How to Fix a Royal Travel Screw-Up (Don’t Do It at Home)

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See the UPDATE below.

I’ve gotta say, I almost didn’t write this post. It’s humiliating and embarrassing, and I like to embarrass myself on public no more than the next guy, but there is a lesson in that, which I feel like sharing. Actually, two lessons.

  1. Do not screw up.
  2. If you have screwed up, try your damnedest to fix it.

There is another lesson, coming out of #2. Do not take “NO” for an answer. Or first 2-3 “NO’s”, at least. Beg if you must. 🙁

OK, so it all began when I missed my flight…

Actually, no, it began when I deleted a a couple of emails from ANA, because ANA loves to send you these silly offers, and I hate spam. What I was thinking, I have no idea.

Airlines change scheduling all the time. It’s so common that travel hackers have developed a strategy of cancelling the flight they no longer want. Just wait till the schedule is changed, and you can cancel for free. Well, in most cases.

PART ONE: SCREWING UP

First Screw Up

Timmy’s and my award itinerary consisted of these three reservations.

  1. JFK-GRU (stopover), GRU-IGU, GIG-JFK on TAM (ANA miles).
  2. IGU-SSA on GOL (Delta miles).
  3. SSA-GIG on GOL (Delta miles).

My SSA-GIG flight schedule changed soon after I booked the tickets. I remember receiving a few notifications from Delta and, I think, Award Wallet, too. The time difference was just a few minutes, and it didn’t affect our travel plans at all.

And then, there was an ANA flight from Sao Paulo. It did change too, from 1:40PM to 10:25AM, but I didn’t catch that. Was it because I didn’t get the email or deleted it without reading, I have no idea. Probably the latter because the subsequent investigation turned out Timmy had gotten the email too (and ignored it too), so there is no reason why I wouldn’t.

Second Screw Up

My Brazilian visa expired last year, and my passport didn’t have any pages left, so I had to get the new one. In order to expedite your passport, the passport agency needs the proof of immediate international travel.  I went to my ANA account and printed out my ticket. This new itinerary clearly stated the new departure time, but I was in a hurry and didn’t pay attention. Got my passport and visa with no issues, of course.

Timmy also printed out his ticket. Unfortunately, he printed it immediately after the ticket was issued, so it had the old departure time on it.

Third Screw Up

I always check if things are intact up until the time I’m out of the door, and that’s despite having all kinds of notifications set up with the airlines. I usually have two “checkpoints”: 10 hours prior to departure and one hour before going to the airport. I will never forget how Copa once rescheduled my flight less than 12 hours before the departure without a notice. If I hadn’t caught it on time, I would’ve missed the connection with 100% certainty.

I also remember how Spirit had canceled the route (along with my ticket) to the Bahamas. Did they bother to tell me? Come on!

This time, however… What can I say in my defense?

We only had two days in Sao Paulo. On the second day, we walked a lot, did a lot of drinking and a little of clubbing, met two nice couples, went for more drinking, got home, went for a swim in the pool, did more drinking, said goodbye to our new friends, packed our things, and by the time we were done, it was already around 5 a.m, and we were beyond exhausted. Way beyond! We had about 5 hours to sleep, if we were lucky. I grabbed one of the ticket printouts lying around the apartment just to verify I wasn’t crazy and the departure time was what it said it was. Unfortunately, it was the Timmy’s ticket with the old information upon it. Should I have grabbed my own printout, the whole disaster would’ve been easily averted.

The Moment of Truth

It’s around 10:30 a.m., and we’re leisurely having coffee in the morning, we have plenty of time, or so I think. I’m navigating to the TAM website to check if there are any delays, and can’t find our 1:40 p.m. flight. I’m not panicking yet. I’m logging onto my ANA account to check my reservation and don’t see my flight to Iguassu; only my GIG-JFK flight is there. I’m grabbing the ticket printout — this time, my own printout, not Timmy’s, and see the 10:25 a.m. departure time. My eyes are sliding to the right lower corner of my computer screen, it’s 10:35! I realize what’s happened. Our flight time has changed. Our flight is gone. As in, literally — gone!  😯

Now, I’m panicking. And for a good reason, too.

But It’s Just a Short Flight…

Here is what happens when you’re a no-show for one flight in your itinerary. All your subsequent flights get canceled. In our case, not only a short GRU-IGU flight, which wouldn’t be such a big deal, but also our final, business class GIG-JFK segment. That would be a disaster indeed.

I had never missed a flight in my life before.

Had I had close calls? Sure. Once I barely made it to the gates, just five minutes before departure. They let me in, but not without telling me how lucky I was.

But I had never experienced the feeling I had that morning. As if it wasn’t f&*^ing real!!!

PART TWO: DIGGING OUT

At the Apartment

Our check-out time was 11 a.m. The host had made it clear that they had a new guest coming in early. We must — theoretically — clear the apartment in less than 20 minutes.

I call ANA. Funny thing: my call gets re-routed to the U.S. call center. When I called ANA from New York, they always rerouted my calls to Japan. But I digress.

