lenten journal: glitches and grace


    We have made a quick trip to visit my parents—we being Rachel, Ginger, and me – and I say to visit my parents rather than going to Texas because we are spending the sixty-four hours we are here in the Lone Star State with them. The trip was not precipitated by an emergency. It had just been too long since we’ve been here. The trip is short because these were the days we had to get here. It is difficult to be here and not cast a wider net of friendship.

    Our day started this morning about four when we got up to catch a flight that took us from Raleigh-Durham to Orlando to San Antonio to Dallas. Sunday morning, I dutifully set an alarm clock to get up at six so I could save a place in the boarding line. Our printer was ailing, so I just checked in, knowing I could pick up the passes at Southwest when we got to the airport. When the Skycap handed me the passes they were in the last boarding group. She knew nothing of my reservation. Once we got through security, I went to the customer service desk to get it straightened out. I told my story and the woman behind the counter answered, “I have no record of any activity on the account since you purchased the tickets.”

    I bristled. “I feel like you’re calling me a liar,” I said and we both kind of squared off, though neither of us lost our composure or sense of tact. She was intractable, other than offering to get her supervisor. I took her up on it and told my story once more. I got the same response. It wasn’t any more helpful than the follow up question: “What would you like me to do?”

    In the frustration of the moment, I couldn’t answer well. We got in line and got on the plane. Though I was hardly awake, I began writing to release the tension I was feeling. I made notes for a letter to Southwest customer service to let them know it was the first time I had ever had dealings with them where it left me feeling like they were no different from any other airline. I was disappointed, confused, and, well, put out. Then I wrote in my notes:

    I would like to answer your question now. What I wanted you to do was admit your computer had made a mistake. I wanted you to ally with me, to help me feel like you were on my side rather than make it feel like it was my fault. Maybe you were too worried about liability so you spit back rehearsed corporate speak. Maybe someone tries to pull this stunt everyday and I’m naïve to think telling the truth is enough. But what I wanted was for you to be on my side.

    I relaxed and fell asleep. I may have even dreamed about sending the email and getting a response. I will have to push myself to really send it because I am not the least bit hopeful when it comes to expecting big companies to act with any humanity, regardless of how they are viewed by the Supreme Court. I kept telling myself I needed to send it because that’s the only way things do get changed, but I get caught in a sort of quixotic resignation that expects little from going through such motions.

    We were sitting at lunch in San Antonio when Rachel said she thought she heard our name called over the intercom. Ginger went to check it out at the gate and came back with a smile and a handful of papers. The gate agent told her the people at RDU kept trying to figure out what had happened after we left. They went back through their records and found the glitch that had not only messed up our check-in but had also charged us for the trip three times over, leaving us with bad boarding passes and a bunch of debt. They had gone through and cancelled the redundant charges, made sure the real reservation had not been cancelled in the process, and gotten everything ready for a refund. All I had to do was call Customer Service.

    Which I did and they straightened it all out.

    The obvious thing to say here is, “Thank you, Southwest” because they turned out to be different than the other guys and they did a great thing. Learning to be an ally on the front side of the issue still needs to be part of their education, and I am grateful for their tenacity. The more obvious thing to say to myself is remember to listen. I know how I felt this morning; I don’t know how the two women on the other side of the counter were. They both seemed defensive and terse. Who knows how much of that belonged to our interaction and how much to someone else. Since I managed to not lose my cool I also managed to be the beneficiary of their continued work on my behalf, even when they knew they would probably never see me again. They managed to make me hopeful when I saw little hope.

    I am grateful.



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