I have blogged before about the fun and not so fun parts of travel for business. Over the past few weeks I have combined business travel with some mini-vacations.
Standup comics like to make fun of the airplane safety lectures and airplane food (airplane food, what is this 1973?). I won't try to match the clever punchlines of Ray Romano or Jerry Seinfeld, but last week in Ft Lauderdale I had my own Seinfeld moment. My wife and I were visiting Miami for a conference at the historic Fontainebleau resort, to be followed by a few days with my parents in Del Boca Vista. We got our luggage at the airport (2 rolling suitcases, Lowel lighting kit, blue Porta-Brace gear bag, tripod tube and the trusty Rock-n-Roller hand truck, not to mention carry on bag containing two Sony cameras, digital still cameras and laptop. Went to the rental counter. I made a reservation weeks in advance to rent the car at the airport and return it in Miami. Sounds simple enough.
Apparently a reservation need not mean "reserved car." There were no cars available, and no idea given as to when there might be cars available. "It's Spring Break, sir, and people do not return cars on time." Mmm, hmm.
After about 35 minutes of waiting, along with about 20 other disgruntled renters, I approached a local non-national-chain counter. Royal Rent-a-car had cars available. Lots of them. Weird. I took one, a Dodge Charger, and we were off.
Later in the week I thought about writing an e-mail to the rental company, but many times, these customer service e-mails are dead letters. The company's website had no phone numbers listed aside from the reservation line, and no mailing address. I found it hard to believe that this international rental agency could not be contacted. Fear not, we now have a service, freely available, for finding the kind of information that does not want to be found – the internet! Too bad Tommy Lee Jones didn't have access to the internet back in 1993 – he would have found Harrison Ford in a heartbeat!
A quick search on my favorite search engine revealed the phone number for the executive offices of the elusive rental company. I called, left a message, and within 24 hours received a call. I explained my situation, and rather than a heartless apology, I received a $75 credit towards a future rental and a number to call before I rent a car with them in the future, to ensure there are cars available. This is great customer service. Or perhaps the executive office understands that customers need to be treated with respect. You never know when one of your customers might blog about a bad experience on the so-called internet!
The conference went great and my wife and I had some time to get to know each other again. We then proceeded to Del Boca Vista, slept not on an old sofa bed but on a new pillow-top mattress, enjoyed some early bird specials and had some good conversations with my folks.
When reservations work well, life is good. When things go in another direction, you need to have a backup plan, and don't let bad experiences deter you from future travel. Indeed, inefficiencies seem to be part and parcel with air travel. Things are getting better, as you will read in a future post entitled "Welcome to St. Louis Spaceport. Please maintain control of your gravity boots."