Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Thank You A LOT Polish Airline You Part 1

The trip to Ireland made me realize that one of the joys of living here, beside loving my students, is the easy access to other countries. We have been wanting to see Vilnius, Lithuania and Riga, Latvia for years now. With half of my fall break booked with guests, I took the matter in hand to book us tickets for the rest of that week.

On September 2nd, I was hunting down tickets on the various sites with numerous options. This is like venturing into extreme sports.You know you have to be ready for battle; there may be scarring in the process. Little did I realize that the scarring was going to be more like a branding iron.

I found a fare, not so budget, but those choices from here are fewer than ever before. LOT Polish Airlines had flights for $573. to Vilnius for both of us. Most of the other choices involved an overnight stay in Frankfurt, Prague, or Warsaw. Connections between these two capital cities really bites. I was about to book the tickets, feeling some sense of relief that I would have a short escape from reading papers and theses during October, but company arrived. 

We moved into the kitchen for coffee. I was telling them what we were up to, but had not finished the deal. We discussed Vilnius vs Riga and by the end of the discussion, changed our minds to visiting Riga on the sea instead. While we were chatting their child was in the living room after having over heard half of the discussion. With a proud smile, he returned to the kitchen to tell us he completed the airline transaction for us, since I had left my credit card and frequent flier cards on the desk. I wanted to kill the kid, but for the sake of harmony, I and his family sternly admonished him for using someone's  credit card, especially without permission. The deal was done, the choice made, end of the story. Not quite.

Step 2 was finding a place to stay. I found a place for 50 Euros a night, centrally located, lovely looking, so I put in the dates from the plane reservation. In the right column where it tallies up your total cost for the stay, it showed 400+ Euros. Now I am thinking hey, I am not great at math, but even I know 4 nights times 50 does not equal 400 Euros. Taking a closer look at the dates, it did not ring any bells that the first date was October 21st, not October 28th. What came out of my mouth at that point cannot be repeated here. Not only did we have guests from the 21st to the 28th, but I had a whole week of school to teach. Hmmm...the latter was tempting, but no, couldn't do it. 

I immediately called LOT in Budapest. No help at all. If you book it online, you have to call the online numbers. Back to the Internet. LOT has a great set-up for the FAQ. There is a real woman standing there waiting for you to click on the preset questions and then she dramatically answers them. If it takes you too long to decide, she makes paper airplanes, files her nails, and so on until you require her services. What she does not do is give out phone numbers for help. "Contact us" was basically useless. I did find a number for Poland. Ron called, waiting on hold for twenty minutes before trying both the British and the US numbers. Different numbers, same results.

Plan B: Call my credit card and explain what happened. Within 3 hours of the reservation being made, I called the dispute line, explained the situation and the gentleman pleasantly stated that they would deny the charge when it came through. Thanking him, I also share that he saved the life of a young boy who otherwise may have ended up on death row.

One last problem, we still wanted airline tickets, but to Riga. Search, search, search. LOT Polish Airlines still has the best connections with the best rates. Book the tickets with my AMEX card this time. The Mastercard has a US address, but the AMEX has my Budapest address. It takes 3 days before the airlines will put through charges even though they send confirmations stating that the ticket is solid. For three days, I monitored both of these, but each was showing confirmed reservations with confirmed seat selections. One more day, one more day...but then I forgot about it.
To be continued...
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