This will earn me scorn among the technologically adept, but it must be said: I picked up the phone and called the airline with a question about my reservation.
Whoa-ho, Gramps, did you also slaughter a pig for breakfast sausage before taking the Edsel to Main Street to do some banking? Yes, that is what I did, snapper of whips. Quite the busy morn. Now sit down and mind your elders. The reason I called was pure sweaty paranoia, and let me explain to the Snapchat demographic how it once was.
Once upon a time if you wished to fly, you called a travel agent. They made loud clacking noises on computer keyboards that sounded like someone breaking dominoes with a hammer, and they stared at green letters on a black screen. A week later you got an actual ticket. At the airport, you handed it to someone who said, “Welcome aboard, and please put out your cigarette.” As the plane took off you didn’t think, “I didn’t remove my shoes or belt. Hope the plane doesn’t explode!” Then a chime went BONG and rows 18-25 fired up Winstons.
But enough nostalgia for an era when the air inside the plane was as blue as outside. The only thing I miss is the ticket. It’s proof. Oh, I like having my boarding pass on my phone; it feels frictionless and modern. Beep! Done. But what if your battery dies? Well, you can lose tickets. If I must print off a boarding pass, I make two copies. You never know when you’ll stroll through security, yawn, stretch and absent-mindedly stuff the pass in your mouth and chew it to an unrecognizable cud. So I make an extra copy and tape it to the small of my back.
These days we get our tickets online, which puts us, the consumers, in control. Same with making reservations. You enter MSP and your destination, and lo! You get a list of astonishing options:
SPITR AIR 9 hrs 3 min
Dept 4:31 AM
Six layovers incl. Pyongyang (may be delayed due to detention)
DALTA AIR 47 min
Dept 10:17 AM
So you narrow it down, by price and time, until you find the perfect flight. You start to book it, but think you shouldn’t rely on Travelpedia. Let’s go to Expilocity. It comes up with 423 options, which you sort and judge. When you finally decide, you realize that you cannot book because you haven’t logged in, so you create an account. Would you like to sign in with Facebook? Expilocity will be able to see your posts, access your timeline, scour your contacts, and activate the microphone on your mobile device in case you shout out “Oh, to be in Madagascar on an April morn” in a dream, so they can send you alerts.
You have to uncheck the boxes that offer e-mails every 37 minutes telling you about great deals, because you don’t want this any more than you want someone in a flight attendant uniform rapping on your back door, shouting “Last-minute deals on selected destinations!” Heaven forbid you go to the Extralocity Travelpedia site and browse some destinations; you’ll get e-mails for weeks. Google “Swedish meatball recipe” and you’ll get e-mails about Stockholm hotels.
No travel agent ever called and said, “I heard you were lingering over a picture of Puerto Rico in Time magazine at the dentist’s office.”
Anyway. I made an online reservation. It was charged on my card. The relevant e-mails were fed to the website that handles these things, and an automatic itinerary was generated. The other night I called it up to add some details and noted something: The return flight had a confirmation number. The outgoing flight did not.
Hmm. Well, let’s call the airline and get it.
That was two hours ago. It is now 2:07 a.m. I’m still on hold. Did you know that if you buy your tickets online like a normal person, hint hint, you can save money on the checked baggage allowance? I know this because this was repeated every minute, which means I have heard it over 120 times. I also was informed I could order my meals online, in case I wanted to be sure of getting the tomato glob with a bun that felt like biting into a tennis ball.
Here’s what I really appreciated about this experience: No one apologized for the delay or said that my call was very important to them, which is manifestly untrue or they would have hired another guy and thereby doubled their phone desk staff. The recorded voice was severely British and made you feel like you were James Bond getting a stern lecture. Usually it’s a chirpy lass who sounds like she wants me to try this new foundation Avon is selling. Eventually I got a guy in Iceland, of all places, who sounded like he was hunched over his terminal in a closet, and he gave me the confirmation number. Uh-oh — your seats are not together.
Can you fix that? Clacketyclacketyclackety. Yes, you are all together. He said that my seat choices made when I went through SuperFragilisticExpeTravociDocious.com did not always take, and I was wise to call them directly.
Two hours and 17 minutes on hold, I noted.
He said they had problems with the phones, and it was only him. He wondered: What had I been doing while I waited?
“Writing a newspaper column.”
“Oh!” he said. “Very good. What about?”