Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Trying Telephone Troubles Print

August 20, 2014:  As I think I have made abundantly clear by now, I love to travel.  But there are times when this dedication and passion are sorely tried.  Airport delays, missing baggage with an irreplaceable, admittedly hideous, outfit or my beloved teddy (bear), hotel rooms next to clanging elevators or adult frat parties, all of these happily very occasional occurrences can provoke existential questioning.

But recently I reached almost the apex of personal agony in attempting, of all things, to reserve seats for my husband and myself on an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Newark.

I don’t want to boast, but I’m a Platinum Level flier on United Airlines, and my husband is a Gold member by virtue of my attainment of one million miles on said airline.   I’m a bit tongue-in-cheek about boasting as I’ve discovered that there are a huge number of business travelers out there who hold that status and higher.  Moreover, I expected some sort of amazing payoff when I hit my millionth, say, a free trip around the world first class.  Instead, I got a very nice card and a certificate saying I’d flown the requisite amount, and that was about it.

Back to the drama of the seats.  Because I will be departing on United, and, despite the fact that United and Air Canada are part of the Star Alliance, I could not obtain my return seats on AC through United.  In addition, Air Canada’s web site was not at all interested in my United reservation numbers. 

Next  step, a call to Air Canada.  Ha!  I had to dial its number repeatedly, inflaming my finger tip, before I got by a busy signal.  An eerie, recorded message then told me I would have to wait 35-40 minutes to speak to an alleged human being.  Forget that!

I then called United on my magical Platinum number and spoke instantly to an agent, who provided me with a set of Air Canada reservation numbers for my flight.  Relief!

I should have known better.  On my return to the Air Canada web site, I diligently entered said numbers, only to be told that, for any of a variety of reasons, I was ineligible to book online.  Come on!

So, at several times when I had almost nothing better to do, I called AC’s reservation number with the same squeal of busy signals, interminable waits, and final abandonment, due to the intervention of life.

But today was the day!  I was going to tough it out no matter what.  28 calls before I was connected.  25 minutes of waiting, which I whiled away playing Candy Crush, and then, sweetly, the ringing indicating I was being connected to an agent.  Ah, bliss!

But fate was unkind.  I was unceremoniously disconnected before the exchange of a single word.

In my fury, I brought to bear every internet skill I possess.  First, I tweeted a pretty nasty note at Air Canada, which the millions will be free to read.  Then, I searched online to see if I were the first person so irritated.  No, indeed!  AC has quite a reputation out there.  Next, I searched for numbers that might do an end run around AC’s main telephone reservation number.  First, and quite curiously, I found a free service that would call for me and provide AC with my number to call at their “leisure.”  I filled in the required information and waited and waited, finally noticing that this service was calling the same number that I had had such poor luck with.  So, back to the internet.  And there it was, an anonymous person providing a number that he claimed had a less than two-minute wait.

 With trembling hands, I dialed.  One second later, I was connected.  Ten seconds further on a most human voice asked how she could help me.  And by the end of a minute, I had my seats.  Strange stuff!

My big decision now is whether to propagate this magical number out to the world on Twitter or to keep it my selfish secret.  Not that I’m planning to fly on Air Canada any time again soon!

Finally, in the ultimate irony, a few minutes after my success, I got the callback from Air Canada.  Another human voice.  Rejoice!

Pictured here:  The author’s ticket on Air Canada.

Photo by Adrienne Smith

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