Thursday, April 28, 2011

In which a non-departure is detailed

Let's reminisce a little, shall we?

Remember that time that you were living in a foreign country and your mom decided to come visit you and you were both crazy excited and then her flight from Boston to New York was delayed for an hour and a half and so she missed her connecting flight to Korea and no one at the airport was helping her book a new flight and her cell phone was dying and she couldn't get to her luggage because the counter was already closed and everyone was freaking out?


Basically the past 24 hours have been a nightmare. My mom has had her visit planned for a few weeks and was supposed to arrive in Incheon this afternoon around 4pm on a direct flight from JFK in New York. She left for Logan in Boston nice and early on Wednesday morning but then her flight on American Airlines to JFK was seriously delayed and so she ended up missing her connecting flight. 

From there everything sort of fell apart. She was at the American Airlines counter for an hour but they ended up saying that because there wasn't a two hour window between the landing and take-off of her two flights, that essentially it wasn't their fault so it shouldn't fall on them to deal with it. She booked through AAA and since there weren't any red flags regarding the time between her flights when she booked them, it didn't seem like an issue. Since I wasn't actually there I can't speak for what the customer service was actually like at the American Airlines counter but I don't care too much to hear about an airline that won't work to help out a stranded passenger. Since all the flights directly to Korea were done for the day she was pretty much stuck and obviously upset about it. 

In the meantime, my dad and I were talking over Skype while he was trying to help her figure things out. One big problem was that her luggage was with Asiana Air, the carrier for her second flight, and their counter was already closed for the day so there was no way she could get to it. When I finally went to bed at 6:30am she was still at the airport deciding where to spend the night, my dad was on the phone with American Airlines to verify the whereabouts of her baggage, and her best shot at a flight out was to get on standby for the same flight on Asiana leaving the following day, Thursday, and just hope she wouldn't get bumped until the Friday departure. Basically all my fears regarding my own flight to Korea came true for my poor mom. Like I said, nightmare.

So I finally went to bed and a little before 11am this morning my phone suddenly rang. By some weird twist of fate, my co-worker Jim, who just so happens to have an obsessive passion for the airline industry, decided to randomly call me and ask how my mom's take off went. I told him what was happening and he immediately told me to come over. By the time I got there he was explaining that Asiana was completely booked into the following week and so we started looking for alternatives for her. Long story short, we ended up spending five hours on the phone with everyone from AAA to American Airlines to Asiana to my mom (thank you Skype credit!), who at this point was spending the night in a dumpy love motel by the airport (not even in Korea yet and she's already covered one Korean experience).

It wasn't a pleasant five hours and a lot of times the people we talked to were no help. AAA told us to wait and then hung up on us and the folks we spoke to at American Airlines were pretty nice but useless. We asked if they had my mom's luggage and they swore up and down that yes, it was at the American Airlines counter which we learned later was a complete lie. One of them, I don't even remember who, re-booked her but the flight was ridiculous. She would have had to fly from JFK to LAX, spend the night there, then fly from LAX to Narita in Tokyo, and then go from Narita to Incheon. Her arrival would be 9:15pm on Saturday night. That was not even an option in my opinion. We considered just totally booking her a brand new flight on another airline but couldn't get anyone to give us a refund. AAA told us it was American Airline's problem, American claimed it was up to Asiana, and Asiana said to talk to AAA. Might as well have been a damn Marx Brother's movie it was so absurd. 

We tease Jim a lot when he starts talking about airlines but after what he managed to pull off today I promise I won't ever make fun of his Korean Air phone charm and matching fridge magnets. I was pretty useless and had no idea what to say to anyone but he just kept calling and pushing. Around 1pm he got on the phone with Asiana, explained the situation, and asked if there was any way they could get my mom on their Thursday afternoon direct flight to Incheon. They said they would call back within the hour so it was a waiting game. I got ready for work then went down to Jim's and around 2:45 we called Asiana again and they said to give them ten more minutes. I was pacing, I swear. We also had to leave for work by 3:15 so I was stressing. If they said no to the flight, I was about to just charge $1600 to my credit card to get her here in one piece by Friday. We could fight for a partial refund later. 

Jim must be some kind of magician because Asiana called back and said that they had a seat for her on their Thursday plane flying directly to Incheon at 1pm. This flight had been fully booked and I was so sure we were screwed and then voilĂ , there they were confirming that my mom had a seat on essentially the exact same flight she was supposed to take, only a day later. I kept waiting for the catch. Asiana told us that she'd have to hit up the American Airlines ticketing counter to have them reissue her ticket and then after that she would be all set.

By now we were cutting it close for work so I didn't have time to call my mom on Skype to let her know about all this. We literally ran around our neighborhood into convenience stores looking for international calling cards so I could call her from work. When we got there, Jim called American just to double check it all on their end and then we called my mom and filled her in. By then it was almost 3am her time and since the ticketing counter opens early she got there by 4am to take care of things. I called her when I got out of work at 7:30pm and she said everything went smoothly and that she was just waiting now for Asiana to open up at 9:30am. Turns out Asiana did have her luggage which made everything that much more convenient.

Then my dad emailed me to say that my mom has her Asiana boarding flight in hand. She departs at 1pm so I'm waiting up just to watch that little online plane tracker actually take off and then I think I can rest easy. I know I'm saying I was pretty stressed out but I know it's nothing compared to how my mom felt. This is her first time flying internationally and I'm bummed for her that it started out badly. How frustrating to be stuck without help and without luggage. I'm hoping today though that she can just press the rewind button and put yesterday behind her. She has 14 hours ahead of her on one of the, if not the, best airlines in the world. When I kept bugging Jim about whether or not Asiana would call back he assured me they would. He made the point that if you want to retain your five star status that you can't just brush people off or tell them to deal with their own problems. I already liked Asiana from my own flight here and now I appreciate their service so much more. If you're flying to Asia and you can find a reasonably priced deal, fly with them, they're great.

So anyway that's the scoop, especially for those of you family/friends who may be reading who knew my mom was coming out to visit. She'll get here, just a day later than intended. She even agreed that it's one of those stories you can pull out later but in the moment it's awful and frustrating and exhausting. I just can't wait for her to be here so she can relax and we can have an awesome week together. I'm really excited about this visit and I'm excited for her to see Korea.

Oh air travel. Where's a pair of seven-league boots when you need them?

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