Years ago, planning a vacation meant a trip to the travel agent and a long chat to an attractive woman surrounded by posters, offering trips to exotic places and luxurious voyages on cruise ships. A visit to the travel agent was exciting; it was part of the overall journey—a curtain raiser to the main event. Today, most of us make our travel arrangements online; after all, it’s easy. Or is it?
We have a credit card and a passport and a computer. Vacation here we come.
After going to the airline website and ticking the boxes for our outbound and inbound journey, we found that the airline didn’t fly on those dates. No problem, we’re flexible, so we changed the dates. The airline website confirmed that flights were available on the new dates and gave us a price. At that point we decide to wait a couple of days to make sure those really were the dates on which we wanted to travel, before going ahead. Big mistake. When we returned to the website, the price had gone up by $400!
Oh well, we’ll search for different dates at more reasonable prices.
We are now a week into the booking process.
With times and dates sorted and the credit card flexed and ready to bleed, we hit the confirm button. New page, new message: Credit card refused, please try again. Second try and then a third … followed by a big argument over the credit card details and had they been filled in correctly. Fourth try and the airline website closed the page and sent us back to square one.
Reopen browser, start again. Same problem, credit card refused. Please try again. We do, over and over, and the page times out.
Next step, call our credit card company. They put me on hold for 30-minutes while playing dreamy music to calm me down and a recorded voice full of bonhomie tells me I’m valued and to be joyous as an operative will soon be with me.
Suddenly, the lilting voice of Milton, who tells me he is in India, asks me how he can help. My phone drops the call and I start to cry.
One hour and a stiff drink later and I am renewing my friendship with Milton in India, only it’s not Milton, this time it’s a lady. We go through the ID thing and she bombards me with questions about what I bought a year ago. I tell her I haven’t a clue because my wife does the banking, but my wife’s here so I’ll ask her. The lady in India informs me that now I have been coached the information is invalid, and goes off to find a supervisor. Fifteen minutes of elevator music to break down my defenses and I’m being grilled by the supervisor who demands I answer all questions while wishing she could tear out my fingernails. She stops when I confess the name of the first girl I ever kissed and the color of the socks she was wearing at the time. “Thank you, Mr. Brown, at last,” she sighs and tells me there’s now a problem with the system and could I call back tomorrow.
I make an appointment with a therapist and wait for the dawn.
Sunday morning, 8am. We open the airline website and fill in the forms AGAIN! We hit the pay button and the card is refused. I call India and a man picks up right away. “It’s him,” he whispers. There’s a click and someone introduces themselves as the head of the fraud department.
I’ve spent all night getting ready for him (or her). I have bank statements going back a hundred years, and my great-great-grandfather’s birth certificate and marriage license and a note of the year he went bald. I also have copies of the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, just in case he tries to fool me.
He opens by asking for my cell phone number, which I instantly forget. I daren’t ask my wife or we’ll be back to the coaching problem. I say I’m feeling unwell and try to mime ‘write down my cell phone number and show it to me’ over my shoulder. I grunt and make choking noises and the voice in India asks if I’m alright.
“Mister Brown, please sir, please, try rebooking your flight; it should go through this time.” I can hear a commotion on the sub-continent. I disconnect and fall off the chair.
My wife drags me away from the computer and rebooks the tickets, confirms, and the payment goes through.
Fifteen minutes later I receive a call. It’s a man in India. He asks if the transaction went through. I tell him it has. He says “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Can you recommend a good travel agent?” I ask.
He laughed and put down the phone.