Friday, March 30, 2012

Dear Asinine Airline

So here is the (slightly-altered) letter I wrote to an as-of-yet-unnamed airline company* after they completely screwed up the ticketing for a recent trip (making my life even more hellish -- I have been dealing with this since just before Ren's back surgery). I admit, I may be expressing some displaced frustrations (just a tad). I certainly feel better after writing the letter, but what do you think? Will it be successful?

* (I won't disparage them by name until after I see how they handle my complaint.)


On February 17, 2012, I booked two tickets (for myself and a companion), departing [a nearby city]on March 30th and returning on April 2nd (reference #s: XXX and YYY). On March 7th, as I started to prepare for the business trip, I printed out my flight confirmation only to learn that the flight I booked out of [a nearby city] on the 30th had been mis-ticketed for the 16th. I called immediately and was told that since I had made the mistake, there was nothing that could be done about the additional costs of booking a different flight or about the resulting scheduling issues. Tom in [a far away city] was kind enough to wave the $50 change fee, which I appreciate, but this did not solve any of the problems caused by this error. The only semi-affordable flight that [your airline] had that came close to making sure I would make it to [a really far away city] in time for my presentation was a flight that arrived late on Saturday. I booked the flight because it was my only option. I have since had to cancel that flight because it does not get me to [the really far away city] in time to do all the business that I have to do while I am there.

We could debate at length about whether I made a mistake when booking. I am sure I did not. I visually confirmed the flights before making the reservation. I have booked tens, if not hundreds, of domestic and international flights online, so I am aware that when I push submit, I can’t go back. Therefore, I am always sure to check the date, the times, and the lay-over time for my flights before purchasing them. I did so when booking this flight. My considerable experience with online flight booking should demonstrate the fact that I don’t “accidentally” pick the wrong date, particularly one that is not in the vicinity of my actual desired departure date on the calendar. In fact, this is the first time I have used [your airline] (and therefore the first time I booked online with [your airline]). It is also the first time this has happened in all my years of booking flights online. From my perspective, the only logical explanation is an error on your end, not mine. (I would also argue that telling your customer she is not competent enough to book a flight online is bad customer service. I suppose sub-par customer service is standard in today’s airline industry, but I would hope that [your airline] aspires to be better than that).

This scheduling error has caused a good deal of stress and hardship. On top of the additional time I have had to spend worrying about what to do with these tickets and trying to book new flights, and on top of the problems these changes have caused to my work schedule, I also had to cancel my companion’s ticket (since I can’t ask her to pay an additional $400+, which is more than twice the original ticket price, to accompany me on this business trip). She was planning to come so she could take care of my baby who is still nursing. Since she cannot come, the baby also cannot come. This means that I will be separated from him for several days though he is still quite young. It also means that he will most likely self-wean even though it was my intention to breastfeed for at least four more months. I won’t go into all the benefits of breastfeeding for infants, but suffice it to say that this ticketing error extends well beyond one woman’s departure date. Further, because I am unable to take the baby with me, I will have to work out child care for him as his father, my husband, has been recently incapacitated due to back surgery. And, because I have had to rebook to a flight with another airline out of a different city (due to availability), I will also have to pay a large amount in fees to work out transportation to and from two different airports. I’m actually appalled that I have to deal with all this on top of having a job, a baby, a husband with a bad back, and two other special needs children. Even if I could afford to throw away hundreds of dollars, which I can’t, I can’t afford to deal with the problems this ticketing error has caused on top of everything else.

The assumption by your company has been and continues to be that I made a booking mistake when originally purchasing this flight. As I’ve already explained, I find this to be an implausible assumption. I did make two mistakes, though. The first was in using [your airline] to book an online ticket. The second was in not immediately checking the confirmation. I have no explanation for the first slip. As to the second, I can say that I have never had a booking issue like this one and so did not immediately check the confirmation. In fact, I waited until I was less busy with other family and work issues to do so. I can assure you I will check in the future. This does not change the problem, however. The problem is that the tickets I booked and the ones I visually confirmed that had a departure date of March 30 were not issued to me. Had the tickets I booked been the tickets I was issued, there would be no need for any of the changes I have had to make.

