Posted by: morrowsl | May 16, 2011

And we’re paying you for this?

To say I was apprehensive about Marc and Mandy’s plans to marry in Jamaica is like saying the idea of flying monkeys is a bit disturbing to small children.  I was terrified.  I’ve never flown over water.  I didn’t own a passport.  My feet have never left American soil with the exception of a short visit to Windsor years ago.  All of this and more would happen.  Had I known just how much more, I might possibly have made a greater plea for California.  But that’s the thing about hindsight, it occurs much too late.

I had about a year to prepare for the trip.  Which was plenty of time to get over the jitters and flat-ass grow up.  The most important fact was, it wasn’t my wedding.  And I’m really not one to stomp on someone’s dream.  So, I sent for a certified copy of my birth certificate and, while I was waiting, met with the travel agent to pay for our airline tickets and the hotel deposit.  I was booking two rooms total; one for two people, the other for four.  And I was paying for four airfares.  Cut and dried.

The first red flag was flying at full mast when she closed her office door and handed me a Pampered Chef catalog.  I mumbled something about needing a new salad bowl, shoved the catalog in my purse and ignored the warning bells clanging around in my head.  Big mistake.  By the end of the meeting I had paid her roughly $300 more than she’d originally quoted for the deposits (she forgot to mention we’d have to pay room insurance which was a per person charge and would protect us from being charged the full rate should someone cancel) and left with a very unsettled feeling that we were all about to be taken for a long and miserable ride.

The birth certificate came in and the application for my passport went out.  Less than two weeks later I had an email from the travel agent stating that it was mandatory to have our passport info on our travel itineraries and we were expected to comply by month’s end.  Mike hadn’t yet applied for his passport, nor had Jeff and Sheli.  I’d heard horror stories about delays and problems, so I emailed back that we didn’t have them yet and expressed my concern that she would need to intervene on our behalf.  Her reply was that we had until 30 days prior to departure.  Uh…  hoist red flag number two.  We had roughly 270 days before departure, why had she given us a month-end deadline?

My passport actually arrived extremely fast and I became giddy as a schoolgirl at the thought of possessing the one document that assured travel to all the places I never dreamed I would actually go.  It was one of those “grown up” feelings you don’t really have after age forty.  And it was fun!!

The idea of flying to Jamaica became a bit less threatening.

You know, ignorance really is bliss.

By January things had changed considerably.  Sheli and Jeff were not able to go and Melissa and Loyal were going but would need some help with arrangements.  Belinda was not going, but we would still need the two rooms.  Two in one room, three in the other.  The agent and I had exchanged several phone calls and emails regarding the changes and related cost.  Finally, in February, the kinks were worked out and all the details had been seen to.  I had confirmation emails that made me feel like I’d misjudged her ability to actually do the job we were paying her to do, i.e. make the trip as stress free and fun as if we were celebrities.  I was told this is the same agency Jerry Jones uses.  I even began to get a bit excited to be going.

I had to go back in to see her twice more and all the feelings of doubt returned.  She talked in circles, never really settling on a subject before moving on to the next one and when I tried to nail her down she seemed to get really annoyed.  Mandy commented that there were changes on one of her bridesmaids itineraries and that the girl had waived the room insurance.  Red flag number three slapped me directly in the face!!  I’d been told the insurance was mandatory and had lost my initial payment when Sheli and Jeff canceled.  Then I was expected to pay insurance for Mo and Loyal as well, in spite of the fact that they represented nothing more than a name change for the resort!!  When I tried to discuss this with her, she got really defensive and ended the conversation by saying she’d try to get the vendor to waive it.  This was after her failed attempt to explain how my booking was with one vendor and the bridesmaid’s was with another.  AT THE SAME RESORT.  And the only tangible evidence she had for the difference between the two vendors was the color and quality of the little pleather document case each offered for the paperwork they insisted you bring with you.

Then we found out the agent had been fired and was leaving before our trip.  Our bookings were turned over to the company accountant.  Red flag number four was flying high above the building as I walked in to make our final payment, but I left feeling like things would be ok.  As I said, ignorance truly is bliss.

Finally, the day arrived for Marc and Mandy to print their boarding passes in anticipation of the early morning flight to Miami and then Montego Bay.  After several failed attempts and calls to the new agent (replacement for Ms. Whackadoodle) he was finally able to print the docs and all was well.

