#082: The Luxurious Life of Travel – Part IITak's dispatch released on 9 April 2017

Northern Italy Train Window

His finger jabs perilously close to her soft skin and perfectly coifed makeup: his raving motions, powerful eruptions of spittle, and a cocky head cocked back for effect, an attempted heir of superiority. The intermittent sounds over the counter: keystrokes incessantly clicking, a brief moment of silence and an audible, forlorn sigh speckled with exhaustion. She grimaces.

“You need to book me on the next flight now, and that is what you are going to do,” he furiously snaps.

“It is completely sold out sir.” She returns in a perfectly calm tone. Her voice isn’t quivering, flecked with rage or the least bit of derision. “It is completely full, nothing at all available.” She returns her gaze to the screen, grimaces again and look back up at him.

“Listen!” as his volume knob spins up several more notches, “you will book us on that flight and the word ‘no’ is unacceptable.” His finger cuts with menacing force through the short gap between them. “Do you understand?! The word ‘no’ is not acceptable to me right now!”

Perhaps a university student, early twenties you’d surmise, with an accent and demeanor that places his geographical background somewhere around New Jersey. One of those characters who hits the gym three times as much as the others to psychology counteract self–held qualms of a diminutive height, with said exercises focused on but a small handful of muscles causing a ridiculous disproportionality. Not very well studied, clearly not very socially adept and most likely the spoiled son of some affluent Wall Street lubber who flipped into the upper echelon of the corporate rainforest by hamming things up at the right times.

You stare over at the “ugly American”, who, thanks to the unfortunate match in nationality, also represents you right now as you wait in Lisbon, Portugal. The customer service representative is doing a spectacular job dealing with his angst and derision but you can only fathom what stereotypes he is birthing or fortifying in his head. It is a painful observation.

“In fact,” he declares, giving her no time to respond, “you are worthless to us right now, we demand your manager because clearly you cannot do what you need to do. Get him out here now!”

“Yes sir, that is not a problem,” she professionally replies, turning and heading to the office.

The ‘we’ he speaks of is his small group of traveling friends, huddled behind him. He is, quite clearly, their chief circus leader. As she leaves from their presence, he turns to them, his furious demeanor instantaneously turning to smiles and laughter. “I’m going to get us something good,” he confidently promises, “and she isn’t any match for me.” Playing the part of a triumphant, arrogant, attention-seeking leader of his people, he nods his head approvingly at, what he thinks, is his cunning prowess on display.

“Yes, how can I help you?”

Dressed in a suit, he towers over the swarmy kid, who now is whipping around from addressing his cohorts and quickly turning his smug glee back to over–played rage. The original customer service woman is standing next to her terminal, now watching her boss take the controls and venom.

He listens to the situation, peers at the monitor.

“Sir, there is nothing we can do with that flight, what we can do instead…”

“Unacceptable! Unacceptable! You will put us on that flight!”

“Sir, what I want to explain…”

“You won’t explain anything. What you are going to do is get us on that plane!”

“Sir, it is overbooked…”

“Well then we want first class. Put us in first class!”

“Sir, the plane is overbooked and there is no room in any class, we can’t…”

“You mean to tell me that there are no seats even in first class?” he ignorantly responds

“Sir, I am trying to explain what we can do for you. It is very difficult if you are going to…”

“Okay, fine, then we want lounge access,” he counters.

“Sir, I can’t give you lounge access. Even if I could, if I gave you lounge access, I would have to give everyone here lounge access” he notes pointing to the giant crowd assembled waiting for rebooking.

“Well you should give everyone lounge access! You should give everyone lounge access!”

At this point he whips around to the mob formed behind him, the giant slew of people inconvenienced by the bad weather and otherwise, waiting for their own turn to get help but waiting endlessly for the American hot head to complete his self-worth circus act in progress for his several friends.

“Did you hear him everyone?!” he shouts out, now his back completely turned to the customer service manager. “He said, ‘if he gave me lounge access, he’d have to give you lounge access’ and that is what he should do, right, we should all get lounge access!!”

“Sir, there isn’t enough room in the lounge even if I could give you all lounge access…”

“Yes there is, there are plenty of lounges here…”

If he knew anything of the Lisbon lounge situation he’d realize that the customer service agent was being completely truthful. The main lounge is typically jam packed, with not even a place to sit. It is one of those lounges where you can’t find a power plug, can’t find a seat and can hardly find a pathway to walk through the crowd. The novice travelers think that lounges are always these utopian promised lands full of luxurious accoutrements and that, in almost all cases, is just not the case.

Thankfully, you are in the line for Elite Status and you can bypass the blockage caused by this enraged disaster. Not only does he inconvenience everyone behind him by making them miss potential outbound flights, but he is also wearing out the staff from going the extra mile for anyone. The staff have a nice bed to go home to, and while he is yelling at them for taking their breaks or whatever else, the fact remains that without them, he isn’t on his way anywhere.

You do realize that TAP Portugal should have gotten ahead of these problems and rebooked people with alternate travel. Instead, they sat and did nothing, waiting for the problem to blossom as a large mob of people, some angry, some exhausted, some apathetic. But treating the customer service agents, especially one in a different country, with such disdain is so distasteful.

You step up to the agent, who has been dealing with messes all day. At first, she tells you that the only flight to Venice has departed and you will have to wait another day.

“I have a flight to Athens out of Milan tomorrow morning,” you note “so I need to get to Milan by tomorrow morning, otherwise it’ll be a bigger problem.”

“Unfortunately, there are no flights out to Venice,” she counters.

“I am amenable to flying to, and terminating in Milan, or Venice, or Rome, or Florence or anywhere within reasonable distance to Milan,” you note, offering solutions.

Some back and forth, some checking with management, some making phone calls, some “there is nothing we can do” followed by some “I don’t know if we can” followed by “let me go check” followed by some “so if we changed your ticket to Lisbon to Milan from Lisbon to Venice, then that would suffice?”

And with that, you have left the raving lunatic entertaining his posse with his indignant and combative ignorance. You feel bad for all those people behind him, all waiting for a chance at an underprepared and understaffed customer service counter.

With your new ticket in hand, you head into the airport’s shopping area, locate a chocolatier, and purchase an assorted box of chocolates. You walk back to the counter, past the forlorn faces in line and up to the embattled agents and drop the box on the counter. She looks up, first at you, then at the box. There is a degree of confusion in her face, so used to the continual abuse.

With a quick smile and a nod, a gesture to say “thank you and sorry for the idiots from my country you have to deal with”, you turn and walk away briskly headed for the lounge (which was completely overcrowded) to quickly grab a dry sandwich and a bottle of water, and then off into the crowded gate to catch your flight.

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Internationally-published photographer with a passion for creative food, fine products, unique cultures and underground music. Twitter / Instagram / Email

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