For those who love my stories about airline call centers — pour a glass of somethin’ and pull up a chair, because this one is a doozy.
As you may recall, Ben and some friends are flying TAAG Angola from Lisbon to Luanda to Sao Paulo in a few weeks (as one does).
I think reader and aviation expert Sean M. spoke for many of us when he commented:
TAAG is the only airline in the world that I will never fly again. And this is from experience of extensive travel in the “shitholes” of the world on a bunch of really dodgy carriers.
So at least some of us are on the same page there.
Ben and the avgeek friends who are accompanying him, however, are giddy at the prospect (for reasons I don’t entirely understand). Being himself, Ben has taken every opportunity in the past week to express his enthusiasm, with a persistence that is not unlike our old bickering about Lufthansa First Class.
Which meant I wasn’t entirely surprised when the conversation shifted from general glee about the booking to something much more sinister.
Ben: Ah. So. How would you go about getting seat assignments on TAAG?
Tiffany: That…does not seem like a situation I would get myself into.
Ben: Yes, clearly, well. So if you were me, how would you go about getting seat assignments on TAAG?
Tiffany: If I were you? I would…
Ben: [anxious silence]
Ben: [slightly guilty face]
Tiffany: I would ask me to do it. That’s what’s happening, isn’t it?
And that, dear readers, is how I spent an hour and a half in Hong Kong this afternoon Skyping with a gentleman in Luanda who barely spoke English.
At first, because I’m clearly delusional, I thought I might not have to call. Afterall, the contact page for TAAG suggests that they have an online chat feature.
But after initiating the chat, and being told I was first in the queue, and then waiting for 20 minutes, I decided it was not going to happen.
For what it’s worth, you only get the option to “Chat” (such as it is) if you’ve selected Luanda as your location. Anywhere else, and you get prompts to Skype or Email.
So Skype it was. It’s worth mentioning that you have to press “2” for English, and then “2” for reservations, and if you don’t do those things quickly enough, the call will just disconnect — there is no repetition of the menu choices.
On the third call, when I finally pressed buttons at the proper pace, I was connected to a friendly voice speaking rapidly in what I think was Portuguese, though I’m not entirely sure.
Tiffany: Hello! I need to confirm seat assignments for an upcoming booking, is that something you can help with?
Agent: Yes, is this [unintelligible name]?
Tiffany: Umm, no, my name is Tiffany, and I can give you some record locators?
Agent: You’re not [unintelligible name]?
Tiffany: No, I don’t know who that is.
Agent: Okay, give me the number
This was such a bizarre start to the call. I don’t know if the Skype call was sending over someone else’s caller ID info, or what, but it certainly got things off on an interesting foot.
Even using the phonetic alphabet, it still took about a minute to communicate the 5-character record locator. There may have been a lag in the connection.
Agent: Okay, please wait while I look into the situation
And then I waited on hold for six minutes.
Agent: Thank you for the wait. Can you wait some more please? My system is not 100% good, so I need some time to look into your situation.
Tiffany [wondering what on earth is going on]: Sure, no problem.
And then I waited another nine minutes.
Agent: Okay, the system is ready to look at your situation.
And then I was back on hold.
At this point I’ve been on the phone for 18 minutes, and haven’t even given the passenger name, and am really sad that I didn’t think to at least make this call from a Dim Sum shop or something.
Agent: Okay, so the passenger is…Shap? Slah?
Tiffany: Schlappig, Benjamin
Agent: Yes. And the departure is from Lisbon to Luanda, on [date].
Agent: Then the return is to…Sao Paulo? On the same day? This must be a mistake, but I can fix it!
Tiffany: Sadly that’s correct, they have a meeting in Luanda and then are leaving right away.
Agent: But there is only one passenger.
Tiffany: Correct, each passenger has a separate record locator, so we can do one at a time.
Agent: So the itinerary is correct? The same day to Lisbon from Luanda and then from Sao Paulo?
Prepositions can be tricky in other languages, so I was pretty sure the itinerary hadn’t actually changed during the time I’d been on hold.
Agent: The passenger is correct, the itinerary is correct, why are you calling?
Tiffany: Umm, I need to reserve seat assignments.
Tiffany: They want to sit in certain spots on the plane. Three-Juliet?
Agent: Oh, you want to mark the places!
Tiffany: Ah!! Yes!!
Agent: But the places are already marked. One-Alpha to Lisbon, and also One-Alpha to Sao Paulo.
Tiffany: He’d like One-Kilo from Lisbon to Luanda, and Three-Juliet from Luanda to Sao Paulo please.
Agent: Do I have your permission delay the old places?
Agent: The places are One-Alpha and also One-Alpha.
Tiffany: Yes, can we instead have One-Kilo and Three-Juliet please?
Agent: I can delay them?
Agent: The old ones, I clean them?
Tiffany: OH!!! Delete the old places! Yes please!
Agent: It is done, there is now One-Kilo and Three-Juliet.
One down, two to go, and only 42 minutes on the phone so far!
Tiffany: Okay, for the next passenger, the record is _______.
Agent: It is for the same date!
Tiffany: Yes, there are three passengers, all on the same flights, with three record locators. For this one, he would like One-Echo from Lisbon to Luanda, and One-Juliet from Luanda to Sao Paulo please.
Agent: Is it a man or a woman?
Tiffany: A….a man. Why?
Agent: You said ‘she’.
Tiffany: No, it’s a he, but does it matter?
Tiffany: . . .
Agent: Okay, what place?
Tiffany: One-Echo from Lisbon to Luanda, and One-Juliet from Luanda to Sao Paulo please.
Agent: It is done.
Tiffany: Great, the last one is _____.
Agent: In this booking, the place is already marked, can I clean?
Tiffany [feeling like we’re getting this dialed in]: Yes please!
Agent: So in this booking, who called us to mark the place?
Tiffany: I think it was the system? No one has called that I know of.
Agent: So I have Lisbon to Luanda 2A, and Luanda to Sao Paulo also 2A.
Tiffany: He’d like One-Foxtrot from Lisbon to Luanda, and Two-Juliet from Luanda to Sao Paulo please.
At this point we’ve been on the phone for well over an hour, which just seems like a shocking amount of time for something as simple as seat assignments. This call would have taken about 45 seconds with Asiana!
Agent: Can I just confirm, you are calling only to reserve the place, and nothing else?
Tiffany: Yes, that’s it!
Agent: Then I have done everything you asked me to do.
Tiffany: Wonderful, thank you.
Agent: May I just ask from where you are calling?
Tiffany: Uhh, I’m in Hong Kong today.
Agent: Hong Kong?!?
Agent: Wow! Well you were so pretty to talk to, and you are calling Angola.
I think that by “pretty” he meant “nice,” because that’s the only thing that makes sense, but also WTF?
Tiffany: Ah…well thanks for your help!
Agent: Have a wonderful day and G-d Bless you.
Tiffany: Um, you too.
Such a completely surreal experience. I hope that Ben enjoys 1K significantly more than he would have 1A. Significantly.
So that was my afternoon. What is everyone else up to today?