However, when their flight into Montego Bay was turned back to Miami and they were delayed several hours before another plane became available, my calls to the new agent left a very unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach.  She really couldn’t offer a suggestion other than for Marc to take it up with the insurer when they got back home.  While they waited for the second flight Marc had time to peruse the fine print regarding flight insurance and called to tell me that I had actually paid for a cancellation waiver up front that was meant to protect me from fees and charges if a change or cancellation was made.  But I had still been charged a fee.  I called the agent and left a message that I expected her to check on this and be able to explain it to me when I got back home.  If not before.  I’m still waiting…

Next day I decide I should maybe just have a look at our reservation so as to be able to avoid the problems Marc encountered.  There was a message that more information was needed.  So, like Marc, I called the agent.  His problem seemed to come from some missing details in the customer details area where, lo and behold, two little yellow exclamation points were directing me to missing information for me and Mike as well.  Marc had actually gone in and added the missing info which, according to the travel agent, had caused him to go from assigned to unassigned seating.  She put them back in assigned seats and the boarding passes printed.  I wasn’t going to change anything without assistance from the agent.  Mike had already discovered that we weren’t assigned seats on the return flight and I’d had to call to get them assigned.

The new agent started out by telling me that, regardless of what Marc was told by whomever he spoke to (not her, of course) there was no way adding information to customer details would result in unassigned seating.  Please raise red flag number five.  SOMEONE from the agency told him this was the problem.  She then proceeds to pull up our record locator for herself, makes the required changes and tells me to print my passes.  Nope, I get an error message.

Here’s where red flag number six begins its slow rise up the pole.  We try and fail repeatedly on my computer as well as hers.  Once she begins to actually feel my frustration she determines she’s going to have to call the airline to see what the problem is.

And here is where you can repeat any portion of the previous two paragraphs at least four times.  We spoke so many times she actually started answering her phone with “hello, Sheree” when I called.

Finally, she calls to tell me that the airline assures her all is well and I can print my passes as soon as the 24-hour window opens the next day.  I am thinking at this point that we were just trying to print much too early and every little ting will be alright.

I was wearing red flag seven when I sat down at the computer.  Still getting the error message.  As soon as the agency opens I call only to be told that my agent is out for the day.  Not only did she not tell me this yesterday, she didn’t give me a name for the person who would be screwing things up today in her place.  I ask to speak to someone in charge and get yet another new agent.  This one gets all sassy and tells me it’s really just a simple matter of going into the record and hitting the print button, but she’ll do it for me this time.  Uh oh, it won’t print for her either…  what seems to be the problem?  Ok, she sees.  You have to fill in this missing information.  Here you can pretty much repeat the conversation with the other agent from the day before complete with additional calls back and forth.  Only this time end it with the comment that we’ll be able to print from the self-service kiosk at the terminal.  I decide to check on Mits’ record as well and, even though she has been booked on the same flight for the same length of time, her information is complete.

In spite of the big green check mark and the “record complete” message on our locator, I still couldn’t get our passes to print from home the morning of our departure, so I tied red flag eight on my bag where I could find it on the conveyor should it ever actually make the trip to Jamaica and need to be identified.

We couldn’t print boarding passes at the kiosk (no real surprise here) and the agent seemed to have a very hard time getting them as well.  Her final explanation was that the flight had originally been non-stop but had been changed to a one-stop.  I explained that all three of us were on the same flight and only two of us encountered problems and she seemed truly puzzled by this.  Oh well…  Once we finally had our passes and were on the gate waiting for our plane, I actually began to breathe.  I needn’t have bothered.  It was not yet time to relax.

We arrive in Jamaica totally ignorant of the complete fiasco that awaits us.  The airport smells strongly of cannabis, which should have been some comfort (they are soooooo relaxed here!!) but instead put me on edge like never before.  Immigration, no problem.  Customs, no problem, mon.  Shuttle from the airport to the resort, problem.  Who is this Mitzi?  She is not on our list.  We can not transfer anyone not on the list.  We wait.  We watch the girl with a telephone receiver held to each ear.  She looks important.  She appears on top of things.  She doesn’t say “no problem” or smile the fake smile of someone who is just being nice because it’s her job.  She tells us we can wait in the lounge.  We wait.  Every other tourist in the entire airport was gone before our wait was over.

Finally, I am at my wits end.  I call the travel agency (guess who I’m planning to have pay for that?) and get a man on the phone who tells me that all of the agents I’ve dealt with previously are not available.  This is after I’ve already been transferred to the voice mail for the one who is supposed to be handling our trip.  I am just short of pissed.  He is very intuitive.  At the last possible moment as he is about to put me on hold so someone with authority can help me, the girl who isn’t smiling the fake smile tells us that we are good to go.

