Wednesday, October 19, 2011 Make Your Trip Stressful, Frustrating, and Complicated

This reminded me of traveling in Europe in so many ways. This is one of the reasons I don't like to travel alone. I sent this email to United Airlines this morning. Hopefully, I am not brushed off!

Dear United,

While traveling back to Fresno, CA from Omaha, NE, my plane from LAX to FAT was overbooked. The agent asked if anyone would be willing to give up their seats and would be compensated with a $400 voucher, a meal voucher, and a paid night in a hotel near the airport. This was right before boarding, around 7:45pm. I graciously gave up my seat trying to help out since no one else was willing. This was a large mistake on my part. It took the agent from then until 9:15pm to get my vouchers figured out. My checked suitcase had been pulled off the plane and sent down to baggage claim, but by the time I got down there, a ramp worker had taken it back upstairs for some reason. The baggage service worker just kept saying "The ramp guy took your bag to the ramp." I don't know where that was because I did not have any tags directing to my new flight, just the old tag with the flight that had already departed. I waited for fifteen minutes before my bag was sent back down. This caused me to miss a shuttle to my hotel, and I waited for thirty minutes until the next one came. I finally arrived at the Westin LAX around 10:15pm. I was exhausted at this point, as I had been traveling since early morning. I went to check-in, and the desk clerk told me my voucher was not valid. The agent at my gate had given me the wrong copy, and as I've never had a voucher before, I did not know this. Both the meal voucher and hotel voucher were unacceptable. The clerk told me to go BACK to the airport and get the right one. He said the hotel was sold out, but he had a room for me in the United block of rooms. I had to take my rather large suitcase and two carry-ons back to the the airport to talk to a representative. Once I arrived, I had to wait in line at the check-in counter for twenty minutes to speak to someone. When I talked to a representative, she was not helpful at all. She said she could not give me a voucher because the hotel was sold out, and I had to go get my original from my gate. I was given a security checkpass, but that did not matter. Once at security, I was told my suitcase would not fit through the scanner. I knew this because it was the one I always check and had just gotten from baggage claim over an hour before. Finally they let me try, but first the TSA worker made me leave all my liquids behind. That was very upsetting; I had expensive shampoo and conditioner, brand new expensive lotion, face wash, face lotion, and eye makeup remover. No one was willing to help me out at all. The worker said she would be there until 11:15pm but once she was gone, she would not watch my stuff and it would be up for grabs. It was already 11:05pm at this point. I finally made it through security and got upstairs to the gate. I talked to a gate agent, and she said I did not have to do all of that to get my right voucher. That made me furious. I was sent to a gate further down to talk to a supervisor, and I told her my dilemma. The gate agent had originally given me the auditor's copy of the vouchers. I told her about my liquids downstairs but she ignored me and would not help me get them back. They were at the entrance of security, so I could not go back down to get it. I was finally given the right vouchers and sent on my way. I made it back to the hotel at 11:45pm and was almost not even surprised to find out that United had overbooked the hotel as well by sending people there when they had no rooms left. Of course, my room had been given away. I was asked to wait 45 minutes to see if housekeeping had cleaned any of the rooms. It was long after midnight when I finally received a room, and after one before I was finally in bed. I had an early flight and had to get up at 5:15am. I was also unable to even use the meal voucher, as it was for dinner.

I would like to be properly compensated for being so inconvenienced and for not being treated as a valued customer. When I tried to speak with a representative or agent at the airport, I was brushed off and ignored. That is unacceptable, no matter how busy they are. The $400 voucher doesn't begin to cover the frustration, uncertainty, and exhaustion that night caused me.



Monday, October 3, 2011

Wedding Crashers: A Cultural Experience

Yes, it's true. The highlight of my weekend was crashing a wedding reception with Alejandra and Stephanie. I did not know the bride or the groom. I've only known the person who invited me for a week. Still, we were welcomed most graciously, along with the other guests, with delicious food and party favors.

Alejandra's co-worker and friend, Gabi, asked if we wanted to come with her to her cousin's Hispanic wedding reception Saturday evening. It was in Reedley, in a rural outdoors park-like area. It was a beautiful evening, definitely not too warm. When we arrived, some people were already there and had started eating. We found room at a table, and our food was brought to us, as well as water and our own bottle of Fanta (grapefruit=delicious!) to share. The food was aMAZING! Carnitas, beans, and rice with tortillas, and it was all about the flavor. That was some food I could get used to. Gabi said ten pigs were killed for the dinner. We thanked the pigs for their sacrifice. It was worth it! :)

As we ate our meal, Gabi shared some of the traditions of her culture. About a eight months to a year before the wedding, the betrothed couple ask family members and friends of the families for sponsorships- varying amounts for different wedding expenses. The sponsors then either provide money or sometimes provide whatever they chose to pay for (decorations, favors, cake, etc.). This can make for a very large reception because the sponsors invite people to the wedding. From what I understand, it's kind of like, "I am sponsoring a wedding this weekend. Would you like to go with me, friend from work, uncle, cousin, brother?" But no one minds! It's about celebrating. I like that a lot. cream!
After our meal, we sat and talked as more people arrived. Most people, once finished eating, would move to chairs set around the edge the perimeter of the yard so new people could sit and eat. We noticed some children eating Mexican ice cream, and we went to find some as well. A man was selling from the back of his van in three flavors. Fresa (strawberry), Vainilla (vanilla), and Limón (lime). I tried the fresa and it was so good! It had real bits of fruit in it. The Vainilla was good too, with a hint of cinnamon to it. It tasted like chai, which if you know me at all, then you know that is my drink of choice. So the ice cream was a big success. :)

After we had sat at the table for quite awhile, we moved over to watch the dancing. They did not hire a mariachi band, but the music was still very much fiesta-ish and a lot of fun to listen to. We even danced to a couple of songs. Basically, if you can move your feet to the beat, then you will be fine out there. Add a little hip-swaying and you are golden. If the music died down at all during the song, you could hear all of the feet moving against the pavement. It was really a lot of fun! One song in particular stands out in my mind, and I can still hear the repetitious notes being played over and over. It was played while they honored the sponsors of the wedding. Names were called out, one by one, and they would join the newlyweds on the dance floor.

Party favors
Overall, it was a beautiful reception, filled with celebration and love. I had a fantastic time and wouldn't mind being a part of something like that again! The only bummer for me was that we didn't get to try the cake. They cut their pieces to feed each other, but never cut the cake. Pretty soon, the children and I suspect a few adults had tested the frosting, making the cake bare in some places. I don't think I would have wanted the cake then anyways. Finally, I am including a picture of my party favors. One is a magnet of a bride and groom with a ribbon bow attached that reads "Neuestra Boda" or "Our Wedding." The second is just decorative, with a clay-like rose and calla Lilly and clear beads with ribbon. It's lovely!