Sunday, May 25, 2014

Week 21 - Not Going Well

So, it was my last week before France but I was in pretty good shape since I’d gotten all my gardening and chores done last weekend. All I needed to do was make it through work and pack. Totally doable and not stressful. Good thing because I was flying out Saturday and the anticipation of that was stress enough. Because if something can go wrong with travel, it’ll go wrong for me. 

The week pretty much went as planned. I was crossing things off at work and would go home and prep for the trip – gathering knitting projects to take, ironing, mending and packing. I was also cooking to use up stuff in the frig – blackberry pie and banana bread for work, produce galore for Lori’s chickens and a bag of produce I had kept to cook but never gotten around to went to work. By Friday night, all I had left to do was gather the last of the piles and throw them in the suitcase. I even started the stuff I’d left for Saturday morning figuring the less I had for Saturday the better I’d sleep. Donna was picking me up to head to the airport at 11:00 so I was hoping to sleep in. 

Nope. I was up before 6:00 with the birds and then spent an antsy morning waiting. I did run downtown to pick up some last minute things and then stopped at the community garden to see Lorri, who was working there. Then home for more waiting. At 10:50, Donna’s husband Ed showed up. Donna had “had a bad night” so Ed was my ride. We made good time and I was there an hour and a half before my flight, which worked for me since I’d packed a lunch and had my knitting, of course. Ed drove off and I headed to check in. Then all hell brown loose. 

I scanned my passport at the kiosk and it told me to see an agent. She swiped it a few times with no luck and then opened it up. “Your passport expires in July,” she said. Yup, it did and I’d be back 6 weeks before it did. The next words out of her mouth stopped me dead – “You will not be getting on this flight!” Apparently France has a rule that your passport has to be good for 90 days past your trip. WTF! When this sunk in, it was like someone flipped a switch and I went into shock. My mouth was Sahara Desert dry and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I really wasn’t getting on the flight without a new passport and since it was a holiday weekend, the earliest that would happen was Tuesday, provided I could get to Minneapolis and get an appointment at their passport office. To top this all off, I had left my cell phone charging on the counter. So I was at the airport with no cell phone and so I was limited to calling people whose numbers were in my head from a pay phone. My first call was to Carolyn, who called Sue who I would not be meeting in Paris on Sunday. Then she logged into my email to retrieve some data for me. Then I started calling Donna because Ed was still in Lincoln but I didn’t know his number. She wasn’t picking up, Andrea was on her way to California, Lorri was in Lincoln, Lori was in Ainsworth and I was out of options. I called Nora in Lincoln and got her. She agreed to shower and drive to Omaha to get me. She is such a wonderful friend! 

I ate my lunch and knitted while waiting for her. We hit Starbuck’s on the way home then sat on the deck chatting while waiting for her husband and kids to pick her up to head further north to his parents for a family cookout. When Nora left, I got on the phone. I got through the voice mail tree from hell to make an appointment at the Minneapolis passport office for Tuesday. This was based purely on the word of the Delta agents who said I could get a same day passport there. Then I tried to find the travel agent who’d booked the ticket – a friend of a friend. Since they’d asked for my passport number and exact spelling of my name, don’t you think the next words out of their mouth should have been when does it expire because France requires it be to 90 days past your trip? Don’t you? I cannot believe that I paid $50 to book through a travel agent specifically to make sure I didn’t have problems like this! I was rip shit and the worst part was, she didn’t apologize (if she did it was so cursory that I didn’t notice) and told me I should call Delta and if I couldn’t get what I wanted, push them. Wasn’t that her job? 

I spent the entire evening on the phone – state department, Delta, the lame agent, etc. I took a shower and went to bed having made no progress except the appointment at the passport office and on that I still had no assurance I could in fact get a passport that day. I managed to get a few hours of sleep but was up at 5:15. I talked to Delta and the travel agent on and off all morning. One scenario had me having to pay an extra $3,000. Then the travel agent called and got it down to $1,200 more. Did I mention I’d already paid $1,700 for the ticket? I was a mess. It looked like I’d be flying to Minneapolis on Tuesday morning, getting the passport and flying out that night and paying $1,200 more for the privilege. I was mulling that over when it dawned on me that they would not let me fly to Minneapolis to get the passport because it was part of an international ticket that I couldn’t check in for because I had my unexpired but not good enough passport. I’d learned that when they wouldn’t let me fly to Atlanta (my lay over on the original ticket where there’s also a passport office) on Saturday unless I bought a separate domestic ticket to the tune of $500+ dollars. When I called Delta back to point that out for the rescheduled ticket THE TRAVEL AGENCY MANAGER HAD BOOKED (talk about not knowing how to do your job!), they said I was right and at that point I asked to speak to a supervisor. Everything went up from there. 

I got Regina in Cincinnati, who said she loved a challenge. I was on the phone with her for over an hour and she rebooked me from Minneapolis to Paris on Tuesday night and issued me a second, domestic ticket from Omaha to Minneapolis so I could just use my license to check in and so get there for my 11:00 a.m. passport appointment. I had to pay for that but she put in a $400 credit so I only had to pay $117 plus I’ll have to pay to check my bag. She even looked to make sure there were lockers at the Minneapolis airport so I wouldn’t have to schlep my luggage to the passport office. And before the end of that call, Lorri was at the door with news that her travel agent friend knew for a fact that I could get a same day passport. Lorri also offered to drive me to the airport. It was 12:30 and I finally had a plan. I was completely missing Paris but would only miss the first day of the rest of the trip. And it was only costing me $200 more instead of $3,000. Still a bitch but at least I’d be getting there. 

I spent the rest of the day knitting between other calls and emails – cancelling the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, making sure Sue could check into the hotel, which was under my name, contacting Jean and Philip (the tour people) about getting there late and finding out how I could get from Bergerac, which is as close as I can get via a 7 hour train ride after my flight, to the chateau. That’ll cost me another 90 euros but they’re sending a taxi. At least by the end of the day I had a plan and felt under control for the first time in more than 24 hours. The past day had included panic, frustration, anger, tears, gratitude.... did I leave anything out? I was exhausted and still had to drive to Lincoln to get passport photos taken before heading out Tuesday. At least I’d have Memorial Day to get that done. 

I am going to be writing a glowing email to Delta customer service about how wonderful Regina was. I’ll wait until after the trip to write some blazing emails to the corporate office of the travel agency. I’m going to spend the rest of the time until I fly on positive things and trying to catch up on some sleep. At least I’m still packed and the cats are happy to be outside. How’s that for cup half full? My next post will be from France because nothing’s going to stop me now. Wish me luck for an event free day on Tuesday and waking up in Paris on Wednesday.

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