Leisure Travel

Ok, so this isn’t a dating story.

And it has a sort of happy ending (which probably makes it  self-evident that  it’s not a dating story). The ending is – spoiler alert – I got most of my money back, which was a surprise.  (Also, if you can read part of this with that lovely clipped English – India accent, it really adds to it.)

But back to the beginning.  I was supposed to go to India. I had planned the trip well in advance, lined up meetings, lined up some fun things to do. Booked a flight on Air India because it was the most direct.  Changed said flight to accommodate another meeting and went to Air India’s office to do so because for some reason you can’t do that online you have to go to an  office.  Luckily I live in NYC so it wasn’t a problem. I wondered what they did for people in Albany, but ok, not my life so who cares.  They couldn’t get the computer going and a myriad of issues at the office but low and behold i got it changed. Still red flags, I decided to ignore.

Day of said flight I go to the airport and they ask where’s my visa.  What visa, no one mentioned a visa, not when I put my US passport into the web page that requires that. Not when I was standing in the Air India office, not when I was speaking with them on the phone. (Not even my sister who after the fact said, oh yeah, I nearly didn’t get one also when I went but someone mentioned it.  How nice for you.)  Ok. Ultimately the responsibility for my travel documents lays with me, but still a little help would be nice.  So I get shuttled around from person to person who doesn’t want to tell me I’m not getting on this flight until I’m directed to a person who doesn’t exist at the end of the counter. And then I get it, I’m not getting any help here nor am I getting on this plane.  So I frantically hail a cab and tell him to head towards Manhattan I’m going to find out where the Indian Embassy is and go there straight away.

Hahaha…. Yeah right.

So I call Air India, “I was just at check in and I’ve just been told I need a  visa no one mentioned, can you help me to tell me where to go to do that?  Here’s my ticket number, name” etc.

He pulls up my information

“Madam, what is your itinerary?”

“Today, I was just at the airport just now, and I was supposed to leave today.”

“Can you give me your departure date?”

“Today. Whatever today is, I was just at the airport, aren’t you looking at it on the screen?” (we both know he is).

“I need to know your departure date.”

“Today, 15 minutes ago. I as just at the check in desk. I don’t know, whatever today is.” This isn’t me being recalcitrant, I never know either the date nor the day of the week. I might know if I happen to recall which special section it is in the New York Times  (Science = Tuesday, Food = Wednesday) otherwise, I never have a clue.  It comes from working from home, every day is pretty much the same except for Saturday when I have nothing to do at night because Saturday is traditionally date night.

But I digress.

“Madam I need to know your date.”

By now I’m screaming so the taxi driver holds up five fingers.

“OK. It’s the fifth, I was supposed to leave the 5th.”

“Correct.  What is your itinerary.”

OH MY GOD!

“OK, I leave today, the 5th and return on the 18th.”

“Madam, if you can not give my your itinerary I am going to have to hang up.”

“I just gave it to you!” (really screaming now).

“No. I need your whole itinerary.”

If I was the vein popping in head type, this would have been my moment but I’m more the curse like a sailor type and this was definitely my moment.

So I spell out the whole thing for him, when I change planes, what dates, when I come back, when that plane change is.  By now we’re deep into Queens and I still don’t know where the embassy is.

“Correct” he says.  If his name wasn’t little shit I really don’t know what it could have been.  “OK, so how can I help you?”

Are you kidding me?

So I go over it again, just asking for direction for next steps to take, apologizing because I know it’s my responsibility to know about travel documents … blah blah blah and then I toss in that I’m just suggesting that maybe after someone puts in a US passport number you put in a little pop-up box to let them know to check they probably need a visa.

And here’s irony ……

“We (the coders breeding place of the world) are not allowed to have pop-up boxes on our site.”

I’m actually silenced by this incredible piece of stupid information.

Obviously there are other options but at this moment I’m not going to go into web architect mode to point them out.  At this point I’m begging him to tell me where the embassy is so I can go facilitate a visa and maybe reschedule my flight before the end of the week.

Again. HAHAHA.

Nope, the embassy you can’t go to. You have to go to this website and process it from there.  Wow. You couldn’t have just given me that url like 20 minutes ago? And I somehow squeeze the phone number out of him.  Thank you you’ve been ever so helpful.

“My pleasure Madam.”

So I call the embassy.

“Hi I need to know how long it’ll take to get a visa because I just missed my  flight and I want to reschedule it as soon as possible.”

“You need to go to the website.”

“Yes I realise that but can you tell me how long it takes.”  And I’m thinking ‘That’s it buddy, throw me a fucking bone. Toss out a number.  I’m begging you.’  Be careful what you wish for because that’s what he does.

“Three days.”

