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 cent
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 visuali
sze 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”.