January 16, 2006

Ticket Troubles
Caracas, Venezuela

I was printing out my flight itinerary a day before my departure from Santo Domingo, when I noticed a small footnote scribed on the bottom of the last page that read, "Craig, I didn't know AeroPostal doesn't participate in the e-ticket program so the tickets came out; please send me your address and I'll mail them to you"—trouble.

Forget a taxi back to the airport, I only had a few more pesos to burn through and I wasn't pulling any more cash out. I hopped on a minibus bound for Boca Chica and had the driver pull off at the exit to the airport, where a small crowd of motorbikers was gathered.

My heart was in the back of my throat as my driver balanced the two of us and my pack (on my back) across gravel roads at speeds up to 60 km/hr. Lemme tell you, that'll wake you up in the morning!

The ticket counter for the Venezuelan airline, AeroPostal, didn't open until three hours before my scheduled flight, giving me time to ponder what chaos I was about to endure.

The Setup

It was the afternoon before Three Kings Day and I was pricing tickets to Trinidad at a local Old San Juan travel agency. Reservations in hand (but not bought), I was instructed to call and purchase or cancel the flight plan by close of business of the 9th (which also happened to be the morning I was to depart for the Dominican Republic).

I shopped around for flights online later that night, but couldn't find anything cheaper; so I decided to by my reserved flight—especially because I read (and heard) that the Dominican Republic wanted to see proof of onward travel from the country.

Due to the holiday weekend, my travel agent was unavailable until 9:30 on Monday morning. My flight was set to take off at 10:00am. Calling every five minutes from the airport, I finally got a hold of her and purchased the tickets. We were set. I instructed her to e-mail me a copy of the flight plan, and flew out of Puerto Rico briefly thereafter, happy to have squared that away.

The Problem

Yeah, I knew there was going to be problems when I saw the printout on Sunday afternoon. My travel agent had dropped the ball when:

  1. she thought the tickets would be electronic,
  2. printed the tickets, knowing I wasn't in the country any longer,
  3. buried her message to me in a link on a third party itinerary service (virtuallythere.com), and
  4. didn't send me any follow-up e-mails regarding the issue.

Apparently when a non-electronic ticket has been printed, that's it. There is no more reprinting them. That piece of paper is now worth its weight in gold. I found this rather shocking fact out when I tried to get the AeroPostal agent to just print me another boarding pass. I mean, I was right there on the screen… here I am in front of the agent… print that little guy out and let me be on my way!

What ensued was over an hour and a half of phone conversation between AeroPostal and my travel agent in Puerto Rico, me with both parties, and my travel agent with the corporate offices in Miami—what a mess.

I asked, "what would happen if I had just lost the tickets?" The reply I received was something along the lines of "fill out a form and pay $35 USD for a refund or voucher that will be issued in a month or two, and buy a new ticket."

Amazing—is this what it's like for every airline when you don't have an electronic ticket? I can't ever remember flying without one before, so again, this was all a little shocking.

Resolution

In the end I footed the $35 bill for an eventual refund, another $40 in travel agent fees, and purchased a new ticket at the counter. My AeroPostal agent in charge was great and got me about the same price for my ticket as the agent had charged me. I got his card and supervisors name so I can write a letter of praise later this week.

Lesson Learned

Purchase your damn airline tickets in person!

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