Excuses excuses excuses

It may not have escaped your notice that America is a pretty large country. You could probably fit the UK inside New York state (if you borrowed a bit of New Jersey, perhaps?), and I’ve seen bigger aubergineseggplants than Wales. And like any large territory whose population has migrated for work and family over the years, America has developed an extensive, environmentally friendly and efficient public transport system.

OK, that last bit’s a lie. The occasional subway system and local bus network aside, most Americans’ idea of public transport is giving a neighbour an occasional liftride in their car to Walmart. The train network is woefully underdeveloped, serving only a relatively few cities. British readers will sympathise when I say that the trains here are enough to make you pine for Network South East or the West Coast Main Line.

All of that leaves the wishful traveller with predominantly two options when he or she wants to travel long distances: take the car (and experience the dubious sheet-stained delights of the American motel system), or take a plane. Not surprisingly, when faced with such a choice, most Americans put their latent environmental concerns (stop laughing at the back, please) behind them, and fly.

Domestic flights are like buses in many ways. Largely because there’ll be no planes for three hours, and suddenly four flights to Charlotte will come along at once. Delays are pretty inevitable, and the sky above La Guardia (New York’s ‘domestic’ airport) generally look like the M25Long Island Expressway on a bad day. Except with more wings.

With so many flights and connections, the logistics involved in the checked luggage system must be pretty involved. And given the (often speedy) turnaround between connecting flights, it’s amazing that suitcases and rucksacks don’t go missing more often.

Of course, that doesn’t make it any less annoying when your bag is one of exceptions. Especially if your flight has already been delayed by two hours, and you’re standing in a deserted airport with two exhausted children. Still, United Airlines promised to get it to me by 1pm the next day, so it couldn’t exactly be described as a great hardship.

At 4pm, three hours after the deadline, I took my life into my own hands and called the United helpline. After a few abortive attempts at getting through the voice recognition system (see the comments on my last post for more insight), I finally got through to the dreaded call centreer.

The man I spoke to could not have been more friendly, and at absolute pains to insist that he was sorry for my inconvenience and woud be doing everything to resolve the situation. Given that he was in India, he’d even been given phrases to ensure that he connected with me on a more colloquial level. Admittedly I didn’t necessarily need to visualisze him ‘bending over backwards’ to help me, but it was a nice try.

Talking the talk is one thing, but walking the walk is quite another. I was put on hold while he called the delivery company who would be bringing my bag back, and after a short while he returned to say that he had been unable to reach them, and that – as a result – I would just have to sit and wait for a little while longer, and hope that my bag turned up.

After a little pressing on my part, and ‘polite’ enquiries into why I couldn’t get more information, I was finally given what I believe to be the greatest excuse ever given by a call center operative. Ever.

“I’m sorry sir. I really wanted to help you with this, but the delivery company is really busy and so I was placed on hold. But the hold music was so irritating that I couldn’t wait any more.”

And with that he was gone.

Interestingly, my bag turned up an hour or so later with this tag on it. I believe the phrase is “you couldn’t make it up”.

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8 thoughts on “Excuses excuses excuses

  1. Expat Mum

    It gets really bad at this time of year. We fly United most of the time (air miles) and we have actually seen them pull away to the runway with half the bags still on the tarmac, including ours. We got to our ski destination with no luggage (twice) because they didn’t want to lose the take-off slot. Now, my kids all take their pyjamas in their hand luggage because they don’t want to sleep in their underwear.
    It also makes me wonder how much it costs them to taxi all the luggage round when it finally arrives at the end point.

  2. fishwithoutbicycle

    Ha, that’s a funny one, although I’m sorry you had to feel the pain of your bag going astray.

    I’m also with you on the lack of public transportation in the US..and worse, the complete lack of footpaths in some cities. Walking anywhere seems to be completely discouraged. The car is king in much of the US unfortunately.

  3. Silverback

    I’m no Alan Wicker but have crossed the old pond a number of times now and only once has an airline managed to lose one of my cases.

    This was at Detroit and my friends were driving me 3 hrs back to their home so I was not a happy bunny. The airline (I forget which) immediately gave me $100 limit to spend on ‘necessities’ and said they would deliver my case as soon as possible.

    I was hard pushed to buy $100 worth of necessities as you can only justify so many electric toothbrushes and Chanel No.5 on a claim form but in any case, they paid up AND my case was hand delivered to the door 24 hrs later. Well impressed.

    As you said though, it’s quite amazing more cases don’t go AWOL considering passenger numbers and the fact that most of them take half their home contents with them when they fly.

  4. Trixie Trouble

    ‘im indoors who is 1/2 and 1/2 (US/Brit dual citizen) always loves to say in his ‘American voice’ “Why walk when you can drive?” – he claims that he has even heard people say this!

    When we lived in Chicago, I would walk to the local stores, which were no more than
    15 minutes away on foot, and people would stare at me from their cars and from homes en route!

  5. Carole Lanno

    I love it ! Two classic moments .

    United is the worst airline ever. It took me 12 hours to get to Toronto from Chicago with them, a flight that should take less than two hours. Why? because I was stuck in a huge line at their check out for two hours and missed my flight.
    Then there was the time with American Airlines that it took me two days to get home from Dallas,a three hour flight. Long story.

    Continental Airlines always makes sure when you only have an hour to catch a connecting flight, that the departure is at the opposite end of the airport from were you arrive. When they lost my luggage they asked me to draw a picture of it !

  6. Siobhan

    My luggage was stuck in Paris one time while they took their strike and I waited at home with 3 outfits for eight days. We were gone for almost a month, so like any self-respecting woman, I took everything I owned.

    Love the tag! How blissfully annoying! Oh, and btw, I recently learnt they don’t say ‘rucksack’ here at all, not even in the context of Scouting and Orienteering — come to think of it, do they even call it ‘orienteering’?

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