This year I have become a true road warrior and travel changed from pleasure to work. One would think that this would make me an even more competent traveler and in some ways it has, but every once in a great while it all just goes horribly wrong.
Change of Plans
I spent the first half of this week working in Salt Lake City and needed to fly to Tampa to close out the week. Because the trips were booked at different times and for different customers I did not have a connected itinerary. I was due to fly back to Pittsburgh for one night getting in after 10PM and flying back out at 6AM the following morning. I considered just staying at the Hyatt Regency Pittsburgh Airport as it wasn’t even worth the commute back home and losing my parking spot.
I called American to change my flight to route to Tampa from Salt Lake City via the same flight in Dallas and it was, of course, ridiculously expensive. The change was even more expensive to take the first connection from my prior itinerary and pick up a one-way from DFW to TPA (something I will never be able to explain to my casual traveling friends). I threw away the return and bought a one-way to TPA where I would sort out another one-way home. For those who want to see the math on this, here it is:
- PIT-SLC $315 round trip (original flight)
- PIT-SLC-TPA-PIT +$518 additional
- PIT-TPA $458 roundtrip
- DFW-SLC $414 one-way
- SLC-TPA $210 one-way
- TPA-PIT $286 one-way
That’s a little much to try to wrangle if it wasn’t your own situation, suffice it to say it was tens of dollars cheaper to fly all the way back to Pittsburgh and turn right back around miserably. I opted for a second seat on the same 1:50PM SLC-DFW that I had already booked for part of my itinerary back to Pittsburgh from which I’d start my journey to Tampa. That’s where the trouble started.
American’s IT Fails So Hard
I bought the one-way just before bed, got to the “Finish” screen where AA.com displayed that the purchase was complete and awaiting ticketing. This is fairly routine and ticketing (along with the confirmation email typically follow within the next 30 minutes for American flights and within eight hours for partner tickets in my experience).
Though I was on the same flight SLC-DFW now with two tickets and two seats for this leg which didn’t depart until 1:50, I still went to the airport around 11AM as a colleague was flying out elsewhere and wanted to grab lunch. I went to the checkin counter because I had a small issue. I wanted to fly both of the seats on both of the itineraries for two reasons. First, I had confirmed an upgrade on my SLC-DFW-PIT route but not on the new SLC-DFW-TPA route. Second, I had to start my new route in SLC or it would cancel out all remaining legs including my onward flight to Tampa.
When I went to checkin, however, the itinerary was never there. My route to Pittsburgh remained unchanged, but the agent had nothing for me on any other route (like for Tampa). Camille, the counter agent, was able to find two other record locators for me connected with the 1:50 departure but neither had ticketed.
“Did you complete the purchase? Did it ticket? You should have received an email.” She rightly asked.
In my haste, I hadn’t even checked. I had a conference call in the morning and everything with American is such an automatic reflex that I hadn’t bothered to look. Sure enough it never came through. I opened up my laptop right there at the counter and found that the “Finish” screen was still open – however, it immediately tried to refresh the page instead of leaving the page static which of course wiped out what was there and proved I had processed the ticket.
Camille had her doubts about me completing the ticket process, but I have purchased hundreds of tickets over the years with American and the likelihood that I had incorrectly purchased was very low. I called in to the Executive Platinum line to see if they could sort out the matter. The agent on the phone also had her doubts that I knew how to ticket an itinerary. I asked her to look into the two other record locators that appeared with my name. She didn’t time the mute on her phone very well.
“Please hold.” Then an audible and aggravated “Ugh”, the telemarketing version of a prolonged eye roll. Excellent way to treat your elites.
She explained that the other two record locators that had shown up with my name on the same departure time were instead temporary holds I had made before I ticketed PIT-SLC roundtrip – a common practice for me as I check my details before ticketing. No other ticket was ever issued, namely to Tampa. Since I didn’t receive the email confirmation I was starting to believe them, maybe I was crazy and didn’t see what I thought I saw, maybe the “Finish” screen was wrong or didn’t ever load as I thought it did.
Whatever the problem may have been, I needed to get going and booked the same ticket, I could dispute duplicate charges on my credit card later. The fare had gone up by 50% naturally but I needed to book it anyway. While I went back through the process Camille assisted another guest, some soldiers from England heading back to Manchester. I got to the end and hit “ticket” just as she finished. She checked the record locator and it was the same as my original ticket to Pittsburgh.
I confidently turned my computer to Camille so she can see that I correctly know how to ticket and then wiped my eyes in disbelief when I saw that it said “Pittsburgh” is my final destination. I am so confused at this point and looking for answers. I point to the reservation name which is auto-populated by American, “SLC/TPA”. This reinforced what I already knew was true, that I had ticketed to Tampa, but this text box could be changed at will. For suspicious agents either on the phone or in person (Camille was very helpful but fairly disbelieving at first) this presented no real concrete proof that I had ticketed as I stated.
But then I noticed in the top right corner, the ticket showed as pending (my previous itinerary was not pending) and at the same time it also showed “Pending” below the reservation name but with a date of the original ticketing, October 18th, nearly a month prior. Now Camille is starting to understand how bizarre this was. American’s IT system likely couldn’t understand why I would need two seats on the same flight with different destinations, though they were happy to charge me several times. In essence, American took all of my search criteria, processed an order but ignored my new reservation and overwrote parts of the old one without materially changing it. That’s a huge IT problem. In fact, both the agent and the phone made the same comment: “American wants to sell you as many tickets as they can, why would we limit it?”
Perplexed, Camille booked me at the counter, double checked all of her work and printed all of my tickets: two tickets Salt Lake City to DFW and one to Pittsburgh, the other to Tampa. She indicated that she would speak to the gate agents, explain the situation and that they would need to scan both tickets.