I’m on hold for about 30 minutes. Then, after explaining the situation to the CSR, I get put on hold again, then boom — the call is disconnected.

I call again and wait for another 25-30 minutes. Explain the situation. Get put on hold. The door opens. A cleaning lady is here. Perfect… not!

I text the host a SOS message, asking him for some emergency extra time. I need this WiFi connection, because well, even with my T-Mobile $.20 per minute international rates. it seems, I’m gonna be on the phone for hours. Luckily, he says yes, stay in the apartment for as long as you need.

While on hold, I’m working on a contingency plan. I easily find an award flight to Iguassu on BA.com for later that night, but the flight home — not that easy. There is nothing on AA, TAM, United or Delta miles for the 16th, our original return date. I manage — with a great difficulty — to find two middle seats at a Saver rate for the 17th with two stops via Sao Paulo and Miami.

Middle seats, for crying out loud!

The rep gets back and tells me he has some sad news. TAM canceled our itinerary entirely. I say, can you please help, he said no, you see, TAM isn’t our partner anymore.

What do you mean, I say, but of course, TAM is your partner, and he says, no, you see, TAM was the member of the STAR alliance, but now, it’s a member of another alliance, and we have no recourse (which is, of course, nonsense, as TAM is still the non-alliance partner of ANA).

————————-

UPDATE:

When I had this conversation, I didn’t know that one week earlier, on April 28th, the partnership between ANA and TAM had ended, so the agent was 100% right, and I was 100% a pompous ass. My profound apologies to good great people of ANA!

That discovery made me think about what this airline actually did for me.

Not only did ANA reinstate my ticket when they didn’t have to do anything, but they reinstated it for the flight on an airline who had not been a partner any longer! What other airline would do that for you? If I was floored back then, I’m simply speechless now!

Wait, which is bigger, floored or speechless?  😀 

Wow, just wow!!! 

————————

At that point, I realize it’s time for HUCA. I thank him profusely, call again, and get put on hold. Some 15 minutes later, a new guest arrives, a nice lady from Bethesda, as I figured out later. The cleaning lady is working around the apartment, and we are staying in my room to be out of their way.

Another rep picks up, and we start all over again. He puts me on hold for 15 minutes, then comes back and tells me there is nothing they could do. Sorry.

I thank him for trying his best and ask for the supervisor. He says he is the one, but I insist on elevating this matter. I tell him how desperate we are finding ourselves in a foreign country without the way to continue our trip and even come back home. I’m shamelessly begging at this point.

He says, OK, if it helps you feel better, but it won’t change a thing. I wouldn’t testify it was his exact words, but something to that extent.

He puts me on another hold, then gets back 20 minutes later and says: hold on, me and another supervisor are working on this. Now, we’re talking, I think to myself before he puts me on another hold.

By then, the cleaning lady is done cleaning about everywhere and it’s getting harder and harder to stay out of her way. After another 20 or so minutes, the rep came back and gets my number. We’re still working on it, and ‘ll call you back, he says. Fat chance, I think to myself, thanking him profusely.

At that point, it’s clear we’ve severaly overstayed our welcome. I text the host for his permission to store our suitcases, and he tells us the security would hold them for us. He also gives his  permission to use the building facilities for as long as we need. Great guy!

At the Mall

When you expect to be on the phone for hours in a foreign country, what you need is a reliable and preferably free internet connection. Thank god for WiFi calling!

Luckily, there are two huge malls near our building, Morumbi Shopping and Market Place. They are across the street from one another, and both have decent WiFi. After having a big lunch and a couple of drinks (to soothe our nerves just a bit) I call ANA again.

Remember that part about them calling me back? Never ever ever fall for this!

The wait was only about 20 minutes at the time, and a CSR quickly found my “case” and connected me to the supervisor, who gave me the good news and the bad news.

  • They’d managed to reinstate my reservation with a new departure time from Sao Paulo.
  • TAM had been unable or unwilling to issue the ticket over the phone.

She told me to go to the airport and pray that TAM would be able to issue our ticket on the spot. Again, not her exact words, but she didn’t sound too sure it would happen. But, at least, she gave us a new record locator.

By the time this conversation had been over, it was around 4 p.m. Our new departure time from GRU was 11:10PM. There was plenty of time to get there — if we could actually get this ticket, which was a huge “if”.

Turned out there was a better way, and Timmy was responsible for uncovering it.

“Isn’t there a TAM office somewhere here in this mall?” he says.

Indeed there was one, and now I remembered it too, a small agency with these three red letters.

We found it in no time. And they spoke English, too.

The agent entered our new record locators and found our names. At least we were in the system, but… they couldn’t issue the ticket. We still had to go to the airport.

“But you don’t have to go to GRU,” he said. ” Go to Congonhas.”

That made perfect sense, actually. Guarulhos was hell knows where, while Congonhas was just about a 20-minute ride.

Morumbi GRU

Morumbi CGH

We caught Uber and went to the airport.

At CGH

What happened there gave me more gray hair than everything that happened before, mostly because our hopes had already been up. While they were able to see us in the TAM reservation system, they couldn’t print the tickets. Just couldn’t! The computer spat out one error after another. I guess, we hadn’t experienced enough drama yet.

