Thursday, September 20, 2007

Not Part of My Job Description

My most recent group of students arrived over a month ago. One student is in a wheelchair. I've alluded to this before but although he arrived just fine, his wheelchair arrived WITHOUT ITS BATTERY. Yes, that's right...somehow the geniuses (geniusi?) at Lufthansa or United managed to lose the battery somewhere between Frankfurt, Germany and Chicago. We took care of the student as best we could, giving him a manual chair to use while we figured out what do to next. I'm not sure how many of y'all have experience with wheelchairs, or people who need them, but I imagine being forced to only use a manual wheelchair after having an electric chair is similar to being on crutches.

I sent his electric wheelchair to a local company who do a fantastic job fixing wheelchairs and dealing with all accessibility issues. They gave him a loaner and replaced his batteries, which was no easy task seeing as how it's a foreign-made wheelchair that looks and is built like a German tank. He finally got his original wheelchair back last week, with new batteries installed. The invoice for everything was over $1,000.

Meanwhile, I've been calling our local airport, O'Hare, Lufthansa, and United. United's automated phone network HAS GOT TO BE THE WORST EVER! And once you get a real human being, it's some poor soul in India who has no idea what's going on. I'm not exaggerating by saying that I've spent over six total hours on the phone and on hold with United Airlines Central Baggage personnel (all call center reps from India). I got a different answer each time I called, only adding to the confusion and my frustration level. One woman who sounded like she might have been with Corporate called me within the first week. Unfortunately I was busy with the students and couldn't answer my phone. Luckily she left her number with her message saying she wanted to work with us to figure out what to do. Unluckily, I called her OVER TWELVE TIMES (not in one day...who do you think I am, Jon Favreau in Swingers?), each time leaving a polite message to call me back so we could resolve this. You have no idea how hard it was to stay polite each time. I feel like a zen master of temper control now.

So once I had the whopper one grand invoice and still no answer from the airline, I put together a hell of a letter restating everything above (in firm, professional language of course, though) and faxed AND mailed it to United Airlines.

LO, AND BEHOLD, this same woman who failed to return all twelve of my previous messages I've left over the past month just now called me back. They're sending out the reimbursement check tomorrow.

It's a small victory. A drop in the bucket of air travel horror stories. But still....I feel a little vindicated.

So...the next time an airline loses something very important to you, all it takes is hours of phone calls, a month or more of wrangling, a detailed letter, and the corporate fax number and address and maybe, just maybe, you will get reimbursed for something that was never your fault in the first place!


Anonymous said...

Ummm, I'm not really seeing the complaint here. Hours on the phone with people you do not understand and who do not understand you and not having over a dozen phonecalls returned sounds like sheer heaven to me.

Good and Welfare said...

As the Bush administration works to bust unions at airlines and airports and as corporations continue to outsource American jobs overseas, we will continue to have even more such experiences.

I miss Drake Field and remain unconvinced that we gained anything by building XNA for the convenience of Wal-Mart vendors.

ReckenRoll said...


I realize it was a frustrating process but way to see it through!

smoore said...

good for you for stickin' to your guns!!! and I'm so relieved for the poor person whose wheelchair the battery belonged to in the first place- what a sucky way to enter this fair country of ours...

The [Cherry] Ride said...

I began reading your post with a cringe, because I was anticipating the ending. I am glad it all worked out; this post has hlped restoremy faith in humanity a little bit.

carolyn says said...

jeremy went through a similar process for a bog standard refund recently, i can't imagine how much extra stress would be added to the process when it's for something as important as a wheelchair battery.

i'm glad you got it worked out though. that has to shave at least a few years off any time you were slated to spend in limbo