Adventures In Calling TAAG Angola

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]

Tiffany: F***!!!!!

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].

Tiffany: Yes.

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.

Agent: Seat….?

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?

Tiffany: Umm…

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?

Tiffany: Umm…

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?

Agent: No.

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?!?

Tiffany: Yes?

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?

Comments

  1. I don’t know about anyone else, but Lucky farming out his call center part of the flight “experience” to Tiffany seems like cheating to me.

  2. Yes the call was long but the agent seemed nice to you – it’s the cultural differences that make the world a fun place. He did all you asked to do and was polite. Why is this a doozy? The only part that deserves an eye roll is the millennial outsourcing his seat assignments to his colleague/ subordinate etc. see how long this would last in the real corporate world – entitled millenials – shows why they have such difficult in the corporate world. .

  3. Sounds like fun :D! Out of curiosity, is there a particular reason why Ben makes you go through this instead of doing it himself…?

  4. What a typical entitled American you are Tiffany. Making fun of someone that doesn’t speak fluent English in a ex war torn, poor country. Congrats.

    Would it be cool for him to make fun of you? I can think of a few “attributes” to look down on/ pick on.

  5. @Nick: Pretty sure since Ben is the boss, Tiffany is his travel agent and many other roles. That’s the benefit of being the one who pays the payroll. Sounds like she got it done, so kudos to her for that.

  6. The agent seems very nice, but after I finished reading the conversation I started to wonder how it would be if you want to place a booking for such itinerary by phone with them!

  7. If you are calling airlines like that (Cubana, Angola, etc.) you expect it to be that way.

    The end of the transcript sounded entirely human and wonderful. “I’m in Angola, you’re in Hong Kong, wow! You were pretty to talk to! God bless you.”

    It’s confusing that this was off-putting to Tiffany. Sounds like nothing but honest kindness across culture.

  8. Was the agent a man or a woman? Some of the commenters are assuming it was a “he”, but I was picturing a woman’s voice as a was reading through. I don’t think the post actually specifies anywhere though.

  9. You are flying first class. For no reason but fun. With a bunch of people. Why on earth does it matter to sit on 1A or 1K? Seriously.

    How is this ‘fun’ worth the multi hour agony of reserving said seats?

  10. When I saw this story, I thought it would be another disaster story like the Singapore Airlines incident a couple of weeks ago, but I am glad to see that apart from language difficulties, the agent was quite able to assist.

  11. If you want something done, give it to…

    … a rescuer completist.

    I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed reading every part of the post. And I think T got hers back, here. Considering the audience size and the (with love) ribbing she delivered to Lucky, there are no victims.

    And for those who don’t know why it was important for the call to be made: seriously? It’s a blog, about airlines. The TAAG Angola call centre experience is exactly what we don’t already know, and wouldn’t know, if Tiffany hadn’t posted this. Kudos for the post, for all the right, substantive reasons, Tiffany.

    Now, someone explain to @Debit that A) Tiffany isn’t Lucky’s girlfriend, B) Lucky probably addresses her as “Girlfriend” after a couple hours of Krug, C) perhaps that’s enough explaining 😉

  12. In reference to this:
    “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?”

    I fail to see what was so bizarre about this? How is that any different than a native English speaker call rep. saying “It was a pleasure speaking with you today?” In fact, to a foreigner that may very well sound bizarre: “Pleasure from speaking to me? Are you sick in the head or perverted?”

  13. Indeed, also the representative sounded polite and well-intentioned. I doubt there is a huge amount of demand for first class on these planes anyway…and I’ll guess the seat assignments don’t stick in the system anyway…haha

  14. This is how I feel when calling Lifemiles. It takes FOREVER to get anything done with those folks. Regardless, Ben owes you one…….

  15. “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.”

    And you didn’t have the reflex to do a day trip to Macau and have a Macanese call on your behalf? They do speak Portuguese in Angola IIRC.

    In any case, this is very knowing different languages comes in handy. We have people speaking around 20 or 30 different languages in our office and it is very useful at times.

  16. Tiffany, I dont know you, but I LOVE everything you write and especially your absolutely amazing personality that comes through all your writing. Thank you.

  17. “G*d?”

    I don’t know about Tiffany’s reasons, but in my culture you don’t just drop the G-bomb willy-nilly. Even vicars here hesitate before using it.

