For the first time in over five years I took a vacation. From everything. From my full time job, from my freelance business, from it all.
I set up an out of office message, I did my best to not check email, and I didn’t answer my phone even once. While terrifying, it was quite rewarding, too.
Friends in tow, we set out for a long weekend in Vegas. Rental house and airfare booked months ago, I looked forward to enjoying some quality time with those I love, without worrying about what was happening back at home.
A short snafu with the cat sitter (where she didn’t show up and then got passive aggressive when we confronted her on it) started out the trip, but thanks to awesome friends, Madison the Cat was taken excellent care of. (Thanks Brian and Lauren!)
The trip was great, despite it being the “hottest weekend in 100 years” in Vegas — we had fun despite the desert-like temperatures. Thankfully the house we rented had a pool, so we got to spend quite a bit of time there. Most days were too hot to sit outside for an extended period of time, though.
We hit all the touristy things — the Bellagio fountains, the canals and shops at the Venetian, some gambling, the Stratosphere, the strip. We made our way to the Hoover Dam on Sunday, as well, though we opted to skip the Canyon, ’cause it’s super far away.
Everything went great until the flight back to Boston, where Megan and I were flying US Airways. It started out great — I upgraded us to First Class, ’cause why not? I’d never flown First Class before, so I figured why not. Seats 1A and 1C were ours and we were right in the front of the plane.
The trouble started when we got to the airport in Vegas and found out that our flight out would be delayed. In short — the air was too hot and the plane couldn’t fill up with fuel all the way because it’d have been too heavy to take off.
I called the US Airways hotline and was told that we’d miss our connecting flight, but no worries, they’d put us up in a hotel. Not a problem, we’ll get home by 9 the next morning.
To double check, I went to the desk by our gate and was told the same thing — they’ll have new boarding passes in Philly (where our connector was) and they’ll put us up in a hotel.
Once we got on the plane (on time), the staff told us the same thing — we’d be stopping in Kansas City for fuel and that it’d take about 20 minutes.
What should have taken 20 minutes actually took closer to an hour and we knew for sure we weren’t going to make our flight in Philly. I grabbed my laptop, fired up the wireless, paid the $16.95 and started chatting with my sister. She awesomely called US Airways for me and confirmed that we wouldn’t make our connector but was assured that we’d get a hotel and were on the first flight out in the morning.
Not wanting to delay getting home any longer, we decided to rent a car from the plane. No problem, we have a Zipcar membership! But we didn’t have the actual Zipcar card with us. Bummer! Again to chat with my awesome sister!
She called Zipcar from the ground and was assured that there’d be no problem not having the keycard and to just call when we got to the car. She said they’d be able to help us get into the car once we got there and that it shouldn’t be a problem because they keep extra cards in the trunks.
Our flight was scheduled originally to get into Philly at 10:10 (our connector was at 10:45, plenty of time). We actually landed in Philly at 11:31.
Being the first people on the plane, we got off pretty quickly and immediately got into line at the ticket desk where it was obvious that most people on our flight missed their connectors and despite being told by three separate US Airways employees, people were not offered hotel rooms. After a few other customers yelled and screamed, I simply went up to the desk and said “I’ll be easy, I just want to cancel our connector. We’re going to drive, I’ve got a car waiting.”
No problem, I was told, just call this number. Money back, not a problem.
From there we hiked through the airport to the Rental Car Shuttles. It took close to an hour to get the one we needed, find the Zipcar lot, and get Zipcar on the phone. The Agent we spoke to told us there’d be no problem, and that she’d unlock the car for us. We just had to stand close enough so she could hear the horn honk.
Beep beep, it went. She unlocked the door to find out there were no extra keys in the trunk and offered us the car next to it (smaller, less eco-friendly, and more expensive) which had keycards.
She first asked if we were close enough to home to go get our card. We told her no and that we were driving from Philly to Boston, about 350 miles. No problem, she said, drive safely.
We left Philly at 12:35am on Wednesday morning.
The GPS estimated that we’d be home in 6 hours. Six hours would get us home before the flight from Philly was slated to leave and that made me happy.
4 hours 59 minutes was all it took. A straight through drive with just two quick stops to use the bathroom in various states (I think New Jersey and Connecticut, if I recall.)
After a quick four hour nap, I called Zipcar to explain why we were late and asked where I could drop the car off. Lo and behold, we learn that Zipcar doesn’t do one-way rentals. At all. Ever. Wish the Agent we talked to 11 hours earlier had said that, I’d have gladly gone inside and rented a car from Avis or Budget or Enterprise or any of the other zillion car rental places with dozens of cars that can go one way.
