About 18 months ago I was traveling from Milwaukee to Harrisburg, PA via Philadelphia. It was early December and we were experiencing the first blizzard of the winter.
The blizzard was bad enough that Milwaukee airport was closed for several hours. After driving from my customer’s plant west of the city, I arrived to find that my flight was (surprise, surprise) delayed.
Once conditions had improved, I was on the next plane to Philadelphia and my connection there to Harrisburg was moved to a later flight. When I arrived in Philadelphia, I learned my connecting flight was delayed and we probably would not arrive in Harrisburg until after 11:00 p.m.
Because I had a 30 minute drive from Harrisburg airport to my hotel, I wanted to ensure my rental car would be waiting for me, so I called National Car Rental (www.nationalcar.com) to confirm.
I dialled the toll free reservations line and identified myself. “Hi this is Ron Jamieson. My confirmation number is BDXC94577”. I asked if I could be assured the rental agent at Harrisburg airport would be waiting with my vehicle when I arrived, and gave the agent my ETA and flight number. The agent told me they couldn’t do that – I would have to dial the rental counter at Harrisburg airport directly.
I asked for the number at Harrisburg and the agent informed me I’d be switched to another agent for this type of request.
ZZZZZZZZZZZZ. I was disconnected. It happens.
Nonplussed, I dialled again and got another agent. I identified myself again, asked whether there would be an agent at the Harrisburg airport when my flight arrived. I was told they couldn’t provide that information, that I’d have to speak with someone else and I was given another number to dial.
I can’t recall which department it was within National that I was dialling, but I went through the process a third time. Name. Confirmation Number, Flight number and ETA. As before, the agent said they couldn’t provide the number for the Harrisburg airport rental office.
So I asked to speak with a supervisor.
The supervisor came on and, once again it was “Name. Confirmation number, Flight Number and ETA”. The supervisor thanked me for letting them know I would be arriving late and eventually gave me a number to call for Harrisburg. Igot her name, thanked her for her assistance and hung up.
I dialled the number the supervisor gave me. The sound in my receiver was that electronic sound of a modem trying to shake hands with my cellphone. the number I had been given was a fax number.
Back to the supervisor. Re-introductions were made and I let her know the number she’d given me must have been the fax number for the Harrisburg office and not the phone number. She politely apologized and got back to me a moment later with a different number. Again I thanked her and hung up.
Feeling confident I was finally going to connect with the National office in Harrisburg, I dialled this new number. A voice answered, sounding somewhere between cross and sleepy (It was about 8 p.m. at this point). Apparently I was connected with a private residential line, not National. I apologized and hung up.
I double-checked the number I’d written down to see if I might have dialled incorrectly and tried again, making absolutely certain every number I punched was the same as what the supervisor had given me and in the correct order.
The voice answering this call was the same as before. On the cross-sleepy scale, this time the voice was very much on the cross side of the scale, if not right off the scale. Again, I apologized, adding I was Canadian so the person at the ther end would know I really was trying to be polite and was a foreigner – for whatever that was worth.
Since it didn’t seem that National’s supervisor knew the number for their Harrisburg airport location, I tried calling our company’s travel agent on their after-hours help line.
I explained who I was and basically went through “Name. Confirmation Number, Flight number and ETA”, only with the addition of the car rental agency. I got someone really helpful who eventually got me a number in the National system that I should call. They told me to use the name of the travel agency – even though we’d bypassed them by booking the flight on the internet – to ensure I got treated properly.
Once more into the breach, I dialled on my cellphone – now worried my cellphone battery was getting low. Again it was “Name. Confirmation Number, Flight number and ETA”. The person at the other end gave me THE number for the National Car Rental office at Harrisburg airport.
With fingers crossed, I dialled this new number, wondering if it would turn out to be another false hope.
“National Car Rental. Harrisburg International Airport” I heard from the other end of the line.
I was taken aback. I got my name out but hesitated as I got to confirmation number.
I heard “BDXC94577” from a chorus of voices there in the waiting area in Philadelphia.
I managed to finish identifying myself to the night shift manager at Harrisburg and was told they closed at 11 pm.
I responded by inquiring, “But aren’t you supposed to have someone to man the desk until the last flight has been cleared?”
“No. We DO have one guy who closes down. He might stay a bit after 11 to accommodate you. He’s outside with a customer, so I’d have to ask him and call you back.” replied the night manager.
“And the worst-case scenario….??”
“You’ll have to take a taxi to your hotel and come in by taxi in the morning to pick up your car them”
“But it’s probably going to cost me at least $30 in cab fare each way. Couldn’t you have someone drop off the car at my hotel or pick me up?”
A brilliant flash came to my mind. “Aren’t you owned by Enterprise Car Rental?” (www.enterprise.com) This was accompanied by an expectant hush from the crowd in the waiting area.
“Why, yes we ARE”, came the reply. “How nice that you know that”
“Well, Enterprise would come and pick me up at my hotel. Why can’t you?”
The crowd was buzzing now. The Enterprise card had been played.
“We’re not Enterprise. We’re National. We don’t do that.” I repeated this so the crowd could keep up to speed. They reacted:
“I have a gold membership with Hertz. You can use my number”
“OK” I said to the night manager, “can you check and see if your guy can stay after 11 until my flight comes in?”
She told me he’d call me back as soon as possible.
The people in the waiting area were really getting involved in this one. David vs. Goliath. A Canadian foreigner against a big ugly American corporation.
One fellow said,” How can you be so cool and collected when you’re getting jerked around like this. You must have made over half a dozen phone calls by now. I’d be pissed off by now!”
My phone rang. It was a Harrisburg area code. It was my guy there.
I gave him “Name. Confirmation Number. Flight number and ETA”
He explained to me he lived in Philadelphia and commuted up to Harrisburg every day. Because it was a fair drive, he could not stay past 11:30. He asked if that would work for me. I looked at the display by the gate, which suggested the flight would arrive in Harrisburg about 11:15. I told him I appreciated him staying for me.
The inbound aircraft that was supposed to take us from Philadelphia to Harrisburg was running behind schedule. Apparently US Airways was deadheading some crew personnel to Phildelphia from Baltimore, so there wasn’t a sense of urgency. It wasn;’t as if there were paying passengers who needed to be transported to Philadelphia.
Ultimately, we arrived in Harrisburg about 1:00 am.
After picking up my luggage, I wandered over to the rental car area. There was no one at any of the desks. Not even National.
I headed out to the taxi stand.
The cab that came in announced itself as the last cab at the airport. There were 11 people looking for taxis. I guess Avis, Hertz and Budget don’t have people who wait for late arrivals before heading home.
I thought about writing a letter to National’s customer service department, but had a feeling my letter likely would get lost in the mail. Probably somewhere in National’s offices.