    Personally I prefer the term “Sky Fairy”, but I guess we all have our own sensibilities.

  18. Let me share my TAAG experience with you. This was back in 2006 and I had to travel to Angola as part of an official government delegation to negotiate a new Bilateral Air Services Agreement.

    First of all, the Angolan visa was a major PITA. Because of the nature of the visit, the visa application had to be submitted via note verbale between the Embassy of the Government that I was representing (not my country of citizenship), and the Angolan Embassy in Pretoria. This went surprisingly smoothly and I got the visa the day before I was supposed to travel.

    My flight into Angola was on Air Namibia via Windhoek on a pair of ancient 737-200s. Those flights were unremarkable other than the realisation striking me somewhere over the desert that if the plane crashed, the AP news blurb would probably include a line that “the dead included 3 Japanese, 2 Uruguayans and 1 citizen of India” (viz. me).

    My 4 days in Luanda were almost entirely forgettable, so once we concluded our highly unproductive meetings, I still had an extra day to kill in Luanda since Air Namibia didn’t fly daily. Fortunately, the Commercial Director of TAAG happened to be at the same meetings as we were and they had a flight to Johannesburg the next morning. So I asked him for a freebie ride to Joburg and he was happy to oblige with an ID00PS/J (positive space business class 100% discount) as a courtesy to a fellow airline exec. It was a lovely handwritten paper ticket in a beautiful orange TAAG folder. That’s where the positives end.

    So the next morning, the Embassy guy drops us off at the airport and I go to the Business Class counter to check-in. The check-in agent looks at my paper ticket (issued the previous day and annotated with “by authority of CD office”) and asks if I reconfirmed my reservation 72 hours prior to departure.

    No, say I. My ticket was not even booked 72 hours ago, so that would have been impossible.

    Ah, says he. We have a problem then. You have to reconfirm your reservation 72 hours prior to departure. You will have to pay a penalty of $50.

    Ok fine. Here is $50. Can I have a receipt please.

    Ah, says he. We have a problem then. I don’t have the receipt book with me. It is upstairs. And if I go upstairs, you might miss your flight by the time I get back (although it is still 2 hours to departure).

    I’ve lived in Africa long enough to know when I’m being shaken down for a bribe. I exchange $50 for a boarding pass.

    Onward to security. I have a couple hundred leftover Kwanza with me (equivalent to around $5 maybe at the time). The (armed) officer patting me down asks to see my wallet. He takes it from me, coolly looks inside and spots the Kwanza, extracts them from the wallet and transfers them to his shirt pocket with a big smile. Bom dia senhor and I’m on my way.

    To the TAAG lounge next. Calling it a lounge would be a stretch. The main difference between the lounge and the general waiting area was the presence of warm bottles of water, sagging sofas with stained maroon upholstery, a non-functional standing air-conditioner unit and shrink wrapped mystery snacks. Otherwise both were shrouded in clouds of smoke (despite numerous NO SMOKING signs) and featured the ammonic aromas of the nearby men’s restroom wafting through.

    Eventually, about 30 minutes after the listed boarding time, we were herded onto a rickety Soviet era bus and driven out to the ex-Swissair 747-300 parked on the tarmac. The Business Class seats on the upper deck retained the Swissair interior circa 1985. The cockpit door was open and the Flight Engineer appeared to be suffering from tuberculosis, judging by the violence of his coughing fits.

    It was now 30 minutes past departure time but nothing seemed to be happening. So I wandered to the galley at the back of the upper deck to ask the crew what the delay was. The galley actually turned out to be the (un)official smoking room so most of the crew were congregated there. The friendly purser advised that we were “waiting for some VIP passengers. Maybe they come soon.”.

    So we waited. And waited some more. And finally, around 90 minutes after our schedule departure time (no announcements made to passengers at all during this period), an all-white Boeing 737-200 registered in Swaziland pulls up next to us and lets down its airstairs. A handful of guys wearing khaki shorts and carrying duffle bags get out and walk across the tarmac to our aircraft. They board and are ushered into the First Class cabin. The doors close and literally 30 seconds later the engines start and we begin to taxi out (no pushback needed as Luanda was only power-in-power-out stands back then).

