One of the great things about having had a Paralympic wheelchair basketball career is that you have friends all over the world and a place to stay in nearly every country. One of the downsides, however, is that once you're no longer traveling around the world racking up Airmiles points and actually having one of those "real job" things, getting to see some of these friends is tough.
This year, I had planned to remedy that by spending Christmas and New Years with my friends in Australia, most of whom are on the Australian women's wheelchair basketball national team and too busy training for London 2012 to come visit me on this side of the world. I've actually never been to Australia, since the two times I was supposed to go for a basketball tournament I ended up getting sick or injured, so I was excited to finally experience the Land Down Under. What could be better than reconnecting with friends while soaking up enough vitamin D to get me through the rest of Vancouver's grey season?
Because of the last-minute-ness of my book tour, I wasn't able to confirm my travel dates until two weeks before my flight date, so the ticket price to Melbourne was at the top of my price range. I chose, however, to book through Qantas airline's website, since I was assured by friends that it was the most reliable site and Qantas offered the best service of any airline that flies to Australia. I submitted my credit card information and was directed to a screen saying that my flight had successfully been booked. Moments later, an itinerary arrived in my inbox. This itinerary had a booking number and reference number and the word 'confirmed' was written by every flight. Mission accomplished, right? Wrong.
Yesterday, I arrived at the airport packed and ready to go. In anticipation of having to spend some extra time at the Homeland Security Love Fest thanks to the artificial hip, I arrived at the airport 2.5 hours in advance, thinking this would be ample time to catch my flight from Vancouver to L.A., which connected to my flight to Melbourne. Upon checking in, however, I received a shock: I had no ticket.
That itinerary that Qantas sent me? Well, let's take a closer look.
Yup...this all looks solid. Booking number. Reference number. And you'd think that if something was important, they'd put it in those nice, bright blue letters. Right? Let's read on!
Confirmed! Confirmed is a good word! Scroll, scroll, scroll. Yup, everything looks solid! This is the point where I thought, "Okay, all looks well. Back to book touring." Mistake! Let's read on.
That's right, ladies and gentlemen. The minor detail that I HAVE NO TICKET was buried in the middle of the email in the same tiny capslocked letters that detailed the enhanced screening measures requiring me to stow my aerosols and gels in a transparent resealable 1 litre plastic bag. But hey, at least they used 10 whole asterisks. And we all know that asterisks in 10 pt. font mean business.
The email continues on for another page in the same shout-y capslocks, before ending with this cheerful note:
Well, damn. No ticket. Now, I am a seasoned traveler. I have been all over the world for basketball and routinely fly for work. If I could get myself out of being chased by wild dogs at 3 am at the dock of a Greek island waiting for my stolen luggage to appear on a barge, I could remedy this situation.
I did not panic. I did not shout. I did not melt down. Instead, I called Qantas. We tried the credit card again. No dice. The nice Qantas rep suggested that I contact Mastercard. After 40 minutes on hold and a few dropped calls, I finally got through to Mastercard. Though my limit was well over the cost of the flight, I got my limit increased just to be safe. The representative at Mastercard suggested that Qantas could call them directly to remedy the situation, but that the payment should go through.
Time was ticking. I had only 45 minutes until my flight to L.A. I phoned Qantas again, waited on hold, but by the time that I got through to anyone and explained my problem, it was too late. The representative informed me that they could only process emergency payments in American funds, not Canadian funds, and would have to transfer me to another booking agent...and by that time it would be too late.
I asked if they could put me on the same flight on a different day, since Qantas did such a terrible job of informing me about the declined credit card. The agent said I should have read the fine print and it wasn't Qantas' fault. I asked if there was anything -- ANYTHING -- I could do. Nothing short of starting from scratch. And then she hung up. (Merry Christmas to you too, frosty Qantas lady).
Still not totally discouraged, I headed home to see if I could snag a cheap fare, but sadly the prices had gone up to over $3500, way, way beyond my budget. And even when I did find a single fare on a non-Qantas airline that was not ridiculously expensive, it turned out that Mastercard had put a block on my credit card. WHY? Because I tried to make a large purchase after increasing my credit limit. Face meet palm.
Between the Mastercard shenanigans and Qantas' refusal to offer more than the basic level of assistance, I will not be traveling to Australia this Christmas. I will not be sitting on the beach with friends for New Years. I will not be kayaking, snorkling, hiking or any of the other fun things I'd planned. I will not be taking a much-needed break from work. Instead, I'm spending this Christmas season getting caught up on work. And now, Qantas, I'm mad.
Because here's the thing. Yeah, I should have read the fine print. But crucial information such as the fact that my credit card was declined should not have been in the fine print to begin with. It should have been in a separate email. Or at the top of the itinerary in large, bold letters. Or anywhere but the middle of an email that appeared to be a flight confirmation, surrounded by a couple of asterisks and a few pages of information about security procedures. Had I discovered this problem quickly, I could have easily remedied the situation and would right now be shaking off the jetlag with an ice cold beer and a bit of sunshine.
So Qantas, you may have lost a customer, but I've lost my one chance for a vacation this year and that makes me terribly, terribly sad. I hope you'll find some way to remedy this situation, or prevent from happening to anyone else. In the meantime, I will be sending this blog post to all my many Paralympic athlete friends around the world in the hopes that they do not make the same mistake as I did. I hope they will bear that in mind when choosing an airline.