I find it marvelous that in the midst of emotional upheaval, difficult remembrances, and darker moments that I find my way back up to the surface and can gasp for that breath of refreshing air. Every day brings a new opportunity to find my way to the wave that will take me back in to shore, the one that I can steady myself upon and from which I can raise my arms high in the air and clap once again with sheer joy at the marvel of it all. It’s all about what one chooses to focus on.
Lately, with jury duty, I was pulled for a while to thoughts of darkness. And, in the midst of that I was dealing with a challenging work season with at times difficult clients. Oh, you may think the customer is always right. In my world, they simply are not always right. I do my very best to bring clients wonderful vacation dreams come true, but within those exchanges I have to endure certain people whose personalities are very strong, they feel they know it all and are better at arranging travel that I might be. After all, they don’t know me and they took a twirl or two on-line and found things through web based travel agencies that were tempting. The commercials on TV suggest they can get a better deal with on-line hotel companies. Most of those on-line hotel companies are very restrictive once the reservation is booked and paid in full. And, once you show up at the hotel, the message is: “you bought it, you must keep it”. If you enter your hotel room and hate it, or it smells, or it is a closet or it looks out at the dumpster in the back alley or, perhaps there is a weird stain on your sheets: tough. Sure, you can and should go to the front desk to inquire about a solution, but don’t be surprised if your efforts are for not. And, if you call the customer service line at the on-line booking host, don’t be surprised if you get a round robin repeated response that you had to cancel your booking at least 48 hours prior to arrival per the terms of your particular booking in order to have any refund compensation. “But” you say, “I didn’t know 48 hours prior to arrival that the room would be 100% unacceptable”. Silence. “I am sorry, Ma’am. You needed to cancel the booking 48 hours prior to arrival in order to receive a refund” is the dead pan response. You give up, it’s useless. I had someone tell me not too long ago, that she had that type of experience with one of the many on-line hotel sites and she will never again book on-line. I smiled a little. She nodded- understanding passed between us. You see, as a travel agent, when we book services, if you have a problem with anything you booked through us, there is a customer service desk. But in our case, 99% of the time, this desk will bend over backwards to make it right. So, you don’t have to sleep in that icky room that you nabbed for 75% less than what you thought you had to pay.
Recently, I had a client book a river cruise in Europe. This is a lovely Christmas Market River Cruise that starts with a pre-cruise city stay in Prague and ends in Budapest and she and three girl friends in two balcony cabins will enjoy the Danube and the beautiful Christmas Markets. Throughout the booking process, the lead client was routinely rude, yelling and even cursing. The slightest thing would set her off and it was always a shock to me at the sensitivity she was exhibiting. The underlying mistrust was palpable. At one point, when the booking was on hold, she called frantic with loud words coming through the ear piece because the booking for one cabin was more expensive than the other cabin and she was furious about the lack of clarity. Never mind that I had written every detail out explaining the differences and provided the client copy of the cruise lines’ invoice. When she would allow me a word in edgewise, I was able to explain that the insurance for the two ladies in the one cabin was higher because they booked a higher category of cabin. When the trip cost increases, the insurance premium increases. This was detailed in the previous email. Almost grudgingly she acquiesced and they booked. And I knew that with her emotional roller coaster approach to every detail of the booking process, that 2016 was going to be a long year. And indeed, yesterday that thought was affirmed. I received the email that they were ready to book their air. Their cruise includes a promotional free air offer in standard economy class. When one books air as part of a cruise, and in particular free air, it is generally the case that one receives the air schedule from the cruise line closer to departure date; sometimes 30-60 days prior to departure date. As this cruise is a holiday cruise, it is prudent to add something to the booking called AIR Plus, which allows the selection of the schedule and airline right away. The customer has the choice of their preferred schedule and airline for the most part. I say that because the category the cruise line is using is a particular category, and that category must be available for the air to be free. If it is not available, then it may be necessary to pay a little bit of a difference in price between free and the next category. This privilege of selecting an itinerary in February for a cruise taking place late November/early December is $50 per person. Not a bad deal and then these ladies don’t have to worry about what airline, whether there will be many flights, and many connecting cities. They have a say in their air schedule. So, I get to work. And, I present a wonderful schedule that has only one stop between their home city and Prague with a good amount of connect time so that these senior ladies are not too rushed getting from one airplane to the other. I send the schedules and details. And, inevitably, I get a response filled with capital letters (shouting at me) that she has to have the bigger economy class seats because she has a rod in her leg. Because she paid for AIR Plus she believes she is entitled to the upgraded economy class. No. That is not what AIR Plus is- it is the ability to select your Standard Economy flight schedule now rather than in September. So I call the cruise line air department before responding to the client, what are our options? I need to have all my ducks in a row, anticipate an answer to every possible follow up question before she even knows she has that question. And I learn that once the air in economy class is ticketed by the cruise air department, we can go to the airline website and pay the upgraded cost from Standard Economy to Delta Comfort (Delta Comfort is an enhanced economy which means a bit more legroom and some other amenities included). The cost per direction for the over the water flight is around $149-$189 per person per direction and subject to availability once the ticket is issued. I send off the details and I brace myself. She won’t be happy. She will blame me for using the word AIR Plus but not telling her it did not give her access to enhanced economy. Never mind that all along I had only referred to her air tickets as being in Standard Economy. I understand that tourism lingo is hard to keep up with. And, I am always more than glad to explain and provide answers. What I don’t enjoy are people calling me with accusational tones and yelling at me (whether vocally or written yelling). Be nice.
My father used to be like that a while back. I would happen upon him in the kitchen on the phone, yelling at some service provider. Arguing a point that, as I listened, I realized that he may very well be wrong in his presumptions. Older people at times begin to wear a sweater of cynicism and distrust for people in general. Some older people. This distrust is fed by regular interactions with people that could be tainted with disrespect or even, disdain. Or, perhaps a tone that left them feeling irrelevant. Dad had this tone for a long while; but this was more prevalent before he had his shunt put in which helps drain the excess fluid from his brain, which has netted a calmer guy. In general, Dad is less volatile, less reactionary now that he was diagnosed and treated by a caring medical team.
My client has stage 4 cancer. She is under a lot of stress. Her life is out of control and her mortality is before her. This trip is vital to her, and she wants to have control over every detail and she wants her wishes to be granted regardless of how unreasonable or uninformed they are. So, I try to listen. I try not to interrupt with my own bag of truths. And, I try not to take it personally.
So, I started with marvelous joy at the beginning of this entry and I shared the frenetic days I have had lately in my job. And that is OK. I sit here in a coffee shop with ear buds in…. typing on my wireless keyboard with iPad tucked into the holder and I listen to the waves and sounds made in music by the wonderful Sigur Ros from Iceland. Ethereal music that glides along and helps me calm down and rejoice at the things in my life that help me re-balance and move forward and for the most part enjoy the travel agent gig. Most of my clients.. 99% even, are lovely. Perspective my dear. Perspective.