Oh great! “So I can probably reschedule for the end of the week.” But now I’m starting to learn, proving that an old dog…..

“Wait, so is that 3 days I’ll have the visa after I apply online? Or is that when it’s mailed out so I might have to wait a few extra days?””

“It’s three days from when we get your passport.”

“Can I come by the embassy and do that? So is the three days until you respond to the online thing and then what? Do I mail you my passport at that point and then I have to wait for it to get mailed back?”

“We can not guarantee you will get a visa.”

OK, so aside from the fact that I want to kill everyone related to this process I’m not really a terrorist, so let’s just assume I’m going to clear that hurdle.

“I know, but assuming there’s nothing unusual, how long does it take? Where does that 3 day thing come in?”

“You have to go to the website……”  OK.  Now I’m home and have aged about 20  years, spent about $160 on a cab to my own front door.  The cab driver as I’m getting out says, “I’m Indian and I have to get a visa too because I’m a US citizen.  Dealing with these people is a nightmare.  Good luck.”

So I go to the website.  After not getting a clear answer on the 3 days, passport mailing, passport return process I try – and this just shows how desperate I am – calling the Embassy again.

This guy says, oh, if it’s not business (I lied, ok, maybe I am a terrorist) you can get a visa which will await you on the other side. That process takes about 4 days. No mailing. No passport redemption.  Simple. $60.

If only someone had said that 3 months ago.

So I call all my meetings, my fun thing, who can reschedule til next week?

No one.

Great.  I look through Air India’s partner program and because I had finally, as in maybe the first time in my entire life, splurged on a first class seat which was a fortune, there’s no one really on the list I’m planning to use that amount of money on and lord knows Air India is now on my ‘are you kidding me list’, so I need a refund.

I call Air India.  How can I proceed with a refund.  You have to email such and such.  Is there really no one I can just speak with? No.  Refunds are only issued by emailing this person.

Ok. Irony number two.  Second to producing a nation full of coders India is a nation full of phone support for the world.  FOR THE WORLD!!! But Air India, you can not speak with a human being.  You need to send an email.

Which I do.

And do again.

And I get a response saying they will refund me but hold back over $1000 in fees for a no-show.  Oh I showed alright buddy, is there someone I can speak with over your head?

Sure.

Email this guy.

So I do.  Email. Email. Follow up email.

And of course, I call. This guy is not answering my email. Can you help me?

Oh, he’s away until Monday, try him then.  (Because lord knows in this world no one has access to email away from their desk.) But I’m thinking, ok, maybe he’s on vacation and respecting that. I remember what vacation is…….

So Monday I call.  I’m now in a different 3rd world country but I call from the Honduran rain forest because I’ve just about lost what little marbles I had left over this.

I leave a message.  I get back from being away.  I leave another message. Send another email.  Call again.

Finally, Hello Air India, this is your pal. Where’s this guy? He’s not responding.

Oh he is on a 3 year sabbatical.

Pause.

I swear to you I’m not making this up. I couldn’t make this up because my imagination is not that vivid and no one would make up this story because no one would believe it.

So I show up at their doorstep because my lawyer’s office happens….so coincidentally…..to be across the hall from their office.  I mention this in passing.  I don’t mention he’s a real estate lawyer and they don’t ask.  Let’s all just assume he’s a mean spirited legal bulldog….which he’s not.

I go through the latter half of the story – the refund portion – in their office and they say, oh no, you’ve been emailing the wrong person. You don’t email refunds@airindia you email reservations@airindia.  Does that make sense to you? What then is the refund email for? And by the way, we will not bow on the fees.  OK. Fine, at this point they’ve broken me.  Seriously.  I just need to be done with this.

Uncle.

So I email, yet again, which is a testament to some flaw in my personality but I can’t deal with that right then and there.

They actually acknowledge my email…a first.  So I wait.  Two weeks.  Three weeks. I go to check and I realise that the card they used has since been hacked (thank you the trip to Mexico that I took instead of the trip to India) and they can’t credit the same number. I’m only guessing what kind of delay this is going to cause so I shoot them another email pointing this out.

In the meantime, I call my credit card company. They not only answer my questions they point out that they have taken the old number and rolled it to the new one and in fact my account was credited 3 days ago.  God bless Visa.

Now Air India replies right away.

“Madam, the credit was issued on such and such a date.” And I can hear the snotty sneer in the tone of the email. Ok. You got one bloody leg up on me.

Get over it.

And, here’s the kicker, they refunded about what I was hoping for to begin with.  Why couldn’t they just say so?  It’s a secret….like who needs a visa.

Needless to say, I won’t be taking Air India anywhere again.  I will be more careful to check about visas.  And I think there’s a third lesson here but I’ve yet to put my finger on it.

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