    So we bump our way to the runway past a wide range of Antonov 12s and Boeing 727s and start accelerating for our takeoff roll. As we lift off from the runway, I turn my attention back towards the cabin interior and notice the overhead screen which was still screening the safety video as we climbed through the clouds over Luanda harbour. But this isn’t even the best part. I look down again and two rows in front of me are the empty jumpseats where the cabin crew should have been sitting had they not been hanging out in the galley have a cigarette instead.

    So we continue to climb and I notice one of the crew slowly inching his way towards the jumpseat. He reaches the jumpseat, rests one hand against it and then… reaches out and ARMS THE DOOR SLIDE. Yes, he armed the slides as we were just about climbing through 10000 feet.

    Did I mention that I was sitting next to the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of the country I was representing? His face was progressively turning whiter as he watched this unfold. He spluttered to me to remind him to organise a ramp inspection if TAAG ever touched down at our airports again!

    The service during the flight itself was adequate. A very carb-heavy breakfast was served on a tray with an omelette, a canned sausage and 3 types of breads. Crew refilled the orange juice and came around to offer coffee as well, so can’t fault them on that front.

    Anyway, we finally land in Johannesburg about 2 hours late. There were a bunch of passengers transiting onwards who were now in danger of missing their connections. So TAAG ground staff rock up to the remote stand we are parked at and ask passengers who don’t require or who already have visas for South Africa to go into one bus, and those who require visas for South Africa to go into the other. With the passengers appropriately segregated, the passengers without visas are then asked to get right back on the plane to be flown back to Angola. Evidently, TAAG was in one of their periodic IATA clearing house suspensions so they couldn’t rebook passengers onward flights, and they owed too much money to the airport transit hotel to house the passengers in Johannesburg. So they just decided to fly the 30-odd affected passengers right back to Luanda and figure out what to do with them there instead.

    Twelve years later I have a great story and can laugh about it, but as I said before 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….

  19. I read this blog daily. This was very disappointing to me. To seem so surprised at the end of the call by the questions the seemingly kind phone center rep was asking is astounding to me. It’s like you were trying to spin this experience as a negative. I have spent well over an hour on the phone with American carriers and they speak perfect English. The person you spoke with seemed very nice and honestly surprised they could communicate that well with you. This article really makes the site look bad. Not well done at all.

  20. “So that was my afternoon. What is everyone else up to today?”

    Me? Happily watching a recording of today’s 4×10k cross country men’s relay, cheering on my native Denmark (though I’m not certain that Denmark even fielded a team; I’m just assuming that they’re there somewhere in that mass of masculinity).

    Anyway, I understand Tiffany’s frustration. It does seem unreasonable to spend over an hour just to get seat assignments. However, I must respectfully ask Tiffany: Weren’t you expecting this to be an ordeal? Afterall, this is a call center in Angola, a country that is painfully & slowly trying to recover from its brutally turbulent recent past. As others have said (though in an unnecessarily obnoxiously arrogant manner), the TAAG representative in Angola seems to have been very polite and respectful; based on Tiffany’s account, it sounds like he was doing his very best working with less than ideal technology. I did cringe at Tiffany’s slight tone of ridicule, though I’m sure she did not intend to disparage this man.

  21. Indeed, the agent sounds like he was patient and helpful in the face of your inability to speak any of the several languages in which I suspect he was fluent.

  22. Tiffany, I literally laughed out loud at “I hope that Ben enjoys 1K significantly more than he would have 1A. Significantly.”

    BTW, I hope you do a post about where you ended up going around the end of 2017. I (and I am sure others) sometimes end up with “use it or lose it” vacation time at the end of the year, and would love ideas for warm places that are options for last minute booking over the holidays, without costing a fortune or being ridiculously crowded.

  23. Tiffany, you are a far nicer friend than I! I think I would have given up if I didn’t press 2 quickly enough. 😉

  24. I currently live in Luanda and it’s fine, really. But the TAAG agents are not versed in English at all, it is expected that you speak Portuguese here and nothing else. I can live with it since I speak French but it’s just frustrating knowing that I can adapt to quite a few languages but they only got one. I’ll be flying to Cape Town in three weeks in business. Even though I’ve flown with them extensively during the winter and fall every flight on board TAAG is ummm unique let’s say. I wish lucky luck (pun intended), there are two kinds of crew on TAAG, the cold rude and bitchy one (usually all male) and then there’s the nice crew (mixed or all female). If you get the former the 8 hours to Luanda and 7.5 to Brazil will be hell. Good luck (just a tip never drink the coffee, tastes like sewer water mixed with grit.)

