Frequent Liar

We had been sitting on the tarmac in Boston for 30 minutes, ostensibly “waiting for catering.” The flight attendants were making their final rounds when the thunderstorm rolled in. By the time the dark cell passed over and we were taxiing toward the runway, we’d squandered a full hour — all of the time that had been allotted for us to transfer to a connecting flight in Chicago.

My phone rang the moment I switched it out of “airplane mode.” It was the airline’s automated service, notifying me that I’d missed my connection. Great, thanks for that, I thought as I waited for the recording to impart any information a semi-conscious moron wouldn’t be able to discern. David was listening to the same recording on his phone. “They rebooked us on another flight that takes off in three hours,” I said with my mouth. I know, David said with his eyebrows; he let the unspoken Duh hang in the stale, repurposed air between us.

“When we deplane, let’s go straight to customer service and see what our options are. I need to work. How can I get anything done sitting in a crowded airport for three hours and then cramped at the back of the bus for another four?”

We make an effort to book all our flights on United Airlines so that we can reap the rewards of their frequent-flyer program. The cheapest flights we could find when we were booking this latest work-and-play trip had us returning home on one of my busiest workdays. We traded in most of our miles to ensure upgraded seats so I’d have the space and comfort to work on the longer leg.

David nodded and adjusted his visage to read, Chill out, everything’s going to be okay. It had already been a long day — a half-hour in traffic, 45 minutes on the ferry, two hours on a bus, three hours waiting to board, an hour sitting on the runway, and two-and-a-half hours flying to Chicago. I was tired and cranky, and the stress of three deadlines all culminating the following afternoon made David’s duty to soothe me that much more difficult.

“Okay, here we go, all smiles and cheerfulness,” I said, once we were near the front of the customer-service line.

The line hadn’t been long; there were no canceled flights or mass delays. I hoped the customer-service rep we got wouldn’t be as defeated and defensive as I’ve seen many reps become when overrun by hordes of angry and irrational people trying to get from various points of A to sundry points of B. When it was our turn to approach the counter, I brightened my smile and pleaded our case: “Hey there, howya doing, hope people aren’t giving you too much of a hard time today. We just missed our connection due to weather in Boston, and United was great at rebooking us, but I’m wondering if you could help me out by looking into other options.”

I handed our tickets over and continued, “See, we traded in our miles so we could fly first class, and we were rebooked in economy. I’m wondering if you could check and see what other flights might have room. We’re happy to stay in a hotel tonight — on our own dime, of course — and fly out tomorrow, if necessary.

“Yeah, sorry, everything’s full today,” she said.

“Right, but could you please check for tomorrow? I have to work anyway, so we’ll probably go to a hotel regardless. We’re just hoping to retain the seats we traded miles for.” I softened my features into my best obsequious pretty please?

She gave a passing glance at her computer screen, but never touched the keyboard, and said, “Yeah, it’s all booked, for, like, three days out. I’m not sure what’s going on in San Diego, but it seems like everyone’s trying to get there.”

I narrowed my eyes. Both Comic-Con and Pride weekends had passed. I knew she hadn’t bothered to actually check, but there was nothing more I could say. “Well, thanks for looking into it anyway,” I said, hating myself for being such a chump.

Five minutes later, David learned from a rep over the phone that there were two flights — one in the morning, one in the afternoon — the following day, both with availability in first class.

“She lied to us,” I said. “She looked into my face and she lied. That’s just so uncool. She didn’t even pretend to help.” My cheeks flushed a shade of red. “Let’s go back and get her name.”

Getting her name was easier said than done. After returning to the customer-service area, David and I stood around like amateur burglars trying to case a joint. We weren’t about to cut the line or interrupt anyone getting or giving help to reveal ourselves as disgruntled tattle-tales. For several minutes we just stood around, looking suspicious. David strolled up to the side of the counter in an overtly casual manner and collected a flyer from a stack right next to our new nemesis. He stared at her openly, trying to catch the name on her badge. I worried what everyone in line would think of him up there, ogling a rep who was “helping” another customer.

“Excuse me.” An elderly man with a faint accent — British or Australian — touched my elbow. Figuring we’d been caught out, I rushed to find excuses for David’s behavior. “Might you tell me if this is the right line to use a telephone? I’m delayed, and I sent an email to her, but I’m not sure that she got it.”

“You want to make a phone call?” I asked. I wasn’t sure who “her” was, but the man was at the end of the line, which had grown considerably longer. Something about him was so guileless. I could just picture him waiting all that time, only to be directed to a pay phone at the end of the terminal. I reached for my iPhone. “What’s the number?”

“It’s in Canada,” he said.

I hesitated for the briefest of moments. How much did it cost to call Canada? First I tried using Skype, but when that didn’t work (he could hear her, but she couldn’t hear him), I decided that whatever it cost, it was worth the feeling I got when — a few minutes later, after successfully connecting with “her” — the man handed back my phone, beaming, and said, “Bless you.”

The anger I’d felt toward the unhelpful customer-service rep had dissipated. By taking a moment to help a fellow traveler, I’d redeemed my faith in the kindness of people, even if that kindness had to come from me. It was a good feeling.

But that didn’t stop me from taking a moment to snap a picture of the offending rep — whose nametag was suspiciously obstructed — before David and I went off in search of a hotel.


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