At some point, the entire row of agents was working on our case consulting with each other, making sad faces and shaking their heads in disbelief. They were all young and pretty people, and there was something touching yet comical about the whole scene. I mean, it would’ve been, if the stakes weren’t so high for us.

In the middle of the “procedure” they asked us to sit down and wait to be called. So we did. Head-shaking and and intense body language exchange continued for another 30 minutes, right up to the moment, when one of them — probably the supervisor — came to us with some strange-looking printouts.

“Here are your tickets,” he said, “and our bus to Guarulhos runs every hour.”

At least, I thought that’s what he said. I lost him at “here are your tickets.”

To say that we were exhausted would be a huge understatement. We got back to the building around 6:40. We wanted to get into the pool so badly, but what we wanted even more was not to take any chances anymore. We wanted to catch the 8 o’clock bus to the airport to have an ample time to catch our flight. So we just sat and relaxed by the pool for 30 minutes before jumping into another Uber to take us to CGH and then GRU from there. We arrived with a lot of time to spare, and quickly proceeded to the only cafeteria that was open at that hour to get a couple of drinks. There are no Priority Pass lounges in domestic terminals in GRU or GIG.

But we did get the exit row — for our troubles.

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Conclusion

Every time you fix a problem you feel elated. At least I do. And all this excitement may obscure the fact how much easier it would’ve been not to screw up in the first place.

As the result of my recklessness, we lost 12 hours of daylight. That’s precious in terms of vacation time. Instead of exploring a new place, or relaxing, or even working by the pool, we spent these 12 excruciating hours on the phone or traveling to and between airports. But most importantly, we just got lucky! TAM had all the rights in the world to cancel our itinerary, and ANA didn’t have to reinstate our tickets. There would’ve been no recourse, should they have refused to help.

There are safeguards that you must put in place when you travel.

  • Set up notifications with the airline you’re flying on (but be aware that they don’t always work).
  • Check your existing reservations on a regular basis, but especially three days and 10 hours prior to departure.
  • Always check in online when you have this option.
  • Avoid booking round trips unless you have to — there is more than one reason for that.
  • Print out your itinerary even though you don’t need it for the airport check-in. Print it anyway.

And if you have still managed to screw up, remember this.

  • Never presume that nothing can be done just because the official rules say so.
  • HUCA, HUCA, HUCA.
  • Always be friendly and polite, no matter what. Ask a CSR what he/she would do; make her root for you.
  • Never take it seriously when an agent tells you that nothing can be done. Always ask for a supervisor if you feel you aren’t getting anywhere, but never be a dick about it.
  • HUCA and try another supervisor if the first one was unhelpful.
  • If you’re getting nowhere despite a good-faith effort, just give up and move on with your life.

Hope it was as helpful or entertaining for you to read as it was painful for me to write.  đŸ˜„

Have an airline “safety” tip? Add it here.

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12 Responses to How to Fix a Royal Travel Screw-Up (Don’t Do It at Home)

  1. plane2port says:

    Well, join the human race. Those of us who travel a lot have made these types of screw-ups and even worse.

    We missed our flight to Easter Island because we showed up at the airport at 1:00 pm, 12 hours after our flight left. The flight left at 0200 which I thought was 2:00 pm. Now THAT is a stupid mistake.

    By posting this you will probably help someone who finds themselves in a similar situation. You have shown that the best strategy is “don’t give up!”

  2. An unfortunate misadventure, but an inteesting article. Thanks for posting this story, Andy! (And welcome home!)

  3. bluecat says:

    Thank you for writing this up. It put the fear of god into me for double checking trip details.

    Sometimes I think I am a little to OCD about trip details but it is definitely important, especially if someone else is with you.

    I recall not checking the entry requirements for Costa Rica when using it as a stopover from Peru—who would have guessed that you had to have proof of Yellow Fever vaccination?–and being denied boarding. It was almost a trip killer. (But I was lucky that I *had* this shot and that my HMO had online access to vaccination records!)

    Anyways, thanks again.

    • Andy Shuman says:

      I almost had the same problem on my way to Costa Rica from Peru. Luckily, the host of a villa we rented told me to check if I had to get YF. That was the day before the flight, but turned out you can get the shot at the airport.

      • bluecat says:

        When I went (2 years ago), they told me, like you also heard, that I could get the shot at the airport BUT that I would need to wait in Lima for a week for it to be considered “active”. !!!

        It was either that slip the enforcement agent some cash…..

  4. Boris Minevich says:

    Andy, did your apartments in Brazil turn out as good as you had expected?

    • Andy Shuman says:

      Boris, I will write brief reviews of my rentals. All of them worked out just fine, but there were some imperfections as always should be expected. Except the Iguassu villa, that one was perfect!

  5. Shonuffharlem says:

    1) You should (if allowed) link to the place you stayed that let you overstay to use Internet hes a great host and deserves props back

    2) how the hell did we deal with all this stuff pre-Internet if things went wrong?

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