  25. I have to agree with some of the posters who have commented on the asymmetric nature of this call. While it appeared to take a long time, you did rather set them up, so it seems a little disingenuous.

  26. I flew on TAAG from Sao Tome to Luanda in January.

    There was last-minute, unannounced schedule change. The flight was supposed to depart at 7PM, but instead departed at 2AM on the same date. I learned this a few hours before the new departure time, thankfully.

    I called TAAG Angola and was able to communicate with no issues with the customer service representatives in both English and French, despite the fact that the main language in Angola is Portuguese. I’m not sure why you’d expect them to be fluent in English.

  27. Oy, so just to be clear — I have absolutely no complaints about the gentleman who was helping me. He was clearly and earnestly interested in trying to assist, and it’s certainly not his fault that his system isn’t fully functional when the call center opens, and I apologize if it came across otherwise. Truly no judgement of him meant on my part.

    An airline system that takes an average of 30 minutes per passenger to do something as simple as select seats on a confirmed itinerary…that I will happily judge. Please know that my mirth was absolutely at the ridiculousness of the situation, and not at all directed towards the agent who was doing his best. I do wonder how often people actually Skype in, or if anyone reserves seats prior to check-in, because the whole process seemed very foreign and complicated, in a way that wasn’t explained by the language challenges.

  28. Wonderful Sunday read! Another wonderful post by Tiffany!
    Basically laughed the whole time!

    And also the super valuable input of Mr. Sean M.

    For those whose general culture is slightly lacking, there are some religions where you can’t say or write God, it’s considered disrespectful.

  29. @ Potato — If I’d thought it was necessary to have someone who speaks Portuguese call, I’d have enlisted Ford, who is fluent. But if an international airline with an English website advertises an English-speaking call center, I don’t know that passengers should be expected to provide translation services.

    Truly though, I never really felt like the English was a problem (other than the mild preposition mix ups, which happen all the time for anyone speaking a second language). It was the difficulty of doing everything else, and how long it took for each portion of the process, that was interesting/shocking.

  30. @ Morris — It was just unusual and unexpected. Not so much the word choice as the direction of the conversation. I’ve spent thousands of hours of my life on the phone with airlines, and they typically have a similar flow to the dialogue, regardless of the languages being used, so the departure from that was just a little jarring I guess?

  31. Here’s a novel idea: next time reserve TAAG with a real live travel agent, who has easy access to interactive TAAG seat maps.
    The small fee that the agent charges would have been well spent.

  32. @ Den® — Thanks for getting it 🙂

    Ben would never force or require me to do anything, and thus there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. This was a minor ask in the grand scheme of things, and if I’d told him no or even balked he would have laughed, unconcernedly shrugged, and happily done it himself.

  33. @ Nicholas — That is indeed a question I would have as well. It seems like the system accessible to the phone agents is very very very slow, and I can’t imagine it’s any better for creating or modifying reservations.

  34. @ DT — Is spending 90 minutes to get seat assignments normal in your experience? That’s what makes the TAAG experience unusual — if it took 90 minutes to reserve six seats, imagine what would be required to change a flight in a medical emergency or something.

    And your snark about millennials here is ridiculous, with all respect. The “real corporate world” outsources any number of tasks, sometimes even to third-party companies. If we were a large company, it wouldn’t be entitled or unusual for Ben to have an assistant or entire travel department to manage these things, goodness gracious.

  35. My experience echoes Sean’s. Same deal – my LAST flight with TAAG, Luanda to Joburg. As I was living in S. Africa procuring the ticket and visa was easy – my travel agent in Cape Town took care of all the details. HOWEVER I should note how much of a PITA it was getting the visa.

    Checked in at the airport at oh-dark-hundred hours, as we were told we needed to be there three hours ahead of departure. The “dedicated” first class line was 40-people deep, and the 773 used on the route only had 20 seats, and it took forever to get boarding passes. We did not have to pay bribed.

    I suspect the lounge I used was the same one Sean used – just a room upstairs from the boarding gates (where one is walking or bussing to the planes), adjacent to the public area. One room for business and first class. The fridge containing cool drinks wasn’t on, so they were warm drinks.

