Friday, 11 May 2007

"Hello This Is Fred In India...May I Help You Madam?"

Today it took me eight whole hours to book three airline tickets with Air Canada for a trip home this summer. I knew exactly which flights I wanted, even which seats I needed, and I was in possession of a valid creditcard with which to book them. The reason it took eight hours is still rather puzzling, given the straightforward nature of my request.

It all started to go wrong when i discovered that on the Air Canada website you cannot book an infant ticket online - this must be done manually by phone. So far no problem. So I rang up to book the Noah's ticket separately and spent a long time patiently spelling out his name and repeating the creditcard number several times. It all fell apart though when I made the mistake of asking which seats were reserved on the booking. This innocent question led to me being put on hold for ages before the line suddenly went dead.

So i had to start all over again. I rang up and was put through to another lovely lady in the Air Canada Call Centre somewhere in India. I think her name was 'Shandyra'. She listened patiently while I relayed the details of my previous call, but bizarrely was unable to locate the infant booking, so we had to start the process again from the beginning. This might have been bearable if the connection hadn't been so abismally poor as to be virtually incoherant. Tragically Shandyra and I could only hear every 8th word each other were saying. Our conversation went something like this:

(me) "Please may i book my infant Noah on flight AC849?"


(me)"Sorry, I can't hear a word you're saying could you please repeat that?"


(me) "I can't hear you so i'm going to guess. Did you just say that the flight is actually full and my seat can't be pre-booked?"


This ridiculous attempt went on, i'm ashamed to say, for nearly an hour, as we fought desperately to book a ticket for Noah and confirm a bulkhead cot seat for our journey, when in fact we could not hear a word each other were saying.

I finally hung up in frustration when I heard Ba lose it from the other room. Yes, my darling sister had stopped by for a cappucino a few hours earlier, but had made the error of picking Noah up on her lap when i originally went for the phone. Subsequently she had landed both boys in her care while i slowly went insane in the next room, cursing each time i was put on hold and pacing the flat with my laptop in my arms like a psycho. When Ba shrieks at Egg you know it's bad, and I later found out that Egg was on another 'Time Out' on the stairs for belting Noah across the face with a musical keyboard. Apparently the next time she peeked over at him he was sitting naked with a dirty bum, swinging his filthy nappy on the the railings - necessitating an emergency bath. This resulted in a wet-room situation in the bathroom, and holding the chubby dumpie in her arms while attempting to hose down the Egg didn't quite go so well. I suspect that when she popped over for a quick cappucino and chat, this wasn't what she envisaged.

Meanwhile i was having my own problems. When the email confirmation for my flight came through, Dad rang me out of the blue and suggested I fly a day earlier on the off-chance that if he goes to egypt and flies back en route to London, perhaps we could travel together. Desperate for any chance of company - no matter how slim - I rang back again to see if this was possible. This time i got 'Fred' - another congenial sort answering from India. Fred was soft-spoken and I think I confused him terribly, for we spent the next hour trying to figure out what the other was trying to say. I am sure the use of the word 'bassinet' wasn't a brilliant move on my part, for the end result was that if i changed days I couldn't get a reserved cot seat for Noah. I was eventually put through to one of Fred's supervisors who gave me completely different advice and gleefully said that it would be no problem to conclude the booking with the correct seats. But then he put me back on with Fred who didnt seem to share the same optomistic view of the seating plan, and when I said that his supervisor had said it was okay he told me that I had misunderstood the situation and the seats were now gone. I gave up on Fred and decided to hang up and try my luck with someone else.

The fifth representative I spoke to was a bristly young woman who's name I forget. But she was very displeased with me and seemed not to understand the importance of confirming my seats - choosing instead to concentrate on the fact that I was travelling with two boys - none of whom shared my surname. Then we got into the fact that my husbands name is 'James Johnston'...just like that of one of my sons...but he is 'Master' not 'mister'. That's when things descended into farce and I knew there was just no point.

After a quick break wherein I guzzled a large glass of diet pepsi and went to the loo, clearing my head for my next attempt, I picked up the phone and prayed that I would get someone sensible and efficient. I was very pleased when 'Amin' answered and assured me that if I gave him my reference number he could arrange everything for me. My relief was short-lived however when he put me on hold for 15 minutes and came back to confess that it was too complicated for him to do and it would be best for everyone involved if I cancelled my entire booking and started over on the internet from scratch, and then I could call him and he would try and find me the correct seating and issue an infant ticket. I explained that I had been attempting this reservation for almost 6 hours and was loathe to cancel everything and begin again, but he was adamant that this was the best way to proceed.

So to make a sickeningly long story short, I took his advice and ended up with two bookings - both wrong - another two fruitless attempts to cancel these bookings, mad laptop scrambling to ensure that my reserved seats were indeed bulkhead bassinet seats and at the end of the 42 minutes I asked the final fellow whether he could just confirm all the details before I hung up so i could rest in peace and put an end to what had been the most fruitless day of my life.

He went through the entire booking painstakingly and when he had finished I quietly asked,

"And what seats have you reserved for my outward journey?"

He replied, "Row 20 Seats A and C."

"But those aren't bulkhead seats are they?" I asked horrified.

"No madam they are not," he replied.

So you see, after eight hours, eight different Indian operators, countless log-in's and numerous expletives, I am still no wiser as to whether I have indeed got valid tickets, on the correct dates, with the correct seats.

Frankly my brain closed down, the babies were screaming, it was 8:30 and dinner wasn't made yet, and my house was an insane asylum. Ba is barely still speaking to me, Kenz has vowed never to just 'pop in' again after being traumatised into two hardcore babysitting hours after a long day at work, and I am a broken woman. I am going to bed.

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