Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Customer is Always......Wrong!

It was one of those days. I knew it since the moment that I started packing my bags at 10:00 last night that today was going to be one of those days. I actually told myself to make sure I put the house keys in my carry-on bag and not my suitcase just in case something happened and we wouldn't be locked out of the house. I just had a feeling something wasn't right....

This week was filled with stress. The week before a long trip always tends to be a little stressful and even more so when you are like me (slightly OCD with a touch of ADD) not necessarily a good combo when I need to make sure I get orders finished,  the house clean, and make sure that everything that can go bad gets eaten, the cat is brought to the sitters with all the necessary kitty supplies including his bed with his favorite pillow and a months worth of food and kitty litter, all of the laundry done including making sure that I have a clean pair of sheets to put on the bed the morning we leave so that we can come home to a nice clean bed, packing, and well everything else that is involved in preparing for a month long trip to the U.S with my Italian husband.

Well it seems that we forgot one thing. One very important thing. A Visa for my husband. Yup, that's right apparently in order for a non-citizen to enter into the United Sates these days, one must obtain an ESTA visa from the Department of homeland security. Who knew? Us that's who! Now mind you this is not the first time we have traveled to the U.S together, in fact its been about 10 years that he has come and gone, passing right through customs with his Italian passport in hand and his blue landing card filled out nice and legibly (by me of course) with his adorable smile and charming Italian accent. Never a problem. Until now.

So here it goes. After making sure I saw some friends and fulfilled all of the above mentioned chores, I finally begin packing a suitcase at about 10:00 last night along with the man in question.  At about 1am we are ready to bite each others heads off (well we actually did) so we try to decide if at that point we should just stay awake that way we could almost guarantee sleep on the plane, or try and catch a few zzz's. We choose the latter.  Its not 2 minutes after I lay down ( or so it seems anyway) that I hear the alarm telling me its 4am and time to get in the shower and ready for our 7:15 flight to Paris, the first leg of our 14 and a half hour fight to sunny Los Angeles California. Yup that's right 3 hours of sleep. But we manage.

We call the taxi which takes what feels like an eternity to arrive as we are standing outside our apartment in the dark freezing cold.  Finally she comes and we are on our way.....or so we think.  As we turn the corner, we see that there is a delivery truck in the middle of the street unloading supplies for the mini grocery store, one load after the other. Now mind you, this is Italy, meaning that these trucks are lucky to fit down these little tiny roads to begin with, there is no way around the truck and there is no other way to go as we are surrounded by one way streets all leading to the only way out onto the main boulevard.  So we wait, and we wait, and we wait some more. Finally after about 15 minutes, sensing my stress in the backseat next to him, my Superhero gets out of the taxi and very nicely asks the truck driver to move his truck as he quickly does.

We finally get to the Florence airport at 6:15. Boarding begins at 6:45, I'm starting to feel the back of my throat closing up on me from the anxiety that we are going to miss the flight and the hubby turns to me and says tranquillo amore, non ti preoccupare, everything is gonna be fine, we're perfectly on time. So with that I relax and head up to the counter when its our turn, and that's when things go from ok everything is going to be fine to WTF!!! You have got to be kidding me!

You see this is the moment in which the desk agent asks my husband for his visa. Visa? What visa? What are you talking about he doesn't need a visa to go to the United States. Does he? Since when?  Yup he sure does. You see this is where the customer is wrong.  So I try to calmly explain to the lovely lady behind the Air France check-in counter that, he has been to the U.S. a million times before and he has NEVER needed a visa.  Well things change.  The new law went into effect in January of 2009. Mind you we flew to New York in October of 2009, still no visa required.

Ok so what now? Well another Signora from Air France very kindly offered to take Luigi into her office so that he could fill out the form on-line. (Its only supposed to take a few minutes) and she is hopeful that we will still be able to make the flight. Mind you it was about 6:40 by this point and last call for boarding is 7:00. He leaves me with the bags and runs upstairs. He calls me about a half a dozen times asking me for  various information about where we are staying once we arrive in Los Angeles, questions he apparently had to fill out on the visa form. He finally calls me and tells me to go to the check in desk with the bags and that he is on his way down. Whewww! We did it!

