I just received my tickets for my writing/research trip to the South Pacific. There they were stapled together in two packets. The first was Lan Chile tickets from Chicago to Santiago, Chile and the return flight. The other set was for the flights from Santiago to Easter Island then onto Tahiti and Bora Bora, and finally the return to Santiago to connect with Lan Chile's flight back home.
As I fingered through the cardboard tickets, I wondered what was in store for my wife and me on our trip to the South Seas. Would the trip be as exciting as our trip to Tibet? Will the fantasies that we have about walking along beaches where azure blue water washes sugar-white sands be as exciting as we imagine they will be as we think about them here in Northwest Indiana?
Then it came back to me. I recalled doing the same thing with the packet of KLM/Northwest tickets that got us to and back from South Asia last summer. I thought about all the security searches that we went through, and that was before 9/11. I called to mind a Dutch flight attendant serving a Hindu woman steak as an entrée. On that same flight, I met a Sikh lawyer who invited us to visit him and his family when we went to Amritsar, the home of the Golden Temple. I also remembered seeing the security lights of the defense lines along the border between India and Pakistan and wondered what that bordered looked like now. I also recalled the discomfort of the long, long flights and waiting in airports in Amsterdam, New Delhi, Amritsar, and Lhasa.
However, the worst memory was that of being grounded in New Delhi, India. After a very long and arduous month-long trip, we arrived at the airport early to be on the safe side for our flight home. After hours of waiting, we moved from the unsecured to secured areas. Finally, as midnight neared so too did the time for our departure. Then came the announcement that we didn't expect: our flight was delayed. The delay turned out to be one of those 24-hour delays. We were stuck in India for another day. Back through the still sweltering streets filled with beggars and their families to our hotel. We were not only delayed, but KLM's attitude about the delay both in India and in Holland ranged from indifference to arrogance.
When I got back to the States, I shot off a letter to KLM. After weeks of not hearing from them, I finally got a letter apologizing for any inconvenience that the delay caused us. To soothe my ruffled travel feathers, they enclosed a voucher for a couple hundred-dollars for the next time I flew their airlines. What? The next time? Well, needless to say, the voucher is gathering dust on my desk. What really bugged me was that I originally was happy to discover that we were flying KLM on our trip last summer. I have a pro-Dutch bias thinking that they were super responsible, clean, and efficient. In my mind, they had all of the Germanic thoroughness but with a pleasing persona. Boy was I both wrong and disappointed in my judgment of KLM.
However, while exercising one morning recently, I watched a segment on one of the network news programs about holidays gone awry. A couple had planned a trip from the States to Africa for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary-a trip of a lifetime. Well, their experience with KLM was worse than ours was. To make matters worse, the interviewer had a travel authority tell the couple what they should have done when confronting that non-responsive airline. There seems to be an international agreement that deals with just this situation. It requires the airlines to put you on the next available flight on any other airline. Well, that revelation merely multiplied all my negative thoughts about KLM.
As I listened intently to this travel expert, the more upset I became with KLM/Northwest. By the time I leave for the South Pacific, I will have calmed down again regarding their treatment of my wife and me. However, I did learn a useful lesson for my future travel. As they say, "Live, learn, and fly on."