After putting me on hold a number of times, confused, the Agent came back and said we’d have to get the car back to Philly. She also said that we had no choice but to have it towed. Fine, tow it, I’ll pay for it, I don’t care.
Once Megan and I talked it over, we decided it made more sense (financially) to just drive it back to Philly. I didn’t mind, the drive wasn’t that bad. So we called Zipcar back and spoke to a different agent.
She informed us that it wouldn’t be a problem to drive the car bank and in fact thanked us for offering to do so! Great! She extended our reservation and informed us that we’d need to pay for the additional hours, mileage and some other penalties. Not a problem, it was our fault for not reading the back of the card about one-way rentals. (Don’t get me started on the fact that it doesn’t say that anywhere on the reservation confirmation I got…)
I hung up with Zipcar, went to my computer, and booked a flight home from Philly at 9:30 that night. I figured that’d give me enough time to gas up the car, drive back, and make my way back to the US Airways gate.
Wallet, keys, cell phone, sunglasses and Bruins hat in tow, I made my way back to the parking lot to head back to Philly. Another surprise is that the car doesn’t unlock.
So we call Zipcar again. This time we’re told that our membership has been rescinded, we’re no longer members, and we have no option but to have the car towed back. Interesting, that’s not what we were just told. I asked to speak to a Manager who told me the same thing — we’re out of luck.
I tried explaining that we booked non-refundable airfare to get home based on the misinformation given to us by an Agent of their company. Again, basically told to go shit in a hat (for lack of a better term.)
I was told I could try speaking to the local Boston office, so I called and spoke to Kristin, the Zipcar employee working on our situation. I explained what happened, but she just kept talking over me, citing that it was our fault that we didn’t bring the car back, and how we inconvenienced all of the other customers that reserved that car for the day. I don’t deny that it was our fault, but this woman was just flat out rude.
She again informed me that they weren’t allowing us to drive the car back and that they’d come and get the car. We’d be responsible for the fees to return the car. I asked her to ballpark that fee, which she wouldn’t. “We’ll either tow it, drive it back, or put it on a flatbed” was the best she could tell me. (We also contacted independent tow companies and found prices ranging from $300-$500 for the tow.)
When asked what they’d do about the airfare I booked based on the previous Agent telling me I could drive the car back, she said “I’m sorry, we’re reviewing that call.” I’ve worked in enough call centers to know bullshit when I hear it, but I let that go. I knew that they’d do nothing, because I’m just one measly ex-customer. What did they care if I was inconvenienced? I’d already screwed over the other people who tried to rent that car today. (Mind you, not even the car I originally reserved via Zipcar’s website!)
Around 2pm on Wednesday the 3rd, someone from Zipcar came and took the car. They didn’t knock, they didn’t call, and despite the company saying that they’d tell us the cost before the car was taken, we heard nothing.
Here we are now, nearly 6 days later, Monday the 8th. We’ve heard not a single word from Zipcar since. No contact. No emails. No communication of any kid. We just see an empty spot where their rental car once sat, waiting, wondering. I’m astounded at the breakdown of communication all of a sudden. Was I in the wrong in driving the car one way? Yes, I was. For a service we’d used precisely once before, we had no idea that was a no-no. Could it have been handled better on their end? Sure, I don’t doubt that.
Should the initial Agent that unlocked the car told us we couldn’t drive to Boston? Yes.
Should the second Agent that I called to ask where to return the car have told me what the price to tow the car would have been? Yes.
Should the third Agent have told me I could drive the car back when I couldn’t? No.
Should the fourth Agent had been so rude in telling me it was “too bad” that I booked airfare based on what Agent three told me? No.
Should the Manager I spoke with been understanding and allowed me to return the car myself? Probably.
Should Kristin in the Boston office had been a little more understanding and listen to what I was actually saying? Yes.
Should I have known that I couldn’t drive a Zipcar one way? Probably.
Would I ever use Zipcar again even if my membership wasn’t revoked? Not even a chance.
So that’s it. That’s the story of how US Airways and Zipcar lost my business, oh and how we almost melted in the Vegas sun.
All in all, a good vacation. Getting there was rocky (with not knowing someone would take care of Madison the Cat) and the trip home sucked (with the airline lying about the hotel and the car snafu), but overall it was nice to get away.
Now if all the email in my inbox would just respond to itself, I’d be a happy guy.