I'm sitting in a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, which borders the city of New Bern. Earlier this evening I stood in what I think was the flank of the Union army's force during the Battle of New Bern in 1862. It's hard to tell, as I was standing on the side of the road with a Travelodge and an Outback behind me and a highway off ramp in front of me. I think I found the remains of a Confederate earthwork beside the road; it looks like some sort of narrow water retention pond. There's precious little of the battlefield remaining. It wasn't a particularly well known battle. The Union grabbed a foothold in North Carolina because of it, but they were never really able to exploit it until 1864. By winning the battle, Union Bridagier General Ambrose Burnside was made Major General, resulting in a lacklustre performance at Antietam and a disasterous stint at Fredericksburg and Petersburg (though he did fight well in Tennessee). That's the battle's lasting legacy. Unfortunately, it is all but gone now...
I was beginning to wonder at one point whether or not I'd be getting here at all. My flight, on Northwest Airlines, was to leave at 11:37 am on Sunday. I was due to arrive in Memphis at 12:45 or so and then fly to Raleigh, NC a little less than an hour after that. Instead, I was still in the Monroe airport (after we got something to eat) at 6:00 pm.
The problem was a mechanical fault in a sensor. The sensor said that the air conditioning was overheating, a potentially dangerous situation since it could indicate more serious problems than just an air conditioning unit. They had to fly a mechanic down from Memphis to fix the problem. He showed up on the 4:30 flight.
I'm not peeved at the breakdown. Things happen. I'm peeved that the airline would not let me cancel the flight so that I could find an alternative route out here, even after someone said I could cancel.
The flight taxied out to the runway half an hour late due to weight balancing concerns. It was on the runway that the sensor kicked in and they brought us back to the airport. Alana and Logan had been watching the flight. They came back in and joined me.
After the flight was delayed, I asked at the counter if they had any alternative ways into Raleigh. There's a rule, I remember reading, that an airline has to find you a way to your destination in the case that they goofed. Unfortunately, because the Delta flights to Atlanta were all filled up when I booked the flight, I was flying into Memphis. Memphis shuts down early, so there were no other flights into Raleigh that night (and, as I mentioned, the Delta flights — into Atlanta — were filled). There weren't even connections from other airlines going more roundabout routes. I asked if I could cancel the flight, and the counter agent said yes. He gave me Northwest's customer disservice number.
The first time I called they said I could cancel. At this point I was still not sure what to do. I ended up calling our company president to discuss the situation. He found there were no extra flights available. I then called the number again. They were going to let me cancel, so I could drive instead, but they said I was still showing boarded. They couldn't cancel the ticket at that point. I would have to get the counter people to "take me off the flight". When I did that I called the number again. This time, after talking to a supervisor, I was told that they would not let me cancel. Or, I could cancel and use the ticket any time within the next 10 days, but they would not reimburse me. The reason they gave was because I had ordered through Orbitz, not through them.
(I tried to order through them, but they wouldn't let me. My new company credit card, after the old one expired, hadn't come in yet. Northwest won't let you order tickets online with someone else's card, so instead of phoning them I just went ahead and used Orbitz. It seemed the easiest thing to do.)
Oh, and it took a minimum 20 minutes per phone call! By the time the supervisor gave me the ultimatum, I was fast running out of time to drive and had no time to argue.
So, they couldn't get me to Raleigh on the day I needed to get there. The next flight was Monday morning at 8:35 am. I was going to lose an entire day of training the clients, and yet they still wouldn't let me find alternative transportation. If I had driven, I could have salvaged half a day. No dice. The apparent reason: I had made the mistake of buying the ticket through Orbitz.
Which brings me to the hotel room in New Bern. I missed my flight, so I couldn't stay at the hotel I had reserved (of course). I called to cancel for that night, only to find out that I couldn't cancel... because I had gone through Orbitz. (See a trend?)
I phoned up Orbitz and tried to get reimbursed for the day I missed. I'm not too worried about it, as I got a free hotel stay in Memphis and the client is paying. Still, the client is paying for a hotel that was better than the Clarion dump I stayed in, and since they were losing a day of training they could understandably want a break on the hotel. Still, I should have been able to cancel the hotel.
I phoned Orbitz Sunday night when I got to the Memphis hotel. I was transferred four times, talking to five different people, about the situation. They promised to e-mail me after their "specialist" reviewed the case, but I haven't seen an e-mail. No one would tell me one way or another if they were going to reimburse me for the room I didn't get a chance to stay in.
It was clear, however, that it would have been cancelled/reimbursed if I had ordered through Holiday Inn and not Orbitz.
I should also mention that due to web site problems I couldn't order the hotel room in Raleigh for Friday night. I purchased the rest of the trip, but afterward I couldn't order the Friday night stay.
As far as I can see, there's no good reason to order through Orbitz (or, I'm guessing, Travelocity or Expedia). All the hotels and airlines now have their own online ordering system. The prices are comparable. Since the hotels and airlines treat you as second class citizens if you order through travel web sites, there's a distinct disadvantage to going through travel sites. This is the first trip that had a problem, but it will change the way I book future trips.
As for Northwest, the second last time I flew with them they got me home 6 hours late. Out of all the flights I've taken on Northwest (16, with all the different connections) only three have left on time. The flight from Memphis to Raleigh got all the way to the runway, where it waited for final weight balancing numbers. Then they discovered the plane wasn't balanced and hauled it back to the jetway, where they threw on more weight. These are the first flights I've ever taken where balance was an issue.
I don't know if Northwest is pushing things too much or what. Why leave the jetway without the numbers? Because they were gambling that they wouldn't need to add weight. Why aren't they getting the numbers in time, though? Other airlines seem to manage. I just don't understand...
At any rate, I intend to avoid Northwest in the future if at all possible. I will also avoid Orbitz. This isn't about punishment. This is about avoiding hassles.
I'm due to land back in Monroe Saturday morning. Whether or not I get there on time remains to be seen...
For the record, I got to the client site at 4 pm. I worked until 7 Monday and Tuesday, and I think I've got them more-or-less caught up. I'll know better tomorrow.
4 Good Years
7 months ago