The Kindness of Strangers (and Friends)
Every year I have a reunion with three high school friends for a not-quite-wild weekend in a major North American metropolis. This year's pick? Washington DC. My husband decided to accompany me for a day or two together before I went off to my reunion, during which time he planned to play solo tourist. We had reservations at Jaleo with long-time friends, tickets for a boat trip on the Potomac to Mount Vernon, a room reserved at the Marriott Crystal Gateway, and round-trip flights on American Airlines. Our wonderful neighbors were primed to pick up the mail and the newspaper.
The morning we were to leave I got up with a case of the flu or some other respiratory nonsense so severe that we had to abandon our plans at the very last minute. (You know that person sitting next to you on the plane that cannot stop coughing throughout the entire flight and you wonder why they did not stay at home in bed? That would have been me.) At 5:30 a.m. I was emailing and Facebook-messaging friends who--surprisingly--were up and awake. Of course they were gracious and understanding.
But then we had to move on to cancelling everything we had already paid for. Since I was literally voiceless, my husband manned the telephone. In rare moments of clarity between NyQuil doses (yes, I know it was early morning but I required extreme measures), I started emailing. Here is the unexpected and good news: we didn't lose a dime.
The Potomac Riverboat Company folks were cheerful in refunding our money. The Marriott, to whom we would have owed one night's room rate, agreed to waive it at my husband's explicit request. As expected, over the phone American Airlines gave us credit toward a future trip, with the customary $200 "change fee." It didn't sit well with me. I went to their website, found the "contact us" button for customer service, and sent an email. I offered to produce a doctor's letter as evidence of why they would never have wanted me on the plane among their other, healthy passengers. Within 24 hours they had agreed to waive the $200 fee.
Three lessons for me: 1) It never hurts to ask, and more so, one ought to. Our philosophy was they we were not frivolous cancellers. To the extent that these fees are meant to be penalties, our consciences were clear. 2) Just about everything is negotiable. Companies, even the generally consumer-unfriendly airlines, are staffed by people who are authorized to respond to sympathetic requests. In many cases it is in their own interest to foster consumer goodwill. When I am conscious enough to rebook this trip, I will happily provide all of these merchants with my future business. 3) The real price of this unexpected illness was the loss of time with close friends. Unfortunately, while there may be rainchecks, there is no refund for that.
Usually, I am writing about the arts in the Upper Valley. You can receive an email notification each time I post something new by clicking here. I'd appreciate it. To read previous posts to this blog, ArtfulEdge, click here.