Despite the time and immense amount of stress this situation has caused me, I am not asking to be compensated for the stress or for the additional $400 I had to pay to re-book the flight on another airline (though I would love to have that refunded as well) with any additional credits, flight or otherwise, from [your airline]. I simply ask that, given the nature of these issues, the money I spent on tickets that I can’t use be fully refunded to my credit card. The total amount is $764.94 ($461.74 for the flight I had to make and then cancel due to impossible scheduling and $348.20 for the roundtrip ticket I had to cancel for my companion). I have already had several [of your airline's] employees explain to me the nature of non-refundable tickets. I get it. Like I said, I have flown before. A lot. If this were a typical change of flight request done because I changed my plans, I certainly wouldn’t be spending time I don’t have writing this letter or debating these fees. I did not book flights for March 16th, and I have suffered considerably for the ticketing error that has been made. Please refund my money, so I can part ways with [your airline] without more undue suffering or expense. Please make it possible for me to speak in positive terms about your company with my jet-setting colleagues and the thousands of readers of my blog. Please show me that customer service is not dead in the airline industry.


Mom on Even Closer to the Edge

UPDATE: My flight to and from the West Coast was great--perhaps some of the best service I've had with a US-based airline. And, the airline, Frontier, contacted me about 4 weeks after I sent this letter to properly address all of my concerns. Yay, now I can fly Frontier again (do you know how hard it is to find good customer service?), though I will definitely watch out for booking errors.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

3.11 One Year (and a few days) Later

I'd planned to have a one-year retrospective ready in time for the anniversary of the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami (but then there was the whole out-patient-back-surgery-turned-saga-of-the-century thing, and I had a hard time getting a consistent internet connection from the hospital in the land of far-far-away. So this is late. Get over it).

To be honest, there is not much that I can say about what's happened in Japan in the last year other than to point out this: it's not over. The loss, the recovery, the ramifications of the nuclear emergency, the reckoning--all of it isn't finished yet. My suspicion is it maybe never will be.

But I write as one who has experienced the tragedies of the past year from a distance, so today, I want to introduce you to some blogs and other resources by people who are closer, in some cases much closer, and better-informed than I am.

First, some blogs. A special thanks to Ruthie Iida for turning me on to most of these (and for providing concise summaries of them as well).

Ruthie calls her Kanagawa Notebook a "get-off-the-couch-and-do-something blog." She started writing in response to her experiences as an American who's a long-time resident of Japan living far from the actual disaster zone. Her 3.11 experience convinced her she could no longer stay silent.

Anne Kaneko's Blog is written by someone who lives just outside of the evacuation zone in Fukushima. Anne gives inside details on the way the local government runs, what her neighbors are thinking, and how the latest pronouncements from the central government affect residents. Despite her proximity to "the fear," Anne remains cool and sensible, offering a first-hand view of the experiences of people directly affected without being overbearing in the process.

EX-SKF is a professional, bilingual blogger who has stopped writing about the Japanese economy in order to focus entirely on 3.11. His specialty is translating articles and news items into English for readers abroad. If you want to know about it, he's probably written it.

Senrinomichi is a blog based one of Haruki Murakami's speeches with posts in English, Japanese, French, and often Chinese or other languages. A reflective, rather than news-focused blog, it draws from current events in Japan for every post. There's also a Senrinomichi page of Facebook, with daily updates and articles. A separate blog bearing the same title in English, Ten Thousand Things, is also good.

Facebook has numerous groups or pages concerned with post 3.11 Japan. Some of the more well-known are: "Embrace Transition", "Namida Project", and "Senrinomichi."

If you are interested in a more academic look at the situation a year on, check out the "special issue" at Japan Focus: The Great East Japan Earthquake One Year on: Reports From The Field.

So, in summary, my hope is a simple one: that you will keep reading, that you will keep informed, and that you will not keep silent.

Cartoons taken from and

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Own Personal Parable

This is a true story of something that happened when I was twenty.

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I  lived and worked at a retreat center/youth hostel in the Colorado Rockies. Every time I had the day off I checked out a new trail in Rocky Mtn National Park. By the last few weeks of summer, I had covered all the maintained trails on the western side of the park and was ready to tackle some of the unmaintained ones. (As far as I could tell, the only difference between maintained and unmaintained trails was that fallen trees weren't removed from the paths).