We board the bus for the harrowing ride through the narrow, unlined, pockmarked, super-congested streets with no dividing line that approximately one and one half hours later will see us to our final destination.  I decide to just ignore the fact that our driver is speeding down the streets, riding the bumper of the car in front of us and not even bothering to swerve to miss pedestrians.  He is honking a lot, maybe they are listening.

At long last and without having to first pull ourselves from the wreckage of our shuttle, we arrive at the resort and are greeted by a nice young woman carrying cool, citrus-scented towels.  I begin to think we will be ok.

Do I really need to say again that I am ignorant?  I think not.

Although she has in fact been transferred from the airport to the resort, Mitzi is still not on the list.  I explain to the nice woman at the desk that she has been booked as the third person in my room since the reservation was originally made.  We show her the copy of her papers from the pleather document case, pointing to the sentence that says “you will be in Sheree and Richard Morrow’s room.”  She is still unsure what to do with us.  Marc arrives with drinks.  We sit and wait.  Finally a bellhop arrives to take us to our room.  The one with a king bed.  Uh…  what red flag are we on now?

The bellhop (a nice young man named Courtney) assures us that housekeeping will be there shortly to fold-out and make the sofa.  When he discovers that we are not planning to stay in a room with one bed and a fold-out sofa, he likewise insists that he will see to it personally that we are moved to another room first thing in the morning.  We leave to go explore the resort.  We allow ourselves to breathe.  The smell of smoke is so thick I begin to get a headache.  I find out that the banana growers burn portions of their fields at night.  I take an Aleve and we go to the beach.

Before going to dinner we stop by our room.  The sofa hasn’t moved.  Maybe we’re rushing them; it’s early yet.  After dinner the sofa is still as it has always been.  We attempt to unfold it and the foot of it rests on the very tall foot board of the king bed…  Unless we relocate the sofa to the other side of the room, Mits will be sleeping in a “v” for the night.

Mo and Loyal are due in shortly, so we go to the desk to ask that they have Mo call us when she and Loyal arrive.  Guess who isn’t listed ANYWHERE on the resort register?  I began to feel my dinner creeping ever so slowly back up my throat.  My head feels like it is going to split right down the center.  I use my phone to try and locate any email that confirms Mo and Loyal replacing Sheli and Jeff in the second room we have had booked for almost a year.  Internet access is EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE in Jamaica.  Guess who is going to pay for that as well?  Finally, it dawns on me that, along with not adding the third person to my room, the agent never changed the names on the second room.  So, why did I pay for the additional room insurance?  Oh, wait.  She said they would waive that charge.  And they waived it so hard the change never got made.  Sure enough, the paperwork on the desk is for Sheli and Jeff.  I explain for possibly the tenth time that Sheli and Jeff are not coming and that at least two different agents assured me all the changes had been taken care of.  Mo had paperwork FROM THE RESORT with their names on it.  How can it be that the hotel doesn’t?  The nice young woman (same one with the towels from much earlier in the day) assures me we will get things straightened out.

Reinforcements arrive in the person of Mike who has had several of the free drinks by now and is well on his way to “no problem” land.  Great.

There is nothing to do now but sit and wait.  Finally we get the call from the airport that there are two guests who want to come to the resort but are not on the list.  The nice young woman (Vanessa) explains that the names have been changed.  The shuttle departs and we know we have an hour at least of waiting yet.  I try very hard to relax and make my head calm down.  The smoke is thicker than ever.  I just want a shower and bed.  Sometime after 10:00pm Mo and Loyal arrive.  We have all now been awake for roughly nineteen hours.  As soon as possible we are all heading for bed.  Vanessa assures us there will be no further problems.

I was having a lot of trouble feeling that she might be right this time.

Thursday dawns and I would call it a beautiful day if not for the thick smoke clouding every single nook and cranny of our airspace.  My head is still aching so I take migraine meds and head for breakfast hoping I won’t end up in bed while my son and the love of his life are saying their vows.  Luckily for us, the smoke moved out to sea by mid-day and the skies were clear and blue.

We stop by the desk on our way back from breakfast and are assured there will be a room switch shortly.  Sure enough, we are finally moved into a room on the ground floor with a nice view of the sea and two double beds.  We shower and dress for the wedding.  We begin to relax.  This may just end up being a vacation after all.


Responses

  1. After reading this, I am thinking Hawaii may have been a better choice and no travel agency. I hope that you receive some compensation for all of your headaches, worry and trouble.

  2. Welcome home
    How about a trip next year to some beautiful island? We can just relex and enjoy ourselves.


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