Ten minutes later, I queued up that letter as well as an explanatory cover letter to be sent to the fax number that the customer relations agent had given me.

Five hours later, the fax still hasn’t been successfully transmitted, although I’ve been trying to send it pretty much every five minutes.  I have gotten mostly busy signals, occasionally no answer, and rarely a connection to the fax machine followed by the other end hanging up while the first page was being transmitted.  Now, presumably because it’s after hours in Tempe where I was trying to fax to, the fax machine rings and rings without answering every time I try to send the fax.

To rule out a problem with my home fax machine, I also tried to send the fax through my employer’s eFax account.  I queued it up in eFax seven times, and it failed all seven times, which means that eFax tried to send it many more times than that, since eFax makes numerous attempts to deliver the fax before giving up.

It is impossible to understand why the customer relations department for a huge international airline would rely on a single, physical fax machine for urgent correspondence from customers.  I mean, haven’t they ever heard of eFax, for heaven’s sake?  Actually, there is one possible explanation for this anomaly: they want it to be difficult for customers to contact them.

At around 4:00pm, I called the U.S. Airways customer relations department again, to find out how I could get the letter from the nurse to them since the fax machine was not working.  I waited on hold for around 40 minutes before being connected to an agent, who informed me that there was absolutely nothing he could do.  There was no email address I could send the documents to that would be read quickly; there was no other fax machine I could send the letter to; there was no way he could get in touch with the agent I’d spoken with before to make alternate arrangements.  That part of our exchange is so astounding that it bears repeating (emphasis mine):

ME: “Can you look up the name of the agent I spoke with before and speak to her about this to try to figure out a solution?”

HIM: “No, I’m sorry, there are so many people here that I probably wouldn’t be able to find her.”

ME: “Well, don’t you have a telephone directory?  Can’t you call her extension?”

HIM: “No, we’re not allowed to make outgoing calls to other people in our department.”

The U.S. Airways customer relations department is now closed for the day.  Since I waited all day for them to resolve this issue, my wife and kids still don’t have tickets to fly out on tomorrow’s flight, and I don’t even know whether there are seats left on it.  I’m faced with the choice of either (a) calling the reservations desk, making the change, paying the $750, and then trying to get it back from U.S. Airways after the fact (just because they promised they’d waive the fees doesn’t mean they’ll give back the money once they’ve got it!), or (b) telling my wife to make the two-hour drive to the airport tomorrow under the assumption that I’ll be able to get it straightened out in the morning before it’s time for them to go through security (an unlikely scenario, since the customer relations department doesn’t open until 9:00am Eastern time, and their flight departs at 11:13am).  Or I suppose there’s another option, (c) making them stay yet another day in Georgia, causing the kids to miss two days of school and imposing on their host who needs to go back to her own job.

I’ve just called the news tips hotline for The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, WBZ TV 4 and WHDH TV 7 and told them about the story.  This seems like the kind of crossover story (human interest + the airlines in a tailspin + the economy) that might just get some air-time.  Whichever of them calls back first gets an exclusive :-).

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