Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Siesta Desk

I'm trying to cash in some frequent flyer miles for this year's baseball trip to Florida. It is very much an adventure, but I'm trying to, you know, endure customer service.

I've earned my reward on a certain airline that serves the American Delta, including Atlanta, Covington, KY, and Salt Lake City. I tried calling all day today and was getting busy signals...to the point where it was clear that something was wrong at the call center. Finally, this evening, I decided to try to work in through the back door. I called the automated flight arrival/departure information, where a very sweet computerized lady offered to help me. Here's what happened.

Hi, I'm the automated flight information system--
"Operator."
I'm sorry, I didn't understand you
"Operator."

(Long, long pause.)

Okay. Say the arrival city.
"(confused silence)"
I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. Please say the arrival city.

(At this point, I figured...what the hell.)

"Kilamanjaro."
All right. The flight is from...Hartford!...to...Banjul, Gambia!...Is this right?
"Yes!"
What time will the flight arrive?
"Two PM."
All right. Let me check.

(long pause)

I'm sorry, there are no flights from...Hartford!...to...Banjul, Gambia!...scheduled to arrive at--
"Bitch!"
I'm sorry, I'm having trouble understanding you.
"Fuck off!"
I'm sorry, I'm having trouble understanding you. To speak with an agent, say "Talk to an agent."
"TALK TO AN AGENT!"

The agent, alas, made me miss the computer. She didn't seem to understand what I was saying, even after two or three repetitions. Questions like "What was the month of travel?" and "Okay, so was that the 8th, 9th, or 15th?" were trying my patience. So I said "Could you transfer me to another agent? I'm not certain you're understanding me." To be honest, even though that was my #1 concern, that was only part of the problem; I also was having trouble understanding her due to her heavy and indeterminate accent. She offered to transfer me to, I believe, "the siesta desk." Okay, whatever...it'd be better than the computer or this agent. So I went on hold and started typing this blog entry.

Periodically, the misunderstood-and-misunderstanding (albeit very polite) agent would come back and say "Do you want to do this on-line?" I also stayed polite, but said no, I needed an agent. Ten minutes later, she'd ask "Are you still on-line?" I never told her that I was on-line. I was, of course...but I was writing this blog, rather than checking frequent-flyer availability, etc. At any rate, it was taking a long time--over twenty minutes--to get through to the siesta desk. Perhaps they were taking a nap. Another time when she checked in on me, we had this classic exchange, both of us staying polite the whole time (which made it a bit more surreal):

HER: Sir, if you can't understand me, I can put you through to the siesta desk as long as you wait, or you can go on-line.
ME: That's not the main problem. I don't want to go on-line...I have questions for an agent. And the main problem isn't that I can't understand you, it's that I don't think that you are understanding me well enough.
HER: That's what I'm saying, sir. If you have trouble understanding me, you can wait for the siesta desk.

I do hope this conversation was recorded for quality assurance...that exchange actually happened.

Eventually, we both gave up on the siesta desk and I hung up, called back, got another agent (after grappling with the computer again...I'd forgotten the magic word "talk to an agent"), and was told that there are no frequent-flyer seats for the dates I want to travel. Bummer.

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