On Customer Service and Travel

I had to book a hotel room today for the Big Pachyderm Wrapup Hootenanny at the end of the month. The rooms at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco were already sort of pre-arranged, so it was just a matter of calling, saying that yes I needed a room, and providing payment info.

I call the hotel, and the phone is answered by an extremely nice and pleasant operator, who assures me that it would, indeed, be a pleasure to connect me to the reservations desk.

Then, it all fell apart. I'm not sure if the person at Reservations was just having a bad day, or if her cat just died or maybe she was handed her walking papers that morning. But, whatever happened to her to put her in a funky foul mood somehow poured itself into her phone, travelled several hundred miles to the northeast, and oozed out of my earpiece. I felt like I should have been apologizing for interrupting her to give the hotel money in exchange for lodging. How rude and inconsiderate of me.

I eventually got the room booked, with the special meeting rate ("NMC? What does THAT stand for? Oh. Uh huh."). Next, I went to book airfare. Normally a painless and quick process.

So, I head to the website - where I have already pre-searched for the flights - and proceed to book a seat to SFO. The process goes really smoothly. No attitude from cranky operators, just a relatively well-tuned website guiding me through the process.

Then, after the transaction has gone through, I am greeted by a scary new message. Because I am travelling into US airspace, I need to register with the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) - oddly close to the AFIS system used on CSI, so I get a bit on edge. I'm told that they need my personal info before I will be allowed to board. But... I just gave my personal information... Not good enough. They need more info to make sure I'm not planning something stupid. Because, you know, having a valid passport number means I'm safe. I don't carry my passport with me, so I have to resort to the printed form, which I will have to keep with me so I don't lose it if I want to get on the plane.

It used to be so easy to travel. People were nice. It was almost as though traveling was a good thing. That's gone. Now, traveling is at best an inconvenience. At its worst, it's apparently a huge security risk. Why am I going through all of this again?

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