Monthly Archives: December 2015

Paying it Forward – the Houston InfoDesk Volunteers

PART ONE – I am stuck in Houston, thanks for a mental seniors moment that caused me to miss my flight back to Merida today. A couple of things stand out from today’s experience, which really doesn’t upset me that much as make me feel stupid and will help be a little less relaxed next time I travel.

Having arrived well after the airplane doors would have been closed, I was sent off to the side and after waiting an interminable amount of time in line at the United customer service desk I played it as humbly as I could with the unsmiling lady behind the counter. It’s hard to play the indignant customer when the fault was entirely mine. Having already  checked on line it was no surprise when she told me that tomorrow’s flight was booked solid with the exception of one business class seat at $1300 USD. Now that is pretty steep even if you do love leather and cutlery but I thought, what the hell, and told her to book it. Perhaps I could get some credit for the flight not taken and if not, well so be it.

She stabbed at the keyboard for a while and told me that she had to check with someone to see if in fact that seat was still available. She was put on hold and told me that it would be at least 10-20 minutes. By this time she and I were on good terms and I suggested maybe Cancun would be an option. Cradling her phone between her shoulder and cheek, she hit a few more keys and a morning flight appeared for $500 and then, miracle of miracles, she announced an 11:30 flight that could be had – at no charge at all.

I was so happy I almost jumped over the counter to give her a hug but that would have been inappropriate and so I settled on a hearty and thankful handshake. When I then asked about a hotel recommendation she actually gave me a coupon for a discounted hotel stay, the kind you get when THEY screw up. I was most grateful and again thanked her enthusiastically.

PART TWO – I am at the info desk at terminal E, the United terminal where two elderly folks in red uniforms are helping people with questions related to all manner of things. They wear tags that have their names on them and the fact that they are volunteers. The lady whom I will call Lady helps me with a phone to call the number on the United coupon to set up the hotel, offering to let me use her cell phone in case their courtesy phone didn’t work for what was obviously a non-local number.

Meanwhile the man whom I will call… Man, is dealing with a sloppily-attired individual who demands to know the flight schedule of ANA from Tokyo to Houston. They are obviously flummoxed and can not pull up any information on their computer, which seems to be not working. Mr. ANA is very rude and sarcastic with them, telling them that any Google search would display the information – oblivious to the fact that these are senior citizens and probably not the most tech-savvy people in the world. It is obvious from their expressions that they don’t even know what ANA is. I wonder why he doesn’t check it himself on his own computer or a rental somewhere.

As I complete my hotel booking over the phone, I can hear a lady in the wheelchair behind me loudly ask if there is a time limit on the use of the phone, to which Lady answers ‘no’ which is met with ‘well there should be’ which I choose to ignore since she is already in a wheelchair and I don’t want to further complicate her existence with a smack on the head with the telephone receiver.

The Man has now consulted with the Lady about Mr. ANA and they both are now trying to find some info on the computer and at the same time apologizing to Mr. ANA who remains unfazed and continues his eye-rolling and relentless questioning.

An elderly lady of the oriental persuasion appears and demands attention in that impatient and oh so charming way that some older folks have developed. Lady points her in the direction she needs to be moving.

Throughout all this, both Lady and Man are smiling, patient and while frustrated, they do not take it out on their ‘clients’.

I pull up the FlightTrack app on my iPhone and find the ANA information and tell the guy what he needs to know and finally, to the relief of Lady and Man, he walks away. What possible satisfaction this man gained from knowing that ANA’s flight from Houston landed at 3:55 PM at Narita airport is beyond me.

Wondering what motivates them to be there in the first place, I ask if every day they had difficult people like this guy. Their features relax and they smile a tired smile.

Lady answers first. “Some days, yes.”

But they both shrug it off.

“I just wish that coffee line wasn’t so long” says Man, pointing at the Starbucks outlet in the corner, where a long line of people waiting to order coffee stretched into the terminal, almost blocking the children’s Christmas choir doing their best to sing Jingle Bells in tune.

“I’m going to buy you a coffee” I tell him.

He comes back with an energetic “No, you are not!”

But I go stand in that line anyway, which takes forever as this is the one Starbucks in all of the great state of Texas that has the winner of the Slow-as-Molasses Ass-Dragging Contest working the till. Her companion, whom I will briefly refer to as Scruffy Mexican, looks out at the line with dead fish eyes, bored beyond belief and chewing his gum with a gusto reserved for recently rescued shipwreck survivors when fed their first meal.

I buy a couple of coffees; black – who knows if Lady and Man have milk allergies, high blood sugar or whatever – and a couple of packages of biscotti. I then head back and set them on their counter. “Merry Christmas” I say.

Man makes a move to reach into his back pocket. “How much do I owe you for those?”

“Absolutely nothing. Just want you to know that you are appreciated. Thank you for what you do and the way you do it” I tell them.

I shake their hands, grab my bags and head outside to wait for my hotel shuttle feeling like I have returned a little of the goodwill I received from the United lady earlier.