Expedia caveat emptor

Expedia sounds Latin, really, so I thought I’d match it up with some other Latin words so I could share some insights, as a disgruntled customer, more widely than Expedia might prefer.

Expedia, the travel web site, is to thank for my unplanned overnight stay in Kansas City, which is, checking Google Maps on my phone, not in Kansas at all. Who allowed this?

I blame Expedia.

It’s raining here, and windy, and while there are no tornadoes nearby (the only place in the Midwest not being torn to shreds in a vortex of some sort, it seems), the weather is not good. My legs were in fact soaked as my 15-year-old Japanese super-fold-up umbrella (actually bought in Japan!) buckled under soaked and shoving gusts en route to Ruby Tuesdays a couple hundred yards away, and on the way back. I held the umbrella literally horizontally. My knees are still drying as I type this.

So. I spent three days in Washington D.C. at Compliance Week 2011 at the Mayflower Hotel. This is a wonderful hotel, far too expensive and nice, normally, to allow me past the extraordinarily heavy, I think brass, doors. But Compliance Week was paying for it, and I was in fact authorized to enter. I had a nametag hanging from a Compliance Week laniard, complete with my name on it. Todd Neff, Compliance Week Contributor, it said. And it’s true.

Freelancers live schizophrenic lives, make no mistake. Last week, I wrote about abiraterone/Zytiga; on the plane back from Washington D.C. to Denver, where I jointly own a home with my wife and where my daughters and puggle now sleep, I looked over my notes for a sample chapter involving a mountain of municipal solid waste; today I moderated a panel during which three amazing board directors talked way over my head, at the Mayflower Hotel, in Washington D.C.

I learned, in the seventh floor elevator lobby of the Mayflower Hotel, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt composed his inaugural address, and the “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” line, right down the hall from my room (He was in a room, though. Not in the hall). The band Living Colour first made the quote famous in their 1989 hit, “Cult of Personality.”

So Expedia. Having moderated/introduced 9 panels in 2.5 days at Compliance Week 2011, I presently have a rather honed notion of risk/risk management, and I am, or was, angry with Expedia because they deceived me into buying an airline ticket dripping with risk without letting me know. So, in effect, compared to other possible flights (and DEN-DCA is not an obscure route, lots of options) it was extremely risky. So it should have been priced extremely inexpensively, or I should have understood the risk I was taking so I could avoid it assiduously. Neither was the case, so I didn’t, So Expedia ripped me off.

Let me explain.

My flight was scheduled to leave Washington National at 4:40 p.m. and arrive at 6:25 p.m. A Frontier flight. Then from Kansas City, which Google maps tells me is in fact in Missouri (who would have thought? I mean, what a great idea. Next, I’ll bet, they’ll name a city in Indiana “Michigan City”), I’d take a 7:47p flight to Denver. That flight, turns out, was on United Airlines.

Now, I booked this whole thing based on schedule. Compliance Week 2011 ends at noon, and there’s a bit of a flight desert in the early afternoon, so it made sense, or seemed to. And while I wanted not to saddle Compliance Week with a huge flight tab, they were paying. So I booked the flight. It was a $565 dollar flight, all told. So expensive. And, thanks to Expedia, super risky.

How? Well, it was delayed. Not long–20 minutes out of the gate. Then for what seemed like inordinate time on the tarmac, in our Embraer 190, a plane made in Brazil. Embraer’s chief compliance officer had spoken at a panel I had introduced just the day before (the Dairy Farmers of America rep who hogged the armrest between us was all stoked about it, until he fell asleep and started infringing upon the foot space also). So we got in at about 7:30p.

This is a tight connection if the gates are next to each other. I disembark apace and the gate agent says, oh, United? They’re in Terminal A. Look for the red bus.

Red bus?

She may as well have said, “It’s in Topeka, which is actually in Kansas,” because even though the bus showed up reasonably quickly, it was way too late. United, the guy tells me as he shuts down the counter, doesn’t fly to Denver again until Friday.

It is now, as I write this, for the next four minutes, still Wednesday.

Try Frontier again, the guy suggests. And maybe Expedia. So back on the Red Bus, around (Kansas City’s airport is arrayed in a three-terminal circle, as if someone had started building a supercollider and given up and settled for a sprawled airport instead) back to Frontier. I am, the entire time, on hold with Expedia. Fuming at the Frontier counter, though it’s not their fault in the least. A 20-minute delay is not bad, really, given DCA and weather etc etc. Need to talk to the supervisor. Still on hold with Expedia. The recorded CEO talks to me about how important I am. “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane,” the song, plays. Smiling voice overs. I want to kill Expedia.

The Frontier guy goes out of his way to be nice. But it’s not good. Amazingly, there’s not a lot of flights in and out of Kansas City, despite the presence here, among other things, of the Kansas City Chiefs. And 8 p.m. in Kansas City, looking at the monopane departures flatscreen, is like 11 p.m. in a major airport. There’s nothing else for the night.

After probably 20 minutes, Expedia answers the phone, absorbs my snarling abuse, the least of which they deserve, and says they’ll call back.

Frontier forges ahead. Fifteen minutes of code-entering and indecipherable phone-calling later, they’ve got me on standby on a nine-something flight tomorrow morning. Everything else is completely booked up, they explain. And is a smoking room OK? At the Drury Inn?

Sure, I say, and I mean it. I am beginning to emerge from the anger/denial phase into something well shy of acceptance. But first I have to take the Red Bus back around to United, because my checked bag is over there. Maybe.

It is. The United Lost Bags lady calls to someone whose office is, in my imagination, deep underground, and they fire up the carousel for the express purpose of coughing up my leaden roller bag. And then the Drury shuttle picks me up, and here I sit in a room in which the relatively light ashen scent tells me that not a few nonsmoking marooned travelers have come before. The hallway smoke is worse. And I braved the rain to Ruby Tuesdays and had two very tall Blue Moon seasonal weizen beers and a half rack of ribs and watched both NBA and NHL playoff games (in part) and ended up in spirited sports-related conversations with three sales guys (two riding mower salesmen, one medical device salesman) and a bartender-woman whose father owns a rink. In Kansas City, not Kansas, nine hundred fifty miles from home. Because — because! — Expedia sold me a flight that should never have been sold. And I won’t forget it, and neither should you.

Expedia caveat emptor!


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