    Also had to do a positive bag match, whereby everyone with checked luggage had to point to it before they would put in on the trolley to be loaded on the plane. Talk about chaotic, it was very difficult to do with 300++ pax all jostling to look for their bags and then pull them out to have them loaded.

    First class service was surly from boarding to disembarkation, and that was when service was even available.

    Never again.

    They got rid of their two 773s a number of years ago, and good riddance to bad rubbage. I recall seeing them parked at JNB for a couple of years after that.

  36. I have had a couple of similar experiences with the dreaded Avianca LifeMiles call center. The agents I dealt with were quite charming, although they had a misplaced confidence in their English-speaking abilities. However, despite the convoluted and user-unfriendly systems they use, everything got done eventually, and was confirmed by email, also eventually.
    Despite Tiffany’s best efforts, I would not be completely confident that those new seat allocations stick! Good luck with that, as they say!

  37. Still very sincerely curious why you censored “God”. Not judging, earnestly curious. I’m an atheist but I understand the whole “using God’s name in vein” thing. But this is not that. Surely “God bless you” is not offensive to anyone, and you did not even say it, merely reported it. So what am I missing? Again I ask with true sincerity, not trying to create problems.

  38. Damage control much Tiffany? You were being snarky re the agent and have YOU ever worked in the corporate world? You would never have a boss pause after a question to make you think – dang that means me – I need to do this! What a joke. Ben is a entitled millennial and you are defending a defenseless situstion of his haughtiness and your misplaced comment re the agent. Dong dig a deeper hole – accept the move on. Damage done. Read the messages above.

  39. So you’re angry at someone who doesn’t speak fluent English but still gets the job done? Typical American.

  40. @Tiffany, thanks for another highly entertaining story! You have, of course, ably defended yourself from the haters as well. Kind and helpful employees (who are clearly confused by Ben’s strange travel habits) notwithstanding, three seat assignments should not take an hour and a half. Ben better enjoy those seats.

    @debt, you comment all the time. How can you not know that Ben is gay and has a partner (sorry Ben, I can’t remember if you had Ford have tied the knot) and Tiffany has a husband.

  41. Thank you, Tiffany and also to Sean M.
    Truly delightful writing.
    It is indeed a millennial trait to have this curious aversion to conversations, especially on the phone.
    Please do not apologize at all these trolls who are looking for excuses to spew hate. You NEVER came a cross in any way as anything other than someone working with someoane else overcoming obstacles. As the agent said, it was “pretty” 😉 to talk to you, and I bet you made the agent’s day.
    Again, thank you!

  42. @ DT — I have, successfully, thank you, and maintain that it’s not a relevant comparison. Yes, we work together, but are also extremely close friends to where we’re basically family. The relationship is obviously different, and Ben never haughty with me. I could have instead told him to pound sand and deal with his own stupid ideas, and it would have been absolutely fine. Please don’t misread the choices we make with each other and the business as an inability to do things “formally”. This works for us.

  43. @ Ted

    Google is your friend. For Chr**t’s sake leave Tiffany in peace!

    For the avoidance of doubt: I liked the post, and also Sean’s helpful comment.

  44. What a great story Tiffany, hilarious, charming as usual and to me clearly well-intended. To the haters: chill out! Tiffany was relating a humorous story about a lengthy call and was not insulting anyone, just giving Ben a little poke.

    @Sean M. What a jaw-dropping story, thanks for sharing and really put the icing on the cake for this post.

    Well done both you, thanks!

  45. Tiffany,
    This is the second story of yours in which you seem desperately out of touch with the non-first-world, non-business-class life 99% of the planet lives.
    I remember with distaste your condescending story of your balloon ride at pyramids in Teotihuacan. At that time I thought that this author was the kind of “tourist” — in the worst sense of the word — who is making travel much, much less attractive, memorable, and genuine as opposed to drumming her fingers impatiently at the locals and rolling her eyes over the shampoo bottle design.
    Btw, I often wonder if you (and Ben) ever have to deal with airline call centers and counter clerks outside the rarified air of most-exalted Sahib/Memsab Class.
    Call centers in the USA or outsourced to distant time zones are just about on par with what you describe, without the charm. Frankly, I did not see much out of the ordinary except you did not lose the connection. I just dealt with American and British Airways on seats for a return Business-class ticket to Cairo and I spent the whole 45 minutes wondering who was more officious, inept and just plain nasty. Oh yes, I was charged $120. for “seat selection.”

