Monday, February 15, 2010

This is going to be a long post because it's a long angsty story about why I am not in Vietnam.

I was originally scheduled to fly to Vietnam last Wednesday. That flight was cancelled because of a storm in Chicago (though we had lots of snow here too built up over the weekend). I was rescheduled to fly out Thursday, but that flight was cancelled too because of the blizzard that hit DC on Wednesday, so I was re-rescheduled for a Friday morning flight.

Early Friday morning I spent $80 on a taxi out to Dulles (the metro wasn't running out to the West Falls Church metro so I couldn't get out to the shuttle). When I tried to check into my flight, the United worker was uncertain about something with my passport and took it to her supervisor. Then she came back to me and told me that because my passport expires in 5 months, I can't take the flight. Even though I had a Vietnam entry visa, there was some regulation that said I needed 6 months of validity on my passport to go.

I step out of line and called Dave to see what he thought I should do, but he didn't pick up his phone. Then I went over to the "additional services" United counter to get more details. I tried to explain my problem to the lady, and she took my passport and started checking me in like normal. I mentioned the issue they were having earlier and she said sometimes the computer just needs to know all the information about the return ticket and everything before it will let you check in. And it all appeared to be working just fine. Then this manager jackass happens to wander around the counter behind the ticket agent and he says "He cannot fly. Did he tell you that he tried to check in already?" As though I'm sneaking around with an invalid passport repeatedly trying to check in at different ticket agents and looking for a weak link. He pointed a regulation the computer screen and convinced the lady that I couldn't get a boarding pass.

Which regulation? First the manager told me they had a special computer system that they pay a subscription fee for, which tells them all the regulations they need to know. When I asked how I was supposed to have known about it he said I could have found out about it on the internet or by asking the vietnam embassy about it. Then he recommended that I go down to the Vietnam embassy and get some special extension or exemption and get the next day's flight. He was a jerk.

Instead of getting a cab I sat and talked to Kate on the phone a bit. She did a good job of commiserating with me. After maybe a half hour the guy at the Washington Flyer counter said that the trains were running to East Falls Church, so I took the shuttle back. But it turns out he was lying and that the metro was only shuttling people from East Falls Church by bus, instead of sending trains out that far. Buses were delayed because of the snow and there were more people waiting in the cold for this shuttle bus than there was gonna be space on a bus. So me and a bunch of other people caught a local bus to West Falls Church. This turned out to be the most annoying bus trip of my life in close quarters with some very annoyingly chummy people (though Dave did call me back and was also baffled by my situation). It took me 2 hours to get home from Dulles.

At noon, when I got home, I called the Vietnam Embassy to see if there was any truth to the passport extension/exemption rumors. The Vietnam Embassy telephone system is terribly organized. It gives you a list of 4 or 5 extensions for each category and you have to pick an extension number, which then channels you to the corresponding employee's voicemail. There's no way to get back to the main menu when that employee does not pick up the phone, which happened to me over and over again. Apparently everyone goes to lunch at noon and stops taking calls.

I took a nap (having not slept the night before because it was part of my strategy for getting on Vietnam time schedule), and called the embassy again at 3:30. I tried a bunch of extensions and no one was picking up, again. Then I finally got someone at 3:45 who told me that all the employees were leaving at 4pm for 10 days. I asked if he could just answer a question for me and he said "I'm sorry sir, I can not help you. Everyone is leaving." Now I know English is his second language, and Vietnamese is a tone-based language so maybe inflections that imply sarcasm are difficult to learn, but the guy said "I'm sorry sir" in the most sarcastic way. Asshole.

This week I'm going to send in for a new passport. And United Airlines was nice enough to give me a travel voucher for a trip to Vietnam, which I guess is the least they could do after fabricating a regulation to prevent me from flying.

Kate: At least now you have some good cereals to eat!
(I have a couple boxes of cereal that I packed in my suitcase because Dave can't get them in Vietnam and misses them.)


Rachel said...

that really sucks, and is completely unreasonable on the part of United! I'd write them a strongly worded letter if I were you!!! I've flown international many times and not once heard of that being an issue!

Puja said...

That sucks that you're not going to Vietnam, though awesome you'll be able to come on Saturday!
When's the trip getting rescheduled?

joe said...

wow, Puja! I will make it Saturday. Not sure when the trip is getting rescheduled.

I did just write United an email complaining that this 6-months thing isn't listed anywhere as a requirement. We'll see.