A Flight too Far

Last year, our son, Remy, attended a clinic by Klaus Pabst. Klaus is a legend in Germany; he took the FC Cologne Academy to the very pinnacle of youth soccer in Deutschland. That is really impressive when you consider that the German Youth System is the best in the world. Just watch the World Cup next year but whatever you do, don’t bet against Germany.

Remy must have done something right because he got an invitation to train with Coach Pabst in Germany last May. Unfortunately, there was some silly conflict with end-of-year exams and we had to decline. Then, out-of-the-blue, my good friend, Mark Dillon came by my office two weeks ago. Mark is based in Orlando but operates on a global scale to identify young soccer talent.

“Hey, I’m going to a clinic in Belgium but will be meeting with Klaus in Cologne after I’m finished. Any chance you can get Remy to Germany? He can train with the FC Cologne Academy for a couple of weeks.”

Too good to miss, Teri and I said yes. I started to book the trip immediately.

I have frequent flyer miles on several airlines, the biggest chunks being with Virgin and Delta. Virgin Atlantic simply does not go to Cologne; neither does Delta but the latter has a Skymiles relationship with Air France and KLM, both of which fly to Cologne.

Everything looked good with the schedules on Air France but booking on-line has serious drawbacks when you have a complicated itinerary and there is no box to tick when parents are returning on a different date from their unaccompanied minor. No problem, I prefer to talk to a live person so I called Air France direct.

Nowadays, most large companies put you through a battle of words with a computer; Air France is no exception. When you eventually get to the final hurdle, the computer has one last shot.

“All representatives are helping other customers. Your wait is 15 to 20 minutes.” Trial and error will teach you that to hang up is a giant mistake. The computer wins and gets to torture with another ten minutes of the same spiel, finishing with, “All representatives are helping other customers…….”

So I finally get a nice lady from Air France to help me. My French was better than her English – but it’s all good.

“My wife and I will escort our son to Cologne – but he will be staying at the Cologne Sporting Academy for two weeks, Teri and I will return home after six days.” Confirmation e-mails arrived promptly; Orlando-Atlanta-Paris-Cologne on Air France then Cologne-Amsterdam-Atlanta-Orlando on KLM……all flights operated by Delta. Sounds complicated, but these people are professionals. The entire process took four hours out of my Saturday afternoon but it was worth it; right?

Not so much. Teri had a calendar conflict so I had to cancel her flight. Delta had no record of the booking so I talked to my good friend, the Air France computer.

No problem, after three hours out of my Sunday, the Air France lady cancelled Teri’s flight and we are back on track….until Delta sent me an e-mail the day before departure.

“Theresa Butler, you can now print your boarding pass on line!”

I called Delta and got a really sharp agent who found and voided Teri’s flight.

“Thanks, Jacky, can I book the seats for my son and me?”

“No, although it is a Delta-operated flight, the seats have to be reserved through Air France.” Oh no, back to the Air France computer.

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