Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Ferry Fairy

It has been difficult for me to find the time to write lately. I learned a few months ago that I would be invited to spend some time in Europe this summer with some friends who are involved in the film industry. When I spoke with J*, I could imagine his mind, fast at work, brainstorming the idea that I should take a video camera along with me to record my journey. My small vacation soon turned into a major undertaking, involving a flight to Dublin from the US, a flight to London from Dublin, a trip by Chunnel to Paris, then by train to Barcelona, a ferry to Mallorca and then back to Valencia and finally, by train to Madrid, Lisbon, Nice, Rome, Naples, Heidelburg and Berlin before a flight back to London, to Dublin and to the US. Consequently, I have been fast at work trying to make reservations for flights, trains, ferries and hotels. I am so very excited about the trip, don’t get me wrong. It has just been a big project for me to organize and book everything on my own.

The most problematic of all my bookings turned out to be the ferry from Barcelona to Mallorca and from Mallorca to Valencia. I found a shipping line’s website, but it would only allow me to book a seat from the US and they required that I purchase my ticket in person within three days from an office in Europe! That wasn’t going to work, and I was concerned that I would not be able to reserve a seat later because my journey will ultimately take place during high season for travel from the UK to Mallorca.

As a result, I made the bookings for the first time on the 10th of May and they expired on the 13th. I went online again on the 17th to check availability of seats on the ferry again and to my surprise, I navigated my way to a page that allowed me not only to book, but to purchase my ferry tickets! How cool! How could I have missed it before? I input the data for my tickets and paid for them both. When I hit enter, two different forms were sent to me for printing, vouchers as it were, that would hold my seats and would be turned in for tickets when I arrive in Europe. I printed the first one and all was well. I started to print the second and my printer jammed.

I was sweating by the time I finally gave in to the realization that my printer was not going to work and that the only way to make it work was to close down my computer. I tried to save the file that contained my voucher. The computer was dead. I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to print the second ticket. I looked at my screen and saw a place on the website where I could retrieve ticket information and thought, "Oh, good… won’t be lost after all." So I turned off my computer.

When Windows came back up, I logged into the ferry line’s website to retrieve my ticket information and found that the webpage that I had been working on was no longer available. It just plain did not exist! I tried for over an hour and could not find it anywhere. I took down the contact information and the phone numbers and began a crusade to find out whether I actually had purchased tickets or not.

I emailed. I got nothing in return. I called their 24-hour help line which gave me a voice message in Spanish at a clip that sounded like no human could have actually produced that many syllables per second, and ended in the monotonous sound of a dial tone. I quickly surmised that somewhere in the message, I was being told to call back later. For a couple of weeks, I emailed and phoned every day to find the same responses. Finally, I found a number for the line’s office in London and thought, "Aha!"

The lady that answered was perky and helpful, but she was not the representative for the ferry line. I explained my problem to her, all the while envisioning the change dropping from my hand into the slot of an imaginary pay-phone. She listened patiently to my whole ordeal before saying "Our ferry booking representative is out to lunch. Shall I have her ring you or email you later?" I responded, quite vehemently, that yes, I would like for her to do that for me.

I soon received an email that asked me how M* could help me. I wrote M* an email and explained the entire situation and attached a copy of the one voucher that I had been able to print. She responded by telling me that I could not possibly have booked those tickets myself, that only travel agents can do that. I wrote back to tell her that I had, indeed, bought the tickets myself, and through the ferry line’s own website. She, the only English speaking representative of the ferry line, indeed, the only representative of the ferry line at all that I had been able to contact then wrote me back and told me that because I had bought my tickets from another travel agent, she was not allowed to help me any further! I could have seen myself calling her up, screaming into the trans-Atlantic lines that I had not bought my tickets from another agency, but I soon realized that I would be going no where with that, and especially not by ferry.

I dialed the number to Barcelona again and listened to the same quick-paced message and dial tone just to re-establish my state of sanity before temporarily giving up.

The next few days passed, and as my hotel reservations went through, my credit card began to approach a finite limit. Under the curve of anxiety, I was checking periodically into the website for my card to make sure that my limit was not exceeded. That is when I noticed two separate charges from the ferry company for my crossings from Barcelona to Mallorca and on to Valencia! I now had to step up my attempts to find out how to get my tickets from these people. I wrote the most pitiful emails to the lady in London, begging her to investigate my case and help me with contacting the ferry company, since, after all, she is their representative. She finally relented about a week ago and said she would "try".

In the meantime, I tried the number for bookings every single day. Three rings and fifteen thousand syllables a minute later, I would get a dial tone. I emailed. No responses. That is when I received a phone call from a hotel in France to tell me that would not allow them to send emails from their domain into Verizon because of the volume of spam generated by hackers in their domain. Ah!!!!!!! I thought that perhaps that was why no one was responding to my emails. I emailed M* in London and gave her my hotmail account, but she didn’t respond.

This morning, I woke and for whatever reason, was drawn to my computer. I pulled up the ferry line’s website and dialed their phone number for reservations. After 2 rings, a different voice than the usual one answered my call, still in very fast-paced Spanish, but a real person!!!!!!! I was so excited! I said in Spanish "Hablas Ingles?" which is an affront to any stranger, but she said "One moment," and then put another person on the line. I explained my situation, from the booking that I couldn’t have made, but did make, to my printer’s having crashed, to the uncertainty of what to do next." When I finished five minutes later, the voice said "I will have to give you another number to call." I thought, "OH NO! This is almost as bad as dealing with my health insurance company when a claim is disputed!"

I took down the new number and dialed. Immediately, I got an answer. This time, I asked "Do you speak English." The lady told me to hold. In a moment, a man answered. I started speaking English with him and he said "I am sorry. Can you speak Spanish? My English is not so good." Crap! I said to him "My Spanish is terrible, but we can try. I then thought, FRENCH!" I said "Parlez-vous français?," to which he responded "Oui." In the course of ten minutes, we had sorted out the ferry ticket dilemma, both of us speaking a language that is native to neither of us. It turns out that just by having my one ticket, all I have to do is show up at the ferry office in Europe and all will be well…..

Geez, I hope so, anyway!



Blogger Erin said...

Bless your heart, I hope this all works out as they say it will!

5/26/2005 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Ron Hudson said...

The Fairy Ferry struck again and early! The call came at 6am, when I was groggy enough to say "si, si, si, si" to each phrase that I heard and thought I understood. It turned out my brain worked without me help and I did get the news that my crossing was cancelled and that I had to call for new tickets. Done...finito, I hope!


6/14/2005 11:28:00 PM  

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