  46. @Ted

    1 – it’s “vain”, not “vein”
    2 – The “God” reference just caught her off-guard. In the US, as in most Western countries, it’s very unusual to have someone make such an overt religious reference; religion is a private matter for most of us, and use of terms that might identify your specific faith are unusual. Occasionally here in Florida I get cashiers who say “have a blessed day” and it always seems a bit strange to me as someone who grew up in less overtly religious parts of the country (Northeast, then California.)

    @doggo – again, as Tiffany said, the airline says that have an English-speaking call centre, so it’s not entirely unreasonable to expect a little more fluency. But Tiffany also pointed out that that wasn’t really the problem, the problem was the airline’s systems. The agent was truly trying his best to help her and she appreciated that.

  47. @Tiffany: “If I’d thought it was necessary to have someone who speaks Portuguese call, I’d have enlisted Ford, who is fluent. But if an international airline with an English website advertises an English-speaking call center, I don’t know that passengers should be expected to provide translation services.”

    Hey, don’t blame me for giving trip ideas. “Hey, Lucky. I have to go to Macau… eh … to … eh … book your seats on TAAG … obviously!”

  48. This blog post smacks of a little too xenophobe for my taste. So, Angola call center does not meet your American/European Standard. I don’t find the humor. In fact, it must of been a slow day at the blog…..”Delightful writing”? Seriously? I have plenty of stories about Starbucks in China not providing the same level of service of the USA ones…..Not unique. Not Funny. Not mildly interesting. Not worth repeating.

  49. Tiffany, good story telling. And I also like that you stay on and respond to the points made in the comments section. I hope the new person you hire also does that. It turns a simple blog post into a richer conversation.

  50. @Tiffany – ignore the haters. The majority of your readers totally got the story and context.
    @Doggo – what doe that mean?
    @Sean – comedy gold!! It’s Monday morning here in AUS and I was trying not to laugh out aloud as I read this at my desk – slow start to the day for me obviously.

  51. @Tiffany – the whole thing reeks of disbelief and haughtiness. And of being out of touch. You guys come across like “ mean valley girls”. Maybe that’s what you are no longer in the corporate world – one where you think this haughtiness and task delegation by long pauses occur. They don’t. People who earn their travel perks by taking trips for work, also have a greater appreciation for cultural differences as we work in those circumstances to conduct business ( no, checking into hotels and reviewing meaningless hot towel quality does not count). If you had conducted meaningful business across the globe and earned the miles that you used for Travel , or had a job that actually paid for global Travel for meaningful business, your above commentary would not make it to a blog site. And your “ boss’s” haughtiness would find him out of a managerial role. As a refresher, All this happens in the real Corporate world.

  52. Tiffany, the guy was polite and did everything you asked for. It seems to me that the “funny” or “bizarre” aspect of the conversation was that he is not proficient in English. If so, please try to pay more attention to the World around you. It is much bigger than your homeland.

  53. @Craig

    1) Thank you for spotting and correcting my typo

    2) I understand why she may have felt uncomfortable or taken back by the associate saying “God Bless” to her. Im just confused by the censorship of the word “God” especially in that context. But she said it made her more comfortable so fine, no worries. I was just honestly curious because I have never seen that redacted before. I did not intend it to become an issue and judge no one for doing what makes them comfortable.

  54. I am blown away by all the criticism. Oh well – some people have nothing else to do.

    I have experienced similar conversations with persons who are speaking a second language and occasionally it seems that all is well until the day arrives and nothing has actually taken place as a result of the conversation. Or worse, everything is actually screwed up.

    Will be delighted to learn if the seats were actually switched – and not just cancelled as part of the conversation seems to imply.

    Good luck Ben – hope all goes well!

  55. @DT there is no evidence that Ben is haughty. He’s a business owner and asked someone who worked for him to do something. That’s what managers/leaders do. And because Ben is clearly a good boss to work for @Tiffany was both happy to do this for him and able to poke fun at him in a post.

    I’ve traveled millions of miles on “real” business — which is not to say I agree with you about Ben’s business. Ben runs a “real” business. It is obviously profitable and I’m enviousness of his willingness to step into the void of running his own business — and if I had that interaction and a place to post about it, I would too. It was FUNNY. @Tiffany writes well and made it funnier. She laughed at their mutual miscommunication. She wasn’t rude or condescending and the slightly confused agent enjoyed the conversation. He was confused, not stupid. If she had been mean or insulting, the conversation would have been different.

