We sent our youngest off to college just a week after he graduated from SVHS in May. Sam has been attending Brigham Young University – Hawaii for the past two semesters, actually two terms and a semester. We left Wyoming for China just 6 weeks later and we haven’t seen him for 7 months. He is coming to China for his break between school and an internship that he got to work this next semester. He and a buddy put in for internships with Disney World, probably more as dares than because they wanted to have an internship. Well, they were accepted and decided that they would actually accept the opportunity. Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think that is a pretty sweet deal, college in Hawaii and internships in Florida at Disney World, with a 3 week vacation in China. I can understand why some peoples’ kids stay in school now. That is living rough, my college experiences were nothing like this guy’s experience, I was always trying to make ends meet and trying to figure out how to get that whole experience over with. He is going to enjoy college and the associated time A LOT more than his parents did when they were that age. We are excited about seeing him again and glad that he is getting to spend some time with us here in China.
We are a little nervous about getting him from Hawaii to the Orient. While Hawaii has lots of visitors from this part of the world the plane connections to get him to our airport here in Qingdao are complex. The simplest routes are literally idiotic; the flights would send him back to the mainland US to make the connection to China. The ones that send him to the Orient have layovers that are 18-20 hours between arrival and departure. I am glad that we are working with American Express Travel to get this figured out. I am quite uncomfortable with letting my 19 year old son just wander around Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, or Tokyo for 18 hours between flights. Not that I don’t trust him, I just don’t know that he is ready to have that adventure by himself. The other big concern is that I don’t want him trying to figure out what to do with his luggage during that layover. We are finally able to find a flight that will send him from Honolulu to Tokyo to Shanghai and finally to Qingdao without any overnight stays. I am concerned about the short duration between the connections but I am assured by the reservation agent that there is plenty of time between the flights or else the computer wouldn’t allow the route.
Now I have flown a lot in the last 5 years, granted exclusively in North America except for our little trip over to China this past summer, so I know that there are lots of things that can go wrong with connections. Our biggest concern is making sure that the luggage connections are right and that we understand where Sam has to collect and recheck his luggage. As we get ready for the big day I have a conversation with him about general safety precautions and keeping track of his stuff, making sure he has his passport and flight coupons handy, and talking with the flight attendants and gate personnel about whether he has to get his bags and recheck them at the various locations/stopovers. I am fairly confident that if he talks with these people that he will be able to make the trip without incident. The one variable that I don’t take into consideration is will Sam be able to be understood and understand. So to give away the rest of the story – NOPE, we are about to experience an expensive and frustrating travel experience. (Some of what follows is taken from the letter to customer service for United/Continental, I don’t have any idea if it will make a difference, but it will make me feel better to rain a little of their parade.)
The experience went bad when the flight departed late from Honolulu and arrived late in Toyko. It got worse when the folks that I expected to be able to help, bum-doped him about needing to collect his bags in Tokyo and having to recheck them to his connecting flight to Shanghai. That one little miscommunication caused a series of events that will make me once again reaffirm that I will NEVER fly on a Continental codeshare flight. Two Continental codeshare flights in the last year and both were the WORST flights of my life. I have friends based in Houston that have flown Continental for many years and they swear the Continental is the best. My experiences with them has been consistently bad, I have been let down by Continental every time I have flown with them; I don’t understand how they can think that Continental is so good, unless they have never had a good flying experience and the substandard performance of Continental seems to be good. A matter of perception? Maybe.
I have become a judgmental flier mostly because I have had good experiences when flying but also because I have flown enough to know when I get good service and know when I get bad service. If I would have had the experience that Sam had at the ANA desk in Tokyo, I am afraid that I would still be in some jail in Japan. I am certain that I would have lost my temper and the results would have been unpleasant for everyone involved. I have learned to control my temper in most situations but I still struggle to maintain my cool when I am placed in bad situations that I have no control of. One thing I have begun to accept is that the flier has NO CONTROL of any situation from the moment he/she arrives at the airport. My recommendation; take an overdose of Prozac, drink some large quantities of your favorite beverage, and settle in for an experience that may be wonderful but it has an even greater probability of being the worst experience of your life.
I have recently been a 1K flier with United and I know that the customer service desk have the ability to make your day or to make the blood vessels in your eyes burst. I realize that some days at the customer service counter are better than others, but no matter how bad your day is at work you don’t just let a 19 year old hang without providing some kind of assistance. The biggest problem was that the customer help desk didn’t help. Whose fault is that? I am sure that some fault lies with my son, but a 19 year old stuck in an international airport in Tokyo gets the benefit of the doubt in my opinion. Especially when he got specific direction from gate agents and flight attendants that told him he needed to collect his bags before making his connection. Needless to say that by the time he figured out that he didn’t need to collect his bags, he was not going to make it back through security and then change terminals via a terminal shuttle bus to catch his connecting flight.
