Monday, October 13, 2008

Crisis (Mis)Management

Everyone has a travel horror story. A missed connection here, a stolen passport there; things that can derail an otherwise perfectly well-organized itinerary are lurking around every corner. And because travel hiccups are bound to happen to the best of us sooner or later, the true test of a traveler is not how he or she avoids such mishaps, but how he or she reacts to them. One of the easiest ways to react to a bad travel situation is to blame the entire city, state, or country for the problem. It's the, "I got pickpocketed in Rome, therefore Italy is a terrible place to visit," rationalization. It might not be the best way to deal with a crisis, but as an incident today with Air France showed me, it's certainly one of the easiest.

Boarding the plane from Toulon back to Paris should have been a simple proposition. On the way down to Toulon, the gate agent didn't so much as look at our identification before giving a "bon voyage!" and sending us on our way. But the woman who greeted (and I use that term lightly) us this morning must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed. I won't get into all the gritty details, but suffice it to say, we were not allowed to board the plane, we were forced to pay an additional fare, and despite the fact that they could have held the aircraft until the five minute it took to exit security, pay the fare, and return to the gate had passed, the plane was sent on without us. Now, if you've spent any time in France, you can easily picture the woman we were dealing with here: physically unable to smile, gives the infamous Gallic shrug, makes a "Pffft" sound with her mouth, and haughtily declares any solution other than the ridiculous one she is hell-bent on make as "impossible." How do you say "customer service" in French?

So, here's where it gets tricky. My reaction to this undeniably frustrating travel experience amounted to a condemnation of the entire country of France. It was the "I got screwed over by Air France, France is a terrible place to visit," rationalization. In fact, when the gate agent's colleague who witnessed the entire scene asked me, "Other than this incident, do you like being in France?" I curtly replied, "Today is not the day to ask me that, Monsieur. I'm afraid you won't like the answer." And it's true, he wouldn't have. I couldn't stop going on about how this incident demonstrated how everything here is a disaster. I even condemned Air France in its entirety ("Worst airline ever!"), all because of the actions of one lousy person. After arriving in Paris and calming myself down, I realized how amazing it is that one bad experience can seemingly taint a day, week or even years of good ones. As travelers, we should fight this urge to base our opinions so rashly on a single bit of information. Yes, bumps along the travel road will happen, and yes, they can leave you with a very bad taste in your mouth, but you will (hopefully) find better times ahead. And surely your bad experience cannot necessarily be indicative of the experience you and everyone else will always have in any given city, state or country, can it? No, it cannot. The man in the airport bar who so kindly served me a delectable, buttery croissant and a rich chocolat chaud in my hour of need helped prove this point.

6 comments:

Fida said...

Gosh, you have a great way describing things. I can just picture the haughtiness of that pfff-person. I had a good laugh! And yes, lot’s of things happen when you travel the world. I let “France” steel my car not only once, but twice. And of course, it’s not “France’s” fault – this things can happen anywhere. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said here. Except - Air France IS a terrible airline :-)

Tanya said...

Fida: Yikes, a stolen car sounds a whole lot worse than a missed flight! I wonder what others think about Air France...I've had good times with them before, but this was unbelievable.

Greg Wesson said...

That man asking you about France reminds me of the old joke about asking Abraham Lincoln's wife "So, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

I try not to judge, but I will admit that I have a few places that I have judged as lacking and I would never enjoy. Atlanta is one. It's probably a really nice city and I know it has some amazing history, but I had to spend 13 months there in the suburbs when I was completely burned out on travel, and now whenever I think of Atlanta I cringe. Poor Atlanta, it's not their fault... But what can I do? I'm just a human.

Tanya said...

Greg: Looking back on it, the man asking me about France was pretty comedic. I was spitting fire at the time, but the poor guy was just trying his best to make small talk.

NewWrldYankee said...

Gah, that so plays right into my post today. No wonder you said you missed customer service back home. What a nightmare. Actually, I felt a bit sheepish reading your post, bc AlItalia majorl screwed me and then I reviled on Milan for ages. The story is priceless however.

Tanya said...

NewWrldYankee: Don't worry, you're not the only one to hate on Milan. I've never heard anything good about that place, including from myself who had a terrible time there. I think the only people who like this city are in the fashion industry.