C.W. Gusewell


One voice on the phone parts a sea of indifference

Itravel for travel’s sake.

The great affair is to move.

– Robert Louis Stevenson

Ah, but there’s the rub. Sometimes moving is the hardest part.

“The flight’s been canceled,” said my daughter, calling from the terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York. “They say the toilet on the plane is broken.”

“Well,” I replied, “better the toilet than the wing.”

“They’re trying to fix it, or find a different plane.”

She’d been scheduled to leave in midafternoon on a direct flight and arrive home at the dinner hour for a week’s visit.

The agent at the counter rebooked her on a flight through Cincinnati. Then we received another bulletin. That flight, too, was delayed.

So a seat had been found for her with a different carrier on a plane to Philadelphia, where she’d connect with a flight to Kansas City arriving minutes before midnight.

Alas, the next phone bulletin brought more doleful news. The Philly flight had departed a bit late, too. And the connection there was missed. Actually the plane still was at the gate, but the door had been closed and pleas to open it were refused.

So four Kansas City-bound passengers faced a dismal overnight. One of them was a young woman from Senegal, bound here to visit friends. She’d already been 24 hours in transit, from Dakar to Washington, then to New York and now to Philadelphia. What’s more, she was in early pregnancy, and feeling unwell from the hectic journey.

My daughter went to the counter of the airline on which they’d originally been booked. The agent there was no help, saying the problem now belonged to the one whose plane they’d ridden last. No vouchers for hotel lodging were forthcoming.

Notified of the situation, I telephoned the customer service number of the carrier whose broken toilet had set this bizarre series of blunders in motion.

And my call was answered by one of the nicest, most sympathetic women I have ever known by long distance – the kind of representative who can turn an outraged customer into a loyal lifetime client.

“This isoutrageous!” she declared. “How can I reach your daughter?”

“I have her cellphone number.”

The rest I learned in a final call. The customer service lady had indeed called our daughter.

“You’re absolutely entitled to hotel and meal vouchers. Go back to our airline’s desk.”

The clerk at the desk still was uncooperative. But what can be said from past adventures is that airlines trifle with my daughter at their peril.

“Listen to this,” she said.

And putting her phone on speaker mode, she obliged the agent to listen to the conversation with the customer service representative.

Needless to say, the vouchers were immediately forthcoming. The young Senegalese woman spoke no English, but our daughter is conversant in French, and she took the visitor under her wing. They shared a spacious two-bed room near the airport, rose early and arrived here only a little frayed the next morning.

It shows what a difference one considerate and principled individual can do to bring fair resolution to a needlessly hurtful situation. I called the airline to congratulate them for having so capable a woman as their public face.

In my view, she shouldn’t just be apologizing for other people’s mistakes. She ought to be running the company.