Now, the flight was designated as a “late flight” on all electronic mediums that are available to American Express Travel and the internet status available on United.com. You would think that we could get someone to acknowledge that there was a little bit of responsibility that the airline should accept. Oh no, based on the phone calls that I made (over $240 USD worth – really have to love international roaming charges) to try and communicate with my son to figure out why I can’t get someone to get him rebooked. You see part of the problem here is that it was a Continental codeshare with ANA. So he has to work with ANA’s desk to figure out how to get things corrected and they are not interested in working late on Sunday help him get things figured out. While he left Hawaii on Saturday morning, he has arrived on Sunday afternoon in Tokyo and it is apparently time to go home. He gets the worst case of run-around that is possible. Since ANA isn’t the connecting airline, ChinaAirlines is, ANA thinks that ChinaAirlines needs to help him; problem is that they are in the other terminal. In order to get ChinaAirlines help he has to ride the terminal change bus back over there to see about getting some help. When he arrives their (China Airlines) desk is closed, imagine that. So he now rides back to ANA and is still getting a run-around. The international “hostess” is completely worthless, she provides so little help to identify some resolution I find it hard not to use “sailor language” to describe her. We finally get someone at the desk that is able to get in touch with China Airlines and we are tantalized with a solution, $5,000 Yen for a change to his ticket (now I know there is some kind of exchange rate that I have to figure out, I am used to dealing with that here in China where the exchange rate is something like 6.5 to 1 and I know Japan will something but we don’t know what it is. Our initial reaction because of our Chinese exchange rate is, WOW that is huge, we finally figure out that the exchange rate is something like 77 yen per dollar but that takes some time to figure out – $65 USD), however, by the time we figure out that we can “afford” to do that she has lost the connection and no one is answering the phone when she calls back. So we are now officially stuck in Tokyo with no way out.
One of our big concerns is where his luggage is, did the bags make the connection or are they stuck in Tokyo also? The location of the bags will ultimately determine what we try and do for connections also. We find that the bags are still in Tokyo. Interesting, not sure if they got pulled from the flight or if they never made it in the first place, either way we are glad to know that all of the bags are still with the traveler. Now to figure out what to do next, the solution for ANA is to disappear from the help desk.
I resort to putting Sam up in the hotel that is closest to the airport. It costs us just about $125 USD. Thanks Continental for that, cumulative total thus far, about $375 USD, and counting, and we don’t have him on a plane leaving the country yet. And there is no one in Tokyo that is going to help us tonight.
Now for you less frequent travelers there is something that you must realize, when you miss your connection, the airport has a “hold” on your ticket, the only thing that really has any value on your trip. This might be great when there is someone at the airport that gives a rip about you and is trying to help you solve the problem. It is a bad thing when there is not, you can’t do anything to solve the problem while the airport controls the ticket. American Express Travel has been working with us to figure out what are alternatives are and what we can do to get him out of Japan and into China. The solution actually takes a shift and half at the American Express Travel Emergency Center to get some resolution. We finally get the ticket released and are able to rebook flights. It is now 3:00am in the morning Japan time and just a little less than 12 hours since he arrived LATE into Japan. LaDawna is able to confirm that we want those tickets, it is about 1:00am for us, and she needs to be in Qingdao in just about 12 hours. Sam has to be in the NRT airport in just about 4 hours.
Since we are fortunate to have his luggage with him he is a free agent for how to get from Tokyo to Qingdao. American Express Travel gets him booked on a flight from Tokyo (NRT) to Fukuoka (FUK) to Qingdao (TAO). Now I am not making up the name of the connecting airport, how appropriate is it that we get an airport with the initials of FUK, the sailor in me reads that city something like this – FUKU OK A; it pretty much summarizes the whole affair. Cost for getting him a guaranteed seat out Japan and home to see his momma, over $2400 USD, the cost of that change to get him home actually cost more than the cost of entire ticket. Total affair costs us over $2800 USD.
Now some musings on my part, when my dependents fly with me we all fly business class, if they don’t fly with me they fly the cheapest possible fare. In my opinion, here is a classic example of trying to save a couple hundred bucks and it actually costing thousands in the long run. I am certain that had my son been booked in business class like he would have been if he was flying with me, the ANA smucks would have done an adequate job at making sure that he got reconnected without me even having to be involved and I know that the cost to the company would have been less than it ended up being. Guess that is one for the Westinghouse China lessons learned database.
So despite me not wanting to have my 19 year old son on a long layover in a foreign country by himself and jumping through all the hoops possible to avoid it, we ended up with that scenario and 10x the headaches because it was not planned. Continental Airlines, YOU SUCK. Not seeing much reason to give you any more of my business. Unfortunately, I like United Airlines so I can’t cut your company off completely, or I would. If it wasn’t so dang inconvenient to fly DELTA out of Jackson Hole, WY, I wouldn’t have to even worry about it. Those United direct flights to LAX and ORD from Jackson Hole make it too easy for me to keep paying your parent company for flights to where I have to go, because there really isn’t much difference between a connection in DEN and SLC.
I send his mother to get him in Qingdao. We know that our little Chevy Cruze will barely be able to get him and his luggage home with one additional person. I was supposed to be off on Monday but I have been filling in for the boss and have to work. Sam arrives in Qingdao and the luggage and guitars are all that our little car can carry. He is happy to be here. We are happy to see him. I am glad to have the experience behind us. I am ready to be on vacation and share the Chinese experience with our son. Welcome Home SON, this is China, at least it isn’t Japan.