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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 7:53 am | Fair 42º


Susan Estrich: Caught in a Travel Nightmare Amid Hurricane Irene

Do-it-yourself booking on Expedia seemed like a good idea before the storm hit

Never again. I promise. I will never again make a reservation for myself on Continental Airlines using Expedia.com. And if I don’t ever do it again, I will never have to spend a night like this one, trying to avoid a hurricane and finding myself caught in worse weather in the process.

So much for the so-called ease of “do it yourself travel.” So much for the ease of online booking. Excuse me, booking is easy. It’s canceling in the middle of a hurricane that is enough to make you completely crazy.

I should be sitting here crying. Actually, I do feel like crying, but for all the wrong reasons. I spent the day moving my son in for his freshman year of college. I was supposed to be on a plane tomorrow to meet my daughter back East, to help her move in for her last year of college. It is not easy, particularly when there is a hurricane back East.

So my daughter said, and she was right, don’t come. If you come, you’ll never get out of here. The travel advisories are all up for Sunday. I have to work Monday. I feel twisted and torn. My nest is painfully empty. I was looking forward to that last move-in. I am reeling from my son’s first move-in. I try to be sensible. I will cancel the reservation.

Not so fast, sister.

I have had the same travel agent for 30 years. She is also a close friend. But one night, trying to figure out this impossible schedule of two move-ins in the middle of a trial and a semester of teaching, I did something I had never done before. It seemed so easy at the time. I was just checking flights, trying to figure it out — and then I clicked. I booked the ticket myself. I felt almost proud of my self-sufficiency.

Wrong. Wrong, stupid, dumb.

I didn’t even book the flight on the airline I always travel, American, where I know all the secret phone numbers. They were full. That is probably what made me so nervous. Back to school and all that. If American was sold out, should I wait until morning to find Lesli? Why not just click?

This is why. There is a hurricane in Boston. I try calling Continental. At least they are honest. When you call any one of the toll-free numbers you can call, the recording hangs up on you. Seriously. The voice says, “We’re sorