Monday, June 29, 2009

Still on the ground...

We should be somewhere over Alaska by now, however, Northwest has delayed the flight until tomorrow morning due to mechanical problems. Apparently the aircraft we were to be flying on got struck by lightning during the trip in from Tokyo.

Everything was on schedule for a 3:20 pm departure up to about 2:00. At first it looked like a small delay - 4 pm. About 3:00 they told us it looked like 5 pm. At 3:30 they told us they were going to have to push the airplane to the hangar, and our new departure time was 6 pm. At 4:00 that had moved to 7 pm. They finally scrubbed the flight just after 5:00.

Since NWA doesn't keep a spare 747 in Minneapolis, they gave all the connecting passengers vouchers for local hotels and T-shirts. They kept our checked luggage, and told us to come back first thing in the morning for an 8:30 am departure.

Us? We're back home, with Northwest's apologies, $10 food vouchers for the airport, and 2000 extra WorldPerks miles in each of our accounts.

Losing a day from this trip is not an option - we would only have two walking-around days and that's no good.

So I've just spent the past three hours fixing all the problems that have come up as a result of this incident. First, I called, where we bought our entire package through. The first two people I talked with were not native-English speakers, the connection was awful, and they weren't inclined to help. I had to escalate the call to the Customer Service supervisor, who explained that their computer couldn't change international itineraries once a flight had started.

The supervisor seemed to understand the airplane was sitting on the ground and not flying, but "that's how our computer works." He could change the hotel reservation, but not the flight reservation. He suggested I call Northwest to see if I could change flights, then call Expedia back to change the hotel.

My next call was to Northwest. After explaining the situation, the agent told me, "our policy is to help our passengers preserve the number of days they had originally planned, so we will get you out on Sunday the 5th with no charges or penalties."

Yes, you read it right. Even though the Sunday flight looked totally sold out on their website, the NWA agent was able to find room - three seats in a row no less - on the Minneapolis nonstop run. Delta, you'd better not mess with the Northwest call center or customer service team, because they really came through for us here.

I called Expedia back with the good news about the flight. After talking with yet another agent for fifteen minutes, she determined that she could not extend our room reservation - Expedia's computer said the Keio Plaza Hotel (where we were supposed to be staying in Shinjuku) was completely sold out. She suggested I try calling the hotel.

Since I'd signed up for their Executive Club card, and we were staying in their best class of room, I figured we'd have a pretty good shot with the direct approach - like I just had with Northwest. I called the Keio's Los Angeles sales office ... "Our office hours are 9:30 am to 5:30 pm Pacific Time. If you would like to leave a message, we will get back with you tomorrow as soon as possible." The time I called? 7:40 Central ... 5:40 Pacific. Ten lousy minutes.

We are a persistent family, as the previous hundred blog posts show, so I wasn't going to stop. I called the hotel itself in Japan ... it was coming up on 10:00 am there, and the reservation we held was for that night. Surely there were rooms. There are *always* rooms, especially when the country is in a panic over the swine flu...

No. Completely full on Saturday, July 4. I explained that they have us for three nights and that we would love to give them the business. No rooms available. I expressed the wish to not have to search for other competitive options. No rooms available. I stated that they would be losing bookings by not being able to accommodate us. No rooms available.

A very odd sales person I was dealing with there. Apparently business is SO GOOD they didn't want my money. (The way she said "Expedia" did have a certain disdain to it.) I told her I would speak with Expedia further.

So a third call to Expedia. This time I got an actual person in America. Another forty minutes of discussing hotel options. Some confusion over the International Date Line, and the inability of Expedia Customer Service staff to see what the website was showing. (Our second-choice hotel in Shinjuku, the Hyatt Regency, was showing wide open on the website, but the Customer Service person couldn't even find it on her booking computer.)

Finally. Different neighborhood -- Akasaka, which is the diplomatic district, near the Diet and most of the embassies, but on several key subway lines. A little cheaper; we're getting just over $100 refunded on the package, but similar kind of room.

At least we're not homeless in Tokyo.

We get up early tomorrow and take another crack at it.

(No pictures - the transfer cable is in the checked luggage... Wynn held up pretty well for most of the afternoon but fell apart by the time we got to the car; no nap today of course.)


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