MAMA MERI’S TRAVEL DEBACLE

I, Meri Mendelsohn Murphy, aka Retired Nomad, qualify as a seasoned, experienced, frequent traveler. This does not, however, preclude me from just having had my second worst ever air travel experience, nor from the accompanying distress.

Here’s the outline: I had 4 flights scheduled today. Final destination Rome, where I was to meet a dear friend. Starting point: Spokane, WA, my hometown. Was proud of my efficient packing – did not check luggage.

Flight 1, Spokane to Seattle, A-OK. Looking forward to taking care of last minute business during my 3 hour layover.

———-

First inkling of a problem: email from JetBlue alerting me my flight Seattle to NYC was delayed 1½ hours. Given that there were only 1½ hours between my scheduled JFK arrival and subsequent departure to Lisbon (then on to Rome), I went to my flight gate where there was a person (Agent #1), and she did a bunch of calling for me. Took a long time – the first of many long times.

First off, and most importantly, reason for delay: weather. Apparently big wind in NYC. What that meant for me: Jet Blue was NOT responsible or liable for the delay. From what happened next, I interpret that to mean : “we will be generous with sympathy, but fuck you if you think we’re laying out one extra penny for you. You can rot in the airport for all we care and that’s your tough luck.”

Agent # 1 informed me that my “type” of ticket came with severe limitations: I could only ever be booked on exactly the same flights, no switching schedules or airlines. Therefore, she had only 1 choice: to book me on exactly the same flights the next day. This was because of my having bought my ticket from a “Bulk” provider, or a “Travel Agent” – two different appellations I heard this day for Just Fly, a third party provider like Expedia or Cheap-O Air. Still early in the game, with historically informed expectations of someone getting me to Rome on the same scheduled day, I chose to not have her re-book me for next day, and hoped the plane would leave closer to on-time, or make up a bunch of time.

Neither happened.

Plane touched down at 11 p.m. and next flight’s scheduled departure was 11:25 p.m.

While in Seattle my seat had been re-booked from back to front of plane to expedite off-load time, and all passengers were requested to remain seated until the Lisbon-bound passengers exited the plane.

I sprinted –like really sprinted – and I had 13 lb. on my back and 32 lb. in my roller bag. Since I’d done well speed-walking in the 7.2 mile Bloomsday race the prior Sunday, figured I could handle it. NO – after about 4 minutes of running all out, my body started to shut down.

There were 4 young females in my same situation and I was shocked to see them racing past me. So, my sprinting was their stroll. Except, as I turned a corner I saw they’d exchanged fast running for fast walking, so maybe I’m not so decrepit after all.

We got to Gate 30 from Gate 1, i.e. entire length of Terminal 5, and no one was there except one lonely gate agent who raised her hand in the universal “STOP” signal and no degree of cursing or pleading could get that hand down.

Then I started to cough. And cough. And cough.

She told us to go to the Just Ask desk nearby, and all that was there were phones. I used a phone and was told to go to a different Just Ask desk, near gates 7 & 8, where a live person would be present.

I was still coughing/choking uncontrollably.

I let the girls go first because they didn’t know anyone in NYC, and because I was still choking. Next it was my turn to wait a long time as Agent #2 did her calling. The verdict: no open seats available until May 20, i.e. 8 days later. Her advice: call my travel agent. I guess buying a bargain ticket can be a crime punishable by extreme (1) inconvenience, (2) run-around.

I quickly found Just Fly’s phone number in my papers and phoned them, the 3d party business through which I’d done my bargain booking ($375, O.W. Seattle to Rome with stopovers in NY and Lisbon).

I was on the phone to them nearly the entire walking-time from inside the airport. Did lose my hold place while in the elevator, but got right back onto the phone que. Then I again had to hang up on the wait-music to use my Lyft app. My daughter had suggested Lyft when I called her panicking about the ¼ mile line of people waiting for a taxi. Then re-called Just Fly while waiting for the Lyft car. Finally Agent #3, a man not a native English speaker, answered. My explanations and pleading led to further holding – and more talking – and I was on the phone the entire 45 minute drive to Heather’s, and after arrival at Heather’s. My call got dropped a few times, I held a long time, but finally he shared his brilliant conclusion:

He could do NOTHING, I mean like NOTHING, and suggested I call TAP. I called TAP. (Agent #4). They could do NOTHING. I called Jet Blue again (Agent #5). I gave that agent my phone number in case we got disconnected. After 25 minutes we got disconnected and she did NOT call back.

All kept referring to my rigid booking restrictions, and it seemed that if there were not room on that 11:25 p.m. TAP flight to Lisbon, I was shit-out-of-luck. And no one was disputing that there was no availability. It looked like, according to all those morons, I’d have to wait in NYC for 8 days.

I KNEW that could NOT be right: what if I knew no one in NYC, and had no extra resources, and had no cell phone: I’d have to live in the airport, starving or begging, for 8 days, or go to a homeless shelter.

Does not matter what the rules and laws are, some things are just WRONG and that was one of them.

By this time I was at Heather’s and it was 2 a.m. I gave up – physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted.

Finally laid down in bed about 2:15 a.m. intending to sleep, but of course this bizarre conundrum repeatedly re-played. I realized that given so much confusion and misinformation from all the nice un-helpful people I’d spoken to, it behooved me to check out for myself whether the next Lisbon flight really was full. I went on line: it was NOT full. I called TAP to confirm and the crisp business-like woman (Agent #5) put it succinctly and accurately: since the delay was on the part of JetBlue, it was their responsibility to rectify it. She also confirmed there were seats available.

Another call to JetBlue, armed with this new information, prepared to go full Borderline if they turned me down. As usual JetBlue (Agent #6) answered promptly. Initial agent took one look at my file and said “oops –you’d better talk to a supervisor” and I rapidly got a native English speaking woman who sounded intelligent (Agent #7) – this at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

She again repeated the litany of rigid booking restrictions. I again repeated my litany of being stranded in NYC. She again placed me on hold. When she finally came back (the music had only stopped once, and when it did my anxiety skyrocketed for fear my call had been dropped – but I had insisted she take my phone number). Music resumed and eventually she came back on and: HAD BOOKED ME FOR THAT DAY!!! Same flight as the one I’d missed, only 1 day later. She provided the Confirmation Number and took my email address and sent me a digital confirmation.

——

I am posting this because I am horrified at the poor service by Just Fly and JetBlue. The travel insurance I’d bought from the airline covered a maximum of $100 of expenses incurred in NYC, and would pay only 150% of my original plane cost to re-book me (whereas it would have cost $3000 for a last minute flight to Rome).   I am gifted with a plethora of family and friends in NYC, but it could be catastrophic for someone without means.

I am sharing so you will have a better idea of what questions to ask before you book, and maybe buy more insurance. – I really don’t know much except that this experience is an example of something very WRONG.

 

 

 

 

 

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