    You however, are being mean and insulting. Take it down a notch.

  56. @AD – thanks fanboy. I don’t even get what the heck you are trying to say in your long, confusing post Your post is all over the place. Coffee time.

  57. @DT, nice substantive response. Clearly you are unable to defend yourself with logic or your command of the English language is so poor that you don’t understand the use of parenthetical remarks. Maybe both?

    Next time don’t spew a bunch of unsupported insults at people you don’t know. The same people, I might add, who provide a service you consume for free. If you don’t insult people you won’t get taken out at the knees again.

    Enjoy your coffee and leave the commenting to the adults.

  58. I usually don’t respond to postings but felt compellled to say something. Repeating or referencing a widely condemned term “shitholes” to refer to a group of people or a continent to illustrate your frustrations with a Portuguese speaking airline agent is quite concerning. To those who thought that was ok or just glossed over it, well……

    You lost me at this quote “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.”

    I did read to the end to see if there was anything redeeming from the rest of your article but didn’t find any positives there.

  59. Initially I thought it funny.

    Thinking again, it is just bloody arrogant and entitled. I just don’t get why americans seem to think they always need to get their way. If the guy was not fluent in english, did you actually try to help and try to understand him? Reaching out as one typically does when there is language barrier.
    Instead this whole article sounds like rolling eyes only. Super entitled. In no other country would you be able to live the high life by consuming free rides from overspending on your credit cards. Call it feeling entitled driven by pure greed.

  60. @ ron — Of course I did, otherwise we wouldn’t have eventually gotten it done. It’s not like I was repeatedly shouting “SEAT ASSIGNMENTS” over the phone, we used lots of different words so we could understand each other, I tried to modify my sentence structure and conjugations as much as possible to make it closer to those used in Romance languages, etc., and I was never frustrated by the language differences. Just the TAAG systems that were clearly making it more difficult for both of us than it needed to be.

  61. @Tiffany: have you thought about selecting Luanda as your location just to see if the chat would work? I really liked your post. People are too sensitive nowadays and find all sorts of things to complain about what they read. You did not treat the guy bad at all.

  62. @ Santastico — Yep, that’s how I got the button to appear at all. I think the lack of functionality might have been related to whatever system issue was causing the poor agent so much trouble? Or maybe it just never works, I dunno.

  63. Ford speaks fluent Portuguese??????

    Que demais, @Ford cade voce aqui pra eu conversar em Portugues com voce?

    Tiffany, quero ver voce fluente tambem!

  64. It would have made more sense for him to ask someone who speaks Portuguese to make the call. Probably would have been done in 5 minutes.

  65. @Tiffany

    Love your commentary. My afternoon (yesterday) was equally adventurous (shall we call it that?). After two hours on the phone in the early morning (following continuous difficulties with payment via the website) attempting to book a flight from Beijing to Algiers, I gave up and bought roundtrip tickets from Guangzhou to Beijing. The sole purpose of this impromptu trip in between a project: to visit the Air Algerie office to make reservations for five of us in first class and complete payment directly. It only took four hours at their office but I was successful and even did a victory dance to celebrate.

  66. Haha @Tiffany at least you were able to select seats! I can never select seats on Air China when calling in, even when flying long-haul three cabin First Class. They are such a worthless airline!

    @Sean in my experience on Air China the in flight safety video is always still playing while taking off. I complained once to Air China and they basically ignored it.

  67. Oh – to clarify: the problem was not language since all of us are fluent in French, Arabic and Mandarin. Apparently their payment system was offline and no one noticed

  68. @ Tiffany

    Ok I take your point. That was better than the impression I initially got.

    Having said that my experiences with call centers wherever are usually disastrous as well with a few positive exceptions. I always prefer the chat function if available.

  69. Goodam! after reading a wonderful adult post, and a wonderful professional comment from a grown up men, I have to suffer to read a bunch of liberal crybabys spewing nonsense, while making the effort to find some valuable information in all that mess.. what is happening to America? when did you become all this BS politically correct snowflake ridden place?.. I know, 8 straight years of not having a leader!.