I approached the gate and discussed the issue to a disinterested, disbelieving and confused agent. Though I asked Camille to write her name on the ticket so that they would see that the conversation I was having was correct and that she could shed light on the situation, the agent refused to call Camille and explore it further, she also refused to relay it to her other colleague (the one who would scan boarding passes) about my situation. Fine. Let’s try it your way.
I entered the line to board with my group and handed both boarding cards which both would need to be scanned in order to keep the rest of my legs to Tampa as well as to keep my seat in first.
“You’ll need to scan them both.” I said as I handed two paper boarding passes.
“What, why?” she said as I gestured to her colleague who decided to participate.
“Yes, I know sir” she grabbed the boarding card from my hands for Tampa ticket and the seat that I did not intend to sit in, didn’t scan it, ripped it in half and moved back to her keyboard.
My confidence that this would go well completely evaporated at this point. Upon landing, just one flight showed up on the American app; my flight to Pittsburgh. I went to the Tampa gate anyway, boarded and had no further issues. How does that happen?
Since this is a post about how things just couldn’t go right for me on a travel day it’s worth noting I was #4 on the upgrade list with two seats clearing. I had one of those really sweet exit row seats (usually not a drawback) where there were solid armrests that go to the bottom of the seat. I’m don’t have to squeeze into these seats yet but it still makes me feel claustrophobic.
Now There’s No Car Reservation
Once I landed in Tampa I went straight for the National desk which directed me out to the Emerald aisle and I selected a pickup truck. By shear miracle I backed it up without the aid of a camera (how did my driving skills so deteriorate that this is a tiny triumph?) and headed to the gate.
“Sir, we don’t have a reservation for you.” I was noticing a trend. I made this reservation at a completely different time, on a different device – it’s so unlikely that I had the same problem I had with American I would also have with National. It seemed more likely at the time that the cosmos had aligned to deliver a most unfortunate day. I asked the rental agent at the exit gate to draw up a rental for an Intermediate car (this is the minimum for access to the aisle, and the vehicle I selected was indeed on the aisle). This took awhile – though it was probably my fault. One of the advantages of National is that even without a reservation, if they have cars available I should be able to hand them my credit card and ID without a reservation and they should rent me a car at whatever price comes up. In this moment, my desire to negotiate was nil and this is a business trip, I must have something to drive.
The process dragged on.
“Would you like me to get out of line so the others parked behind me can go?” I ask thinking of the valid reservation holder behind me.
“No, they go around.” She said. They of course didn’t which only made it feel like longer that I waited.
In the end I pulled away but found out later that the rental was made one day short of my actual return. It wasn’t an issue when I returned with the car but on other occasions, rentals that I’d returned more than 24 hours late had caused alarm with the rental agency calling me with urgency as if the vehicle was stolen. I was happy to avoid such.
No Room At The Inn, the Holiday Inn
I intended to meet team members at a Holiday Inn Express and I had not made a reservation. This was not an IT error, I just wasn’t sure earlier in the day I would ever make it to Tampa and didn’t want to have to pry myself out of another catastrophe. My colleagues had assured me there were plenty of rooms.
Nor was there space at the Hampton nearby. No room at the Inn, any inn of any kind. I called my wife to rescue me as I headed north. I was tired, frustrated and needed to continue onward. She found a spot for me but I had already passed it. I turned around and found my roadside accommodations at another Holiday Inn 50 minutes away. At least I had some place to sleep, the back seat of the Dodge Ram was becoming more and more attractive as I passed Was-Mart parking lots.
When I pulled up there was another guest who had just parked next to the shuttle bus and blocked the entire entrance and access to most of the parking. I started laughing out loud like some crazy person and just parked my vehicle randomly elsewhere. The guests shuffled inside in front of me by about 20 seconds and proceeded to ask, and this is not an exaggeration, approximately 20 questions. My checkin would have taken about 40 seconds so it was a little painful but also a little funny to me. It was the end of a long, hard travel day, one I had not had in quite some time.
It’s All Works Out In The End
Once I was up to bat, Bonnie, the hotel night audit, was over the top. She gave me a Spire welcome letter, a note from the GM separate to that one, walked me through breakfast and snagged me a cavernous suite. My reservation had only been booked 40 minutes prior to my arrival. I was too tired to grab enough photos to demonstrate the enormity of this roadside Holiday Inn Express but trust and believe that it was far more than I expected to find.
I need to remind myself that it doesn’t always go to plan, and I need to get sharper about booking and confirming reservations. But as I type this up, I am lying in a bed in a complimentary suite. I got here by driving a rental car for which I was upgraded several categories at no charge, and flew first class half the way there on a coach price (well two tickets I guess). Even though systems failed me and I failed myself, I was safe, I was in the right spot and it doesn’t always end that way.
I Get Why People Hate To Travel
Matthew had the same comment this week when reflecting on his (crazy) 14-hour flight to Hong Kong in deep coach. Invariably it always seems to end up like this for people who don’t travel often. I was to blame for a lot of my problems today:
- I didn’t book a hotel first or come up with a plan
- I didn’t confirm my correct booking on the car
- I should have contacted AA when the normal process failed
I was just very busy today and let myself down. The usual safety nets simply weren’t there for me and it can’t always go right. When people complain about how much of a hassle it is to travel I tell them why it’s different for me. I pack right, I walk straight up to checkin or have it on my app, I go through TSA Precheck, I have lounge access, I board first, I get upgraded, I don’t pay for extras… I have mastered the tools of travel. But even for road warrior like myself, it can’t possibly always go right and today it went wrong all over the place.
Are you a road warrior or frequent traveler that has had one of these days? What’s your horror story?