Time to Get a Second Opinion

by Robert Bestor

It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion. From doctors, contractors, and even the friend who answers “no” when you ask “do these pants make my butt look big?” Well it turns out you should get one from the airlines too. Recently, I phoned Alaska Airlines four separate times, each time getting a different answer to my question. I finally got the answer I was looking for, but it took four phone calls to obtain it.

For our January trip to Europe, we booked separate tickets to get us from Ashland to Seattle to catch our Icelandic Air flight to Amsterdam. With our flight out of Seattle scheduled for 5pm, we chose a late-morning Alaska Air flight that would get us into SeaTac with several hours to spare.9370826_1280x720

However, in the days leading up to our departure, we started to worry. We did not want to miss our Icelandic Air flight. You see, at this time of year, morning fog often keeps flights from landing at Medford Rogue Valley International Airport (that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?). And because they can’t get in, the planes obviously then aren’t there to fly those mid to late morning departures. On the other hand, the first flights of the day are usually okay, as those planes arrived late the previous evening. After discovering that the midmorning Medford – Seattle flight had indeed recently been delayed or canceled several times, we decided it would be prudent to change to the first flight of the day out of Medford.

To add another wrinkle, we’d booked our Alaska tickets on JustFlycom. So a few days before our flight, I called JustFly, only to find that their change fee would be an exorbitant $318 per ticket. To put that into perspective, our Seattle-Amsterdam round trip tickets, with a stopover in Reykjavik, were $460 each. I then decided to call Alaska to see if they could help me.

Alaska’s reservation agents are very friendly, but because we purchased the tickets through JustFly, they told me they couldn’t make the change. So I hung up and figured we’d have to chance it with the late morning flight. But a few minutes later the same Alaska agent called me back and informed me that I would be able to make a “same day” change for $25. This bears repeating. The same Alaska agent called me back. She also said that because we wanted to change to a crack of dawn departure, “same day” would actually mean after 10pm the night before the flight. She also kindly informed me that there were plenty of seats available on the flight we wanted to switch to. Looking good.

Two days later (about 48 hours until departure) I called Alaska again to check availability and confirm the $25 same day change fee. This time I was told I could call back as early 8pm to get it done. If we did get on the earlier flight, we’d have a 4am wake up, so I was happy to hear I’d get to bed two hours earlier.

The evening before our trip I figured that if one agent told me I could make a same day change at 10pm and the other told me 8pm, I might as well try for 6pm. Because I’m guessing that in actuality, an airline can pretty much make a reservation change whenever they want. But when I called at 6pm, and explained that “I know there are plenty of seats available and it would be really helpful to make the change now so I could arrange transportation and get a good night’s sleep,” I was told that both previous agents were dead wrong and “same day means same day” and I’d have to call back at midnight. I didn’t put up a fuss because nobody had told me 6pm would work. I was just trying to get it done early if possible.

But at this point I had three different answers to a seemingly simple question that I am certain Alaska reservation agents deal with every single day.

At 8pm I tried again. This time I told the agent that I had called earlier and been told to call back at 8. And this time it was no problem. Within a few minutes, we were rebooked on the early flight for a total of $50, instead of $636 with JustFly.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Well, first off, be leery of winter morning flights out of Medford. Second, double-check any information you get from an airline reservation agent. If you don’t like the answer, try calling back and speaking to another agent. Heck, it might even be a good idea to record these conversations, just in case. Lastly, go to Iceland! We’ll have a story about it our Spring/Summer newsletter.

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I’m Gonna Pack My Suitcase

by Nancy Bestor

img_4489Bob and I almost never check our bags. It’s not that I am worried about lost luggage. And it’s not because I don’t want to pay the checked bag fee. The real reason is that at the end of my trip, when home is ever so close, I don’t want to wait  the 15 interminable minutes it takes for bags to come off the carousel at the Medford Airport. Er…excuse me. The Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport.
I’m always surprised at how long it takes. The airplane is really just a short distance from the baggage carousel at our little “International” airport. And when I’m tired and just want to get home, the 15 minutes seems like 45.

But, unfortunately, there are times when checking a bag is necessary. Last month on our cycling trip to Jordan was one such time. We needed to bring lots of our own equipment—bike helmets, bike shoes, bike pedals, etc., etc. So we paid to check one bag on Alaska Airlines down to San Francisco, before catching our international flight via Turkish Airlines, where a checked bag is still free. We also had to pay for our return from SFO back to Medford. The cost was $25 each way. Alaska conveniently lets you pay for your checked bag when you check-in online, 24 hours or so before your flight, AND print your luggage tag right at home. This saves time at the airport, as we did not have to wait in line with other travelers who were checking in for the same flight. Alaska also provides a plastic reusable bag tag holder at the airport, and we simply slipped our tag into the holder, attached it to our bag, and handed the bag to an agent. You can even request up to four reusable holders to be mailed to you in advance on Alaska’s website.

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We did indeed have to wait 15 long minutes for our bag to come off the carousel in Medford. But what are you going to do? Patience is a virtue, or so I’ve heard.

An Open Letter to the Alaska Airlines Gate Agent

142457_4059Dear friendly gate agent at Medford airport’s Alaska Airlines,

I am not a nervous flier. I have flown regularly all my life and quite enjoy it. I fall asleep almost immediately when the jet engines get going, and have been known to sleep with my mouth hanging open for hours. I know that flying in an airplane is astronomically safer than riding in a car. I also know that the odds of an airplane crash are extremely low. When I’m flying to Phoenix, Arizona from Medford, Oregon and I hand you my boarding pass, there are many things I am happy to hear you say to me after you check me in. These include, but are not limited to, “thank you for flying with Alaska Airlines; have a wonderful flight; and, Nancy, we’ve upgraded you to first class.” What I don’t want to hear, anywhere in the vicinity of an airport, particularly FROM AN AIRLINE EMPLOYEE WHEN I AM BOARDING MY FLIGHT, is “good luck.”

Really? Good luck? If this isn’t one of the first things covered in what not to say to customers when learning how to be an airline employee, it certainly should be. I might be more inclined to accept this if I was say, flying to Monte Carlo, but even then, I’d really like to hear it when I’m exiting the plane, not when I’m getting on.

Help me out here Alaska Airlines. Please remind your employees that good luck should be reserved for Caesars Palace employees at the roulette wheel. Let’s keep luck out of the airport entirely.

 

Sincerely Yours,

Nancy Bestor