  70. Curious about why do you write “G-d” instead of “God” (or “god”)? Is there some religious rule about that?

  71. Sean’s commentary reminded me of 2 things:
    1. Flying in Nigeria in the 70s. For domestic flights there was no specific seat allocation and seating was determined by a mad dash across the tarmac to the plane. Nigerians are quick movers. More than once at least a couple of people stood the entire flight, seatless, fortunately not me. International flights were marginally better regulated.
    2 . What a major PITA reconfirmation was, every airline, every flight, every country. And they did cancel and put you back on a waitlist for failing to reconfirm. Terrible, major pain.

  72. This comment section is one of the most entertaining one I’ve read on OMAAT. I am already at my 5th bag of popcorn after reading all this!!

  73. Tiffany, I truly enjoy your style of writing and telling a story! I mean I like Ben’s as well, and its what has kept me reading for 5+ years, but your style also makes for a fun read. Thanks!
    (do you happen to blog elsewhere?)

  74. @Mike I hadn’t thought about that, but it reminds me of the time that my non-stop SFO-MIA was delayed by six hours and the plane hadn’t left MIA yet. So, who know how late it was going to be. I called AA and I asked for a connection originating from SJC as I was still at home and there were no later nonstops from SFO. The agent said “there are a bunch of non-stops from San Jose.” I’m thinking “since when?” But I’m going with it… And she’s got everything all booked and then she reads the details to me and the flight is two hours long… She was trying to rebook me from San Jose, Costa Rica instead of San Jose, California.

    This was, by the way, the Executive Platinum desk. Same thing as Tiffany experienced. The agent could not have been nicer, but we were on the phone for nearly an hour (both native speakers of the same general language – she was in Dallas) to do something that should have taken maybe 10 minutes. We were both laughing by the end because there’s no point in getting upset and she did get me on SJC-MIA eventually. Had I ended up with an SJO-MIA itinerary I might have been less amused.

  75. Obviously not an easy call, but perhaps you should have spoken to the agent in Portuguese. Oh wait, you don’t speak Portuguese but just assumed that agent should be able to speak English?

  76. @putout I second the notion of getting Sean M on the team. Often I find myself scrolling down to hear Sean M’s opinions.

  77. This guy honestly seems so much nicer and friendlier and actually human in comparison to the phone agents I get with legacy carriers. I’d love to have a guy like that as my phone agent.

  78. Among very observant Jews, the use of a term like G*d of G-d is not unusual at all. I don’t know if that’s the reason here. In Hebrew, Jewish law forbids, for example, to destroy or erase the name of God, so that many will never spell out the full name to avoid creating that possibility. For example, a reader might print out a blog post, then later recycle the paper.

    That same religious law doesn’t really apply in English, or other languages besides Hebrew, but many carefully observant Jews do choose to afford the term in English with the same level of respect, and consequently use the redacted version. Again, I’m making no assumptions specifically about Tiffany’s motives; just pointing out that it is anything but disrespectful to write this way.

  79. I like the story. I smiled a bit and cringed a few times.

    This blog is entertaining, that’s why we read it, but everything is spun to the negative to make it “more” interesting. Sadly, it’s the sign of the times.

    I’ve spent an hour on the phone with big three airlines and end up with nothing accomplished and sometimes that nothing comes with attitude.
    I’d hire this rep in a minute. He can learn English, you can’t teach attitude or effort.

  80. Congrats again Tiffany…. you now have Trump supporters strongly defending you (see BBK above) And attacking “liberal snowflakes” while going about it.

    You must be doing something right. Keep up the tone deafness.

    ‘Murica, YEahh

  81. Man, people find the weirdest things to get worked up about! It’s sad really. We have a s**t ton of comments wondering why Tiffany had to do Ben’s work for him, why Tiffany was rude to the TAAG agent, why she expected him to speak English, and last but not the least, why she wrote God as G-d. Seriously? Are these the things you guys want to get worked up about? If I call TAAG, I would at least hope that they have someone who can speak English, because I for sure don’t speak any Portuguese! Tiffany had more patience than I did, for sure! I would have hung up in 2 minutes. Is it too much to expect that their call center will have somebody who speaks basic English? And as for G-d instead of God, what does it matter? It’s Tiffany’s post, she can do what she wants, for G-d’s sake! Why is nobody asking why TAAG has such an inefficient booking system or an inadequate call center? Sheesh!

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