A tan­gled web that leaves me weav­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - Jimmy Thom­son

US­ING the in­ter­net to book a round-the-world jour­ney (with side trips) was never go­ing to be plain sail­ing, but the warn­ing signs are there from the start. At the end of the la­bo­ri­ous process to sort out the itin­er­ary, I punch in the de­tails of the fi­nal flight home and the air­line com­puter in­stantly freezes. Af­ter start­ing painstak­ingly from scratch and en­dur­ing two more heart­break­ing fail­ures, I hit print, pick up the phone and read the de­tails to a real per­son.

So much for the pa­per­less of­fice and on­line book­ing. Some­times, noth­ing beats the hu­man touch. That aside, there is an im­mense sense of sat­is­fac­tion in plan­ning a trip from the com­fort of home, es­pe­cially when you pick up bar­gains by book­ing flights early and ho­tels late. Just $25 from Lon­don to Nice ain’t bad, booked three months in ad­vance, while book­ing our next ho­tel can wait un­til we are about to leave the one in which we’re stay­ing now.

Good the­ory but I don’t get past the first ho­tel lobby be­fore a flaw be­comes ap­par­ent. Jet­lagged from the flight and nerves shred­ded by the drive from Los An­ge­les air­port to West Hol­ly­wood, we call ahead to see if we can get into our room early. Small prob­lem: no book­ing. We may have sent it but they never re­ceived it. OK, it isn’t a com­plete dis­as­ter. Be­cause I have printed my book­ing con­fir­ma­tion email, the guy at the front desk gives us a room at the dis­counted on­line rate. Again, the hu­man touch comes to the res­cue.

I could use his help plan­ning our lug­gage al­lowances, too. You can check in with two bags with a max­i­mum com­bined weight of 22kg but change air­lines and it could be one case with a com­bined length, depth and height of no more than 158cm. You need the com­puter just to work it out.

Hav­ing stuffed holdalls into suit­cases in New York (be­cause do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional ser­vices have dif­fer­ent lug­gage rules, as do many air­ports), we ar­rive in Scot­land to dis­cover I’ve for­got­ten which car hire firm I booked. Af­ter ask­ing at all the coun­ters, I fire up my lap­top and try in vain to find a con­fir­ma­tion email. (I still worry there’s an off-site rental car with my name on it sit­ting for­lornly in the air­port car park.)

Then there is the so-called bou­tique ho­tel in Glasgow. It looks great on its web­site but is ba­si­cally a room with a flood­ing shower above a thump­ing night­club (one of its pa­trons sets off the fire alarm at 3am).

Maybe it’s me. Re­cently, I changed a re­turn flight from New Zealand over the web only to dis­cover I had ac­ci­den­tally can­celled the out­ward leg. I could come home but I couldn’t get there in the first place. Again, a call to a real, live per­son fixed it up.

To­wards the end of our com­put­eraided world tour, I ar­rive back in Glasgow, des­per­ate to plug in my lap­top to file a story but hav­ing run out of time to book a ho­tel. But in the air­port lobby is a booth for Last­minute.com with an ac­tual per­son in it. The best of both worlds. She im­me­di­ately finds me a dis­count room in a de­cent ho­tel with wireless broad­band. Or so I think.

Lack­ing the en­ergy to cope with an­other near dis­as­ter, I in­sist she calls the ho­tel again and makes sure it isn’t just a wireless (as in ra­dio) in the room. Re­luc­tantly she rings back and poses my stupid ques­tion. Aye, that’s what I thought,’’ she says to the ho­tel op­er­a­tor, sneer­ing in my di­rec­tion.

It’s those per­sonal touches that make all the dif­fer­ence.

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