Except that we didn't. It turns out that the information didn't go though!! OMG!!! So the first lovely lady behind the Air France desk then asks me if I still want to go without him. My response is naturally 'no' of course I don't want to leave my husband behind. So I say to her, well eventualmente we can get on this same flight tomorrow right?  And she says, si we can try to get you on the next flight. So we agree that she will cancel us from this flight.  Well as it turns out the super-economy ticket that we bought is non-refundable and non-changeable.  And not just non-changeable as in you can't just change your mind and decide that you want to leave another day, but non-changeable as in if your ass ain't in that seat, well your SOL my friend.  I mean I understand the non-refundable part, we weren't asking for our money back, but the fact that they wouldn't even honor the ticket and get us on another flight? Wow! I have to say I was shocked. Yes, it was our mistake, admittedly, but come on help us out here! Especially since it was the lovely lady behind the Air France counter that made it sound so simple.

Now I tried to stay calm and let the husband do all the talking figuring well he's the Italian here, it just makes more sense. But I could only stay quite so long.  The reasoning of the airline was that the person checking us in does not know the circumstances of our ticket and could not have known what the restrictions were, i.e, to warn me that if I did not get on that plane we would loose two tickets, not just one. That they have many different fares for the same flight and cannot be expected to know each one.  According to the Air France representative it was my responsibility to know that if I said I did not want to go without my husband that I was knowingly voiding my ticket.  The next series of logic that I received from them is that the lovely lady behind the Air France counter, well she is NOT actually an Air France representative she just checks people into Air France flights so she doesn't really know if its possible to get us on another flight. WHAT???? And I am supposed to know that the lovely lady sitting at the Air France counter checking in Air France passengers does not actually work for Air France. Oh, and well what do we expect, I mean the tickets were so cheap. Because, we happen to be rolling around in money over here and 1000 bucks is really not that much! So as you can see around here, the customer really is ALWAYS wrong!

So we left the airport feeling completely and entirely defeated and after 50 euro in cab fare we are now back at home.  After checking his email (as he was instructed to do by the other Signora from Air France, remember the one who took him upstairs to fill out the form on-line) several times to see if this visa has been authorized, I began to research this new law and try to find out exactly when it was put into practice, I found out that there is no email, in fact there will NEVER be an email because the said traveler must go back to their web site and enter in the access code they were given upon completion of this form and see if it has been approved, and guess what? Low and behold, there it is, APPROVED! Many of the web sites I found mentioned that it would be approved in pochi secondi. So we are completely and totally convinced that it was approved as soon as the form was sent but that the other Signora from Air France simply didn't know what she was doing.

So what now.  Well since we were told we could no longer use our tickets, we have actually purchased new tickets! Yup, that's right. Two of them! Bright, sparkly, shiny, new tickets!

Yes we have submitted a request for a reimbursement of taxes, but we will still be loosing a significant amount of money, as well as another 25euro cab ride back to the airport tomorrow morning! Aren't we lucky.

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I have no idea yet what the reason is here, but I am sure I will find out soon enough.......

But, don't worry Air France hasn't heard the last from me!

Oh and did I mention that I am a Flying Blue card member? 

My exhaustion has reached it's maximum at this point so it is now time for a nice pizza and a nice pillow so that we can hope to muster up enough energy to ourselves back to the airport tomorrow morning. This time the flight isn't until 10:00a.m so at least we don't have to get up at 4.

So tell me what you think. Even if you don't agree with me, I wanna hear it.



  1. Oh dear... I am sorry that it was so stressful. After some recent shitty service that I had at the Ciampino Airport for a much smaller issue, I am not surprised at all, but I am sorry that they obviously didn't know what they were doing. I hope you two got some good sleep, and get some special treatment on your flight.

  2. As my sister, resident in the West Village, said to me late in the afternoon on September 11, 2001: "I hate the way they are going to make us live."

    What a horror story, and who knew? And yet another tale to add to the litany of Air France horror stories. I don't know anyone who dares to travel with them from/to Fi.

    Here's hoping you're safely airborne, or already there.

  3. Sorry it took me so long to past this Patti, This is the first time I am logging on since our arrival..

    It really is unfortunate that things are under such strict control these days, and I do believe that this will be our last trip with AF! Let's just hope we don't have any problems getting back next month!

    Christine, we're still waiting for that special treatment! Was given the run-around in trying to contact customer service and in the end had to submit a statement on-line. They won't even let us speak to an actual person! Did you fly AF too?

  4. Lately I have been missing traveling but after reading this I don't mind taking a few years off and just sticking close to home. I'm sorry you got screwed but I'm glad you arrived safely. I would still go after Air France and try to get something for all that nonsense.


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