Thursday, February 06, 2014

Public Restrooms Need Automatic Doors

These days, you can get into a public restroom and do your business without touching anything (at least with your hands).

The toilet flushes automatically.

The water faucet comes on automatically (if you flail your hands around enough).

The paper towels come out, or the hand drier starts, without touching anything.

But then BAM--you're faced with that germ ridden door to get back out!!

If the door opens outward, without a latch, you can always use your elbow or hip to get out; if not, you might be able to get away with crooking a pinkie around the handle.  Otherwise, all that non-touching is wasted as you grab the doorknob to get back to the real world.

Why not have automatic doors in public restrooms?  Then the cycle will be complete!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Travel Arrangement Woes

Much as we love the ability to make our own travel arrangements online, there are times when we long for the olden days of travel agents!

We had three instances lately of weird/bad things happening while making online travel plans.

The first was with Expedia.  While researching flights for a trip to Greensboro, we were surprised to see that there were no nonstops from the Washington region.  On previous trips, we'd had a few nonstop options.  Deciding not to take "no" for an answer, we went directly to the airline websites for United and US Airways.  Turned out there were several nonstop options, some fairly convenient, we might add.  Now we don't trust Expedia's listing of available flights.

This seems consistent with a more general trend that travel websites such as Expedia, Orbitz, etc. really aren't too interested in selling you flights--they want you to book hotels, cars and vacation packages.  Flights apparently are a loss leader.  (Or maybe the airlines don't want you booking through these convenient sites that show you the competition.)

The second problem came while we were directly on the US Airways website, looking at some flight options for Florida.  We weren't quite sure if we'd be leaving from the DC area, or Charlotte (due to a potential meeting), so we had one tab on our browser looking at DC flights, and another at Charlotte.  After deciding that DC was the way to go, we started booking the flight.  We clicked the flights we wanted, went through payment, etc.  After confirming everything--and paying--we saw that the flights that were booked were from Charlotte.  We had to call US Airways and get everything changed.  They politely waived the change fee.

Later, we tried an experiment where we again had two tabs open, looking at flights to the same destination from two different departure cities.  We booked a DC flight right up to the confirmation and sure enough, the website conflated the flights with the other city.  We then just closed the browser before paying, cancelling everything.

Lesson learned--don't try booking a flight on US Airways with two tabs open.  We haven't tried this with other airline websites.

The third problem happened with Orbitz, which we thought we'd give a try given disappointment with Expedia.  What a disaster that was!  With an impending snowstorm threatening airline havoc, we decided to move a Florida golf trip one day later.  The Orbitz website took us through a series of steps after we clicked on a link to change our flight.  After that series, which took a few minutes and appeared to put us on the cusp of booking our new flight, we reached a final screen that instructed to call an Orbitz agent.  Aaaauuuuggghhh!

Ok, so we called.  Recording says high volume due to weather delays, etc.  We enter a bunch of information over the automated phone system.  Finally, agent comes on--of course she has no access to what we entered while waiting.  With the agent, we basically start all over.

Not sure if the agent was incompetent, or what, but she was taking a long time.  Really long.  We had the US Airways website (just one tab!) up and knew exactly what we wanted.  We said we already knew about the change fee.  Nonetheless, she put us on hold to "research" the change fee and then research the fare restrictions.

Finally, about 50 minutes into the call (including waiting at the front end), she quoted a new fare--it was about $1000 higher than what the website said.  After a few moments looking at the website, we realized she had booked us into a flexible fare, instead of non-refundable (which was the original fare).

We asked her if she could just cancel the ticket (and give us a credit) so we could just book it over the US Airways website.  THEN she told us we could just go ahead and change the ticket on the website since we had a confirmation number.

Click, we hung up, after telling her she really was not at all helpful.  Five minutes later we'd made all the necessary changes on the US Airways website, with it costing us $120 difference (mainly the change fee coming back--the change fee outbound was waived due to the weather).

Lesson learned:  don't use Orbitz!

Who knows, if we learn enough other lessons, we might just hold ourselves out as travel agents to the less web savvy traveler!