On the morning this story took place, I hoped a nice walk in the mountains would give me a chance to relax, pray, and clear my head. I no longer remember what was bothering me, but I remember I was pretty upset about something.

I set out with my usual pack load: a jacket, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a thermos of water, my journal, a pen, and a couple of books. (Nothing that would actually be useful in an emergency).

It was a crisp, sunny morning in the mountains, and I made it to my goal destination (a seven-mile hike) in record time. The site was beautiful, but it didn't offer the wide vistas I needed to really help me think. So I decided to continue on to less-traveled trails. These were the days before widespread cell phone use (though I can't imagine you'd get great reception in the middle of the Rockies anyway), so the moment I went ahead on the trail instead of turning back, I went off the grid.

This was not part of the hike plan I filed at the main office when I left. But I didn't really think about that because I was too preoccupied with whatever it was that was bothering me.

As I expected, the only difference between the maintained trail I had just left and the unmaintained trail I found myself on was a few downed trees I had to climb over. Soon I emerged from the woods into a vast beautiful meadow with a cool clear stream winding through it like a snake. I felt a bit like Julie Andrews in the opening sequence of the Sound of Music (only I wasn't singing or dancing or wearing a flowy dress--I did hear the song in my head though).

The lush green grass of the meadow and the clear blue sky framed on all sides by towering pines was breathtaking. After I'd enjoyed the scenery for ten or fifteen minutes, I looked down at my feet and realized there was no trail. The unmaintained trail through the meadow marked on the map was missing. Unmaintained in this case means not mowed and therefore invisible.

When I turned around to go back the way I came, I saw a seemingly-endless wall of trees. They all looked the same. There was no clear opening to guide me back to my path, and since I had no idea where I'd emerged from the woods, there was no going back.

According to my map (at least I had a map!), the river that ran through the meadow appeared to flow very close to my lodge, so I decided to follow the river. As if to mock me, it wound its way through the meadow like a meandering Sunday drive. The grass was so high that I couldn't see the river unless I was right alongside it, so I had to stick to it. About twenty hairpin turns later, I found myself at the other end of the meadow, thoroughly annoyed by the wasted time and energy and the fact that my boots and feet were soaked from traipsing through what looked a lot like a muddy marsh.

Things got worse from there. A few hundred feet out of the meadow, it became impossible to follow the river because it flowed into a canyon with sheer drop offs on both sides. I tried scaling the rocks along river's edge, but I quickly realized I was courting death and allowed myself to be pulled away from its banks. Soon, I was completely lost (actually, I'd been effectively lost for nearly an hour, but this was the moment I realized it). After several false starts down what looked like trails but turned out not to be, I finally started to panic. 

My first thought was that it didn't matter if I was smart, athletic, and in the prime of my life, my 20 year-old existence was a blink in the eye of these huge trees in this vast forest. I've never felt more insignificant and out of control than I did the minute I realized I was lost in the wilderness with wet feet, no compass, and no way to make fire.

I did what I am pretty sure anyone in my situation would do. I cursed. Loudly.

Then I did two things I probably shouldn't have. First, I sat down and had it out with God. I'd gone on this hike to seek some guidance on stuff that was bothering me, after all! Now, twenty years later, I realize that my whole problem was that I was blaming God for things that were really all about me. But I didn't see that then.

Second, I decided the best way to deal with the craggy cliffs on both sides of the river was to just jump in. So, I jumped into the river and started running down it. You might ask why I was running at break neck speed down a river full of slippery rocks. That's easy. I'd lost my mind.

What happened next can't really be explained.

As I ran recklessly down the river toward my only hope of salvation, I slipped. And fell. Backwards, pack first, into the freezing cold water. I'm sure I yelled out in frustration as I pulled myself up out of the water. Now I was not only lost but also totally wet. I leapt out of the icy river. Furious.

Then I saw it.

Right where I fell, hundreds of feet down river from where I'd started, was a path. I stepped across the river, followed the path and got back to the lodge just in time for dinner.


This story has become my own personal parable about life and faith. Things almost never don't always go as I planned. I often find myself running madly down the icy river. Thankfully, God has a good sense of humor and isn't afraid to knock me off my feet every once in awhile.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Another Day in the Life

Yesterday was a pretty typical day in the life of the Moe family.

