When Travel Becomes a Brutal Lesson in Customer Relations

When it comes to the service industry — I suck ass. You would think the opposite when you view my track record — which consists of New York jobs that were quintessentially relevant at the time.

When you move to New York City at the age of twenty-four without a trust fund or access to the bank account of a generous lover — you are pretty much going to do whatever the hell you need to in order to avoid being crushed to death by pressure from the concrete jungle.

During the nineties — telemarketing or retail was the way to go and the hope was that these gigs would be temporary because you were on your way to bigger and better. In my case I had my sights set on The New York Times or any other illustrious publication that needed my level of expertise.

Unfortunately it would take at least a decade for me to realize that my dreams of becoming the literary darling of a world that wasn’t ready to embrace me would have to wait until the arrival of Blogger and the allure of social media.

But — I’m here!

It took enough blood — sweat and tears — plus the mental disarray that overwhelms when you comprehend that time isn’t on your side — at least not in the way it was when you were young and tragically naive.

So I moved to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 — because I was nursing the symptoms of disorderly hormones — that betrayed my ability to make the kinds of decisions that would spare me from agreeing to live with a long lost friend — that I found on Facebook — who invited me to slum it out with her and her ballerina daughter.

She was a hoarder and I was screwed.

I high-tailed it out of there and vowed that my unfortunate experience would be reverted in due time.

That time has come — and since I’ve been such a good girl — I invited my parents to join me in the quest to re-discover the city that I needed now more than ever.

When we arrived at Baltimore International Airport — my greatest fear was that the luggage that carried our stuff would be over the limit. This was my first time with Spirit airlines and based on what I had heard and read — it was impossible not to be on edge. Thankfully we were in the clear — and since I had read the fine print beforehand — we were able to avoid those “unexpected charges” that creep up when you fail to do your homework.

The only snag was the casual announcement from the ticket agent that indicated our delayed fight. We were supposed to take off at 6 pm but now we were scheduled to depart at 8:19 pm.

By the time we arrived at our gate after passing the test of security and grabbing some munchies — the departure time had been changed to 10:24 pm. And then it just got worse from there.

The huge windows displayed the visual welcoming of a mammoth storm and as the darkness enveloped the tarmac — the concerned look on everyone’s faces validated the update that pushed our flight to 11:30 pm. We were also asked to relocate to another gate.

It seemed like a good sign.

I assumed that moving us to another vicinity meant they were serious about getting us boarded and ready for takeoff. But alas! My positive renderings didn’t help prevent the inevitable as the announcement regarding the cancellation came loud and clear.

So — I was forced to shuttle my poor parents to the Sprint ticketing area to figure out what the fuck our options were — while silently praying that the fact that I had utilized the services of Expedia for hotel and flight — wouldn't end up being our undoing.

In the beginning God took awhile to hear me out.

This was when I got a sharp lesson in the science of customer relations as we stood in the long line and watched customers express their infuriation in varied ways. The agents were mostly women — standing behind the counter with calming nonchalance — almost as if they were gratified at the sight of desperately exhausted travelers — who were desperately at their mercy.

When it was our turn — I was already ahead of the game since I had contacted Expedia by phone — and got them to shift our hotel stay to accommodate the flight changes I was about to make. I assumed we would be arriving a day after the original check in date.

It didn’t take long for me to realize how wrong I was and the worst part was how robotic she was as I poured my heart out.

The only option was to get a refund or rebook. The flights for the following day were all full so it would have to be the day after tomorrow. I went with that — in the hopes that I could change the return flight to match my updated hotel itinerary.

She told me there was no way I could alter the return flight from New Orleans without paying the penalty — even if my woes were no fault of my own. And as luck would have it — I was being shamed for taking the cheap route of using Expedia to package my travel — and so despite the weather issues and cancellation — not booking directly with the airline was my crime.

The whole time — I was multitasking with duties that included making sure my parents didn’t pass out while seated a few yards away— trying as hard as possible not to lose my shit — and keeping the agent on the phone from Expedia — abreast on what was going on — while prayer for super battery power.

Here’s the thing — it was late as fuck — in fact it was way past midnight and so there was a mood that made communication quite cumbersome.

The agents were visibly exhibiting signs that made wearied passengers like me feel a sense of panic — at the notion that we were not being handled with care and respect — at a time when so much was at stake. I didn’t want to end up paying for a trip that would force us to stay for two days as opposed to four.

Most of the crowd had dispersed and it was just me and another woman who was in the same shit I was in — and despite her glowing people skills — her luck wasn’t improving.

My tone-deaf agent had promised to be back right after speaking with her supervisor about my case. The other women lingering behind the counter seemed like they were in their early twenties — and one of them asked if I needed help. I assured her that I was waiting to hopefully hear good news about my return flight that was still in limbo.

After hearing the summary she proceeded to almost gleefully inform me of how truly fucked I was — by explaining that even the “supervisor” wouldn’t be able to save me from the fate of having to either pay the penalty for making changes — or proceed with the trip and be satisfied with spending only one full day in New Orleans as opposed to three.

I smiled politely and thanked her for her time.

The agent from Expedia was still on hold — listening to the drama unfold — and promised to remain on the line until the shit was resolved. After a full hour had passed — and the counter was empty — it occurred to me that I had been bamboozled. The scene that I imagined playing out behind the “Employees Only” door was a fantasy — as one of the workers heading home confirmed that he was the only one remaining.

The bitch lied to me and kept us waiting for nothing — not to mention the agent on the phone who was unbelievably calm and patient. She notified me that she had received the green light from her boss to investigate my case further. She was going to contact Spirit directly — which was something they were not supposed to do since I had booked through a low-cost carrier — but they were willing to make an exception.

It all worked out in the end because excellent customer service is alive and well.

The stark contrast between the woman on the phone and the one in front of me was incredible. When you hear about booking through Expedia — there’s the concern that you’re better off dealing directly with the airlines — but I can confirm that it really depends on the person you’re dealing with and how much they want to help you.

I ended up spending nothing for the changes made to my return flight — and the kind customer rep also offered to call the hotel to confirm my earlier revisions — and she returned with the good news.

We had spent a couple of hours trying to sort out a mess that neither of us created — but we were equally determined to clean it up.

As our Uber ushered us into the early morning darkness — towards the joy of waiting beds — I thought about my early days as a customer service rep both — and felt ashamed and guilty when I recalled the times when my frustration and eagerness to resolve the issue without actually resolving it may have exacted more pain on helpless customers.

I never took it as far as purposely deceiving someone who was in an emergency situation — because I’m thankfully not that callous — but there were times when I could’ve been more compassionate and helpful by going the extra mile.

The agent from Expedia was a rock star who delivered in more ways than one and I have to believe that there are more like her. Her stellar disposition was just what I needed to navigate the sea of chaos — and it restored my faith in humanity in ways that have made me less pessimistic about the future.

There’s more good than bad — and if takes a cancelled flight in stormy weather to get that lesson — then so be it.

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