Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

January outbound trip from Newark airport to Canada

Thankfully I arrived at Newark at 11:00am, more than 2 hours ahead of my departure time. My trip out of Newark airport to Canada turned out to be a test of patience and perserverence. My trip got off to a rough start from the outset- when I arrived at the check in counter of *#@! Airlines and was informed that the airline didn’t have a record of my reservation. I always purchase airline tickets that allow for open ended return dates within a year. Makes sense right?!- because I don’t always know when exactly I’ll be making a return trip to North America from Taiwan. So my plane tickets are often issued with some randomly selected return date 6 months or 1 year in the future and when I decide on my travel dates, I contact the airline to confirm and change my return date of travel. So of course I had long confirmed the return dates (to North America) of my tickets while in Taiwan with all of the airline companies concerned. My carrier out of Taiwan to Newark was with EVA airlines (no not China Airlines- I would never fly that airline in light of their safety record) and from Newark to Ottawa I was serviced by another airline, one which was about to give me a horrendous headache.

First, the ticket counter clerk was thoroughly confused by my ticket since, according to her computer terminal, there was no record of a reservation under my name and the return date printed on my ticket was not January 22. She first launched in to a spiel about how there would most likely be a penalty fee in the first place for making changes in travel dates, then she started asking me all these questions about how long I’ve been out of the States, what dates I initially flew out to Taiwan on this ticket, why my return dates were different i.e. not January 22, etc., etc… In the midst of this line of questioning I got flustered since I had traveled back and forth between Taiwan and North America three times in the past year. I got confused and told her that I had last flown from Canada through Newark in October, when it turned out it was September. I was confused because I did make a trip between western Canada and Taiwan in October, and from Ottawa through Newark in September. It was her bombardment of questions and the illogical irrelevant questions that caused me to fumble. The only dates in question should have been the return dates (which, as I said are left open with randomly selected future dates- the return dates, once determined were changed confirmed in Taiwan). The initial flight out from Canada to Taiwan should not have been in question; it’s only the return dates back to North America that change. Are you following me- or have I lost you?

Then it occurred to me that this sort of manic questioning and antagonism could really lead any average person to respond incorrectly, thereby unleashing a chain of suspicion. And it made me even more concerned about the state of civil liberties in America. I really feel that it’s a more hostile environment out there where misstatements or misunderstandings can and will be used against people to a greater degree.

At the end of this conversation and the ticket counter clerk’s telephone conversation with their tariff department I was told that there was nothing that they could do for me. As far as they were concerned there was no reservation under my name, this type of ticket was not be subject to change in travel dates and a penalty fee would most likely be imposed for a change in dates. They put the responsibility back on the carrier who issued my ticket, EVA Airlines. They flat out refused to contact EVA Airlines on my behalf, causing me to go into a mini panic attack. Compounding this situation was the fact that *#@! Airlines only had 2 daily flights to Ottawa a day and I was booked on the second one, so if I didn’t get on this flight I’d be done for.

So I lugged my luggage onto the monorail to another terminal to talk to a representative at EVA Airlines, only to discover that their ticket counter didn’t open until after 8:00pm that night. I was panicking big time at this point. Finally I got a hold of EVA’s 1-800 number; I spoke to a representative there who confirmed that I was allowed to make changes on my return dates without any penalty fees. The representative promised to send a message to *#@! Airlines authorizing this. So back on the monorail I went and back to *#@! airlines asking them to see if they’d received this message and whether they would put me on the flight. They hadn’t received any messages from EVA and restated that from their point of view: I was not booked on the flight, that the only way I could get on the flight was pay full price (well over $500), or to get a new ticket physically issued by EVA marked with a return date of January 22. Clearly there had been some miscommunication between EVA and this airline. I pleaded with them to call EVA on my behalf, just one phone call to EVA would have straightened this whole thing out, but again this airline, which I’ll just say rhymes with “MENTAL” refused to call EVA. When I asked if EVA could call them on my behalf, they said that they couldn’t receive calls at the counter. I was infuriated and at wits end. So I lugged by 2 suitcases and carry-ons across the hall to the payphones a few feet away, directly across from and in full view of “Mental” airlines’ ticket counter and again pleaded with EVA’s representatives to do something, anything to get me out of this mess. I wasn’t ready to prepare for the painful possibility that I’d have to take a 10 hour bus ride to get to Ottawa as time and flights to Ottawa were running out.

Finally, EVA sent a message directly to the terminal computers in Newark airport and finally more than an hour after this entire ordeal had began Mental airlines said that they’d put me on the flight all the while scolding me for changing the flight, telling me that they were making a huge exception, that changes usually required penalty fees, faulting EVA’s handling of the situation, telling me to confirm and have my ticket reissued if return dates are changed- all the while hearing this infuriated and antagonized me even more, but I listened patiently and simply said, “Do you think that I wanted to lug my luggage around from terminal to terminal, back and forth making phone calls, and nearly miss my flight? Had I known what your airline required, do you think that I would let this happen or that I wanted this to happen?” What I really thought was: I 've just spent the last hour dragging around my luggage around because you couldn't have made a simple courtesy call to EVA airlines to straighten everything out for me, I could have been stuck in the airport if this didn't situation get resolved and I missed my flight, I literally did all the legwork to get on this flight, and now all you have to do is press a few buttons, to allow me on a flight that I should have been booked on in the first place and you're complaining about making an exception for me?! The nerve of those people to scold me after all that I had just gone through!

After that the extensive security checks were a breeze. My checked luggage was x-rayed and at the security check point to enter flight gates I went through the metal detector, carry-on luggage through the x-ray machine, I was frisked, asked to remove my shoes, which went through the x-ray machine and all of my carry-on luggage was thoroughly poked, prodded and examined. There really are no secrets between airport security staff and passengers. At the end of it I said, “Thank you I feel like I’m a part of the club.”

Reflecting on this security check experience, it’s interesting to note that the security was so rigorous for someone just to enter the airport for a flight out of the United States, but on the other hand when I went through customs upon arrival in the U.S. I went through the standard questioning but my luggage was not physically examined at all. It seems to me that thorough luggage inspections should be done for people entering the U.S. at any point from a foreign country, not just at major airports.

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