A tangled web that leaves me weaving
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.