June, 2007

I just phoned United Airlines to get some information about how one handles an online booking-- i.e.: where and how do you hand over your cheesy, generated itinerary/ticket purchase receipt in order to get actual tickets and thus get on the plane? I apologize if anyone was injured due to flying tooth chips as I repeatedly clenched my jaw in an effort to keep my head from exploding...

I haven't flown in years and years. I loathe it. It scares me silly. But, I'm about to do it tomorrow, to meet a bunch of folks in Chicago, and after all the post-September 11 travel hysteria and new flight restrictions, I'm trying to comprehend EXACTLY what the drill is. I don't want trouble or unexpected snags.  No large carry-on bag; no more than 3 oz. of liquid, etc., etc... ad nauseum.

So, Little Miss Under-Assistant Junior Airline Helper, 3rd Class,  reading from a pre-printed card (apparently) with whom I  am finally connected after an interminable shouted conversation with the idiotic recorded instructions voice ("...Say the first letter of your last name, like this: A; Apple, B; Boat, etcetera..."  "H; HERPES!")  finally comes on the line.

She: "Um... thank you for choosing United Airlines. How may we assist you today?"

I: "I need to know how I turn in my printed receipt for an online ticket purchase, so I can get my tickets and get on the plane. I have a receipt for a booking I made online, and it says that since it's an "E-Ticket", no ticket will be mailed. I need to know where to go and who to see, please."

She: "Um... how can I assist you with your questions for flying United, Sir?"

I: "I ... well, I thought I'd just made that clear. I'll try it another way. Maybe it's better if I put it in the form of a question-- like on "JEOPARDY".  All right:  I have this printed receipt for an online ticket purchase. Your recording seems to indicate that my flight booking is confirmed, and generated this receipt which I could print out. It indicates my itinerary, and it's also is a receipt for my ticket purchase. Now, I have to go to the airport and get on the plane tomorrow. I don't think this piece of paper, alone, is sufficient to do that, but it has no clear instructions about that. O.K., now--  My question to you is this: Where do I go, and who do I see to exchange this receipt for something that allows me onto the plane? I mean, have to see a live human being at some point to get this done, yes?"

She: "Um.. there'll be, like...  probably someone at the airport who can help you with that."

I: (slowly counting to ten...) "PROBABLY? There'll probably be someone? Can we narrow that down a little? Is there a nearer approximation of the possibility of someone ACTUALLY being there? Is there... someone else there right now that I can speak with, please?"

She: "Um... No-- um... there's, like... a person who can give you that information at the airport?"

I: "Yeah...uh-huh;  I'm guessing that's probably the case. Someone who's... rather "like" an actual, helpful, marginally-informed person. What I'm trying to find out from you-- an actual human being, you see-- is WHO that is, and WHERE I find him--or her. Can you possibly help me out and tell me that?"

She: "Um... so, you're like, flying tomorrow?"

I: "Yes. I'm going to be doing something very *much* like flying, tomorrow. I'll be flapping my arms and running up and down the length of the terminal and hoping for a good, strong tailwind. I really, really hope to be airborne by 5:40 PM, like it says on my receipt, because I'm expected in Chicago, do you see...?"

She: "Um... what?"

I: "Never mind. Look... do I just present myself at any United counter with my receipt? I just need to know how I get my REAL tickets."

She: "Um... you can, like..."

I: (Bellowing, phone held away from my mouth) : "AAAAARRRRRGGGHHHHH! SHIT!"

She: "Um... Sir? Hello...?"

I: "Sorry; just dropped an anvil on my foot. I'm fine. You were saying...?"

She: "Um... so, you can, like... go to the counter? And, there'll be, like... someone there who can, like... help you with that...?"

I: "Are you asking me this, or telling me?"

She: "Um... what?

I: "So, there's nobody there--where you are right now, in that room or in that building-- presently, who can give me any more solid information about this. I just show up tomorrow and someone who's like a person should be able to give me something that's like assistance, is that it?"

She: "Um... yes, Sir."

I: "I see. That's... "like" helpful, but not very *much* like it. I have something "like" an idea of what to do. By the way, Miss?  Are you aware that you always say "Um" before you say anything else?"

She: "Um... what?"

I: "Like, thanks..."


The upshot of all this is that apparently I could have simply trusted my instincts and blithely waltzed into National Airport tomorrow and found someone who knew what the hell they were doing and accomplished everything I needed to do-- in time to be safely and properly documented and snugly aboard the non-stop, projectile-vomiting express to Chicago. But, I figured it'd be a good idea to spare myself the grief of being mistaken and possibly screwing myself up. Go figure...

Oh, how I wish George Bernard Shaw or Noel Coward were alive today and manning the phones for United....

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