Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Do They Realy Get Away With This?

I had about an 80 mile drive each way from the airport in Houston to where I had to be on Thursday and Friday of last week. I also wanted to explore the area a bit so I expected to go through the better part of a tank of gas. A rental car was booked for me with Dollar Rent A Car.

When I got to the rental car check in at Hobby Airport I went through all the routine questions. I was asked if I wanted their prepaid gas option, which would mean I wouldn’t have to fill up on the way back. I said “no” because that option is usually expensive. The clerk insisted. He said they charge $3.39/gallon while prices on the street were $3.50 - $3.75. OK, that made it worthwhile. I took it.

As I headed down the street to the freeway the first gas station I came to was charging $3.25/gallon. The first one I saw from the freeway charged $3.17/gallon. The clerk had lied to my face to get me to take the option. I was furious. I shared what happened with one of the guys I was meeting. He laughed and said that rental car companies do that to make a few more dollars. Really? This sort of lying to customers is condoned? Is that what customer service in Houston is like nowadays?

On Friday when I checked in I asked to talk to a manager and I explained what had happened. The manager was good. He took off the charge immediately and even though I volunteered to take the car to get the tank filled he said I didn’t have to. He saved me the cost of gas for my trouble and called what happened “unacceptable.”

I hope that manager was honest with me. I hope this sort of thing isn’t routinely tolerated or encouraged. My question is this: how many times has the clerk done this before someone complained? Has he been getting away with it? Do they really get away with this?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I Still Hate Flying

I had to fly to Houston last week. This was my first business travel in nearly 18 months. I flew out on Southwest on a flight that left on time. That's the good news. Getting to the flight was “a whole lot of no fun.” First, I chose the less expensive daily parking and didn’t realize just how far from the terminal I parked. It was 97 degrees according to my Blackberry’s weather app and I really felt it. I was hot, bothered and sweaty when I got to the nice, air conditioned part of the terminal.

I had an e-ticket and only a carry on bag so I used the self service check in terminal and got my boarding pass. Then came the nice, long security line in a part of the terminal that was NOT air conditioned. Aside from the usual hassles, like taking off my shoes and belt and pulling out my netbook, the screening process was uneventful. I was just really hot (as in worse than outside) and bothered and sweaty again. I stopped on the way to the gate area and got a chocolate shake at Cinnabon. I didn’t need the calories but it helped cool me off.

Sometime, during the wait at the gate, the air conditioning finally came on. In the meanwhile I was pretty uncomfortable. I texted and called and let people know my flight was on time. Then I eventually took my place in the Southwest cattle call line to wait my turn to board.

The flight was completely full. I took less than a minute to get my laptop bag out of my overnight and an incredibly rude man complained that I was holding up people getting on the plane. Tough! I got the netbook out so at least I could keep busy during the flight. Did I mention that it was incredibly hot in the plane? I got really hot and bothered again. Once we were in the air it did cool off and the flight was only a little turbulent, as in not enough to make me feel sick. The one real improvement over the last time I flew was that Southwest now offers wifi on some flights if you’re willing to pay an extra $5 and this was one of them. The landing was smooth. I arrived feeling lousy and stinky but at least I was on the ground.

I had to go directly from where I was the next morning to Hobby Airport for my afternoon flight home to Raleigh so I was traveling in a suit. That’s not a great choice for hot weather, is it? Anyway, the security line was long again. I’m still really uncomfortable with the full body scanners, BTW, but I really had no choice but to go through them. I got to the gate and had a nice, extra long wait since my flight was delayed by 25 minutes. There was free wifi but it would intermittently disappear and my connection would go away.

There is no longer an afternoon non-stop so I got to take the extra long scenic route via a plane change in St. Louis, now with a short layover.

Once I got on the plane it was hot again, though not as bad as yesterday. It could have been worse. It’s supposed to be 107 degrees in Houston on Sunday. I got out before it went from really hot to insanely hot. The take off and early part of the flight was quite turbulent, as in bad enough to induce nausea. Once the turbulence passed I felt better. I was even able to eat the complimentary peanuts and drink a cup of cranberry juice on that first leg of the trip home. That may not have been such a great idea as airplane lavatories are as disgusting as ever. There was no wifi on this flight. Landing was somewhat more turbulent than take off. I can imagine my complexion turned to an interesting shade of green.

There was no risk of missing my connection at St. Louis. I originally had an hour and a half layover. Of course, the flight to Raleigh was delayed too, this time by 20 minutes, so I had plenty of time at the airport. Take off this time was uneventful but once again the flight was full. I was also surrounded by families with young, screaming and/or crying children. Thankfully I had headphones and plenty of music with me. There was no wifi on this flight either.

All in all I got home around 10:30 PM and was asleep half an hour later. This was a stressful little trip even without the flights. I must have been both emotionally and physically exhausted. I woke up around 2:15 the next afternoon. I still hate flying.