After getting the older two kids off to school, Ren and I headed to a city an hour away so he could have a myelogram. For those of you who don't know, a myelogram is essentially a spinal tap--a thin needle used to put dye into the spinal sac to get clearer pictures of what's going on in there. To avoid possible leaking of the spinal fluid (which would suck in all kinds of ways)  Ren was told he had to remain horizontal for 24 hours after the procedure.

Twenty-four hours with one man down didn't sound like much fun, but we were prepared. My parents came to stay with Stow and to run after school pick up. They also planned to take the older two kids to their house for the weekend. 

After the procedure, Ren climbed into the back of the minivan where he'd prepared his very own mini camp out, complete with sleeping bags (he tells me he wants to ride back there from now on). When I called to check in, my mom told me to hurry. Severe storms all around, but we seemed to have a clear path home.

We got to the house at 3:20 and Ren went straight upstairs to bed. My dad came in with Sky and Pink P five minutes later. After looking at the weather radar, Dad decided they could make it around the storms. I wasn't sure, but he tends to be conservative when it comes to storms, so we said our goodbyes, and I saw them off. Two minutes later, the sirens sounded. 

This was not ideal timing. First, I called my parents and told them to turn around and come back. Next, I yelled up at Ren to get into the basement. He's never really grasped the risk tornadoes represent for this part of the country--he's tuned into typhoons and earthquakes, but it's been difficult to put the fear of God into him about tornadoes. Several years ago, he spent a tornado warning taking a shower while baby Sky and I sat in the closet as a twister passed a quarter mile away.

I managed to get Ren and Stow into the basement where they made themselves comfortable in our unfinished laundry room by lounging (Ren completely flat per doctor's orders) on some cardboard. A couple of minutes later my parents arrived with the kids, and everyone (but me) went to the basement. (I went back up to grab our lantern and batteries--clearly we are not quite ready for tornado season this early in the year--and my iPad to track the storm). It was like a regular picnic with everyone hanging out on our cardboard "blanket" listening to hail pound the roof and wind buffet the windows.

The storms spared our town and the kids made it safely to Grandma and Grandpa's house, but I'm starting to think that insanity is our new normal.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Stow's Lost Memo

I'm beginning to think there are serious problems with my in utero courier service. Stow missed another memo. A pretty important one. See, God and I had a little chat when I first learned about Stow, and I'm pretty sure we decided Stow wouldn't have any significant health issues. 

You know how I know he didn't get the prenatal memo?

One word:

(though it kind of sounds like it should be at least two)


(autocorrect really wants me to write hydrosphere noise here, but I'm resisting!)

Stow's got a watery kidney. I know. That was my first reaction, too! Of course he has a watery kidney. That's what kidneys do. But apparently it's possible to have too much water in your kidney and apparently that's not good. So now we begin the process of figuring out how bad it is, what's causing it, and what needs to be done. In other words, we don't know anything (other than the fact that we now "get" to go to even more appointments than we were already going to for Ren's back, Pink P's asthma, and Sky's speech, OT and other therapies).

The bright side, if you need one, is that Stow's nearly month of fevers (which turned out to be multiple minor viruses back to back) led to the plenitude of tests that uncovered the kidney thing. If he hadn't been sick for so long, we probably wouldn't have known about the kidneys. At least not for awhile. I know ignorance isn't really bliss, and I know I should be happy we can get on top of this before it's too late. Still, a few more months of not worrying about baby kidneys doesn't seem like such a bad thing!


Oh, did I mention that all this has been happening in the weeks leading up to and following the departure (from our small town back to Chicago) of Dr. S who has seen our kids ever since we moved back to the States? And did I mention that Dr. G, the doctor who agreed to take them on as patients and who was consulting with Dr. S about Stow's situation, moved to a new practice because the old practice was disbanded? And did I mention that Dr. G's newly assigned practice decided our "new" doctor couldn't accept any more patients because that practice was already full? Did I tell you that when I tried to make an appointment for Stow to see Dr. G, I was told we couldn't see him? And even when I explained the situation, the surly receptionist at the "new" place flatly told me it didn't matter what I heard at the old practice because that office doesn't exist any more and under no circumstances would the "new" practice's policies be compromised. Did I mention that this means my kids are therefore currently all without a local doctor until I can find a place that is accepting new patients and get their paperwork processed? Did I tell you any of this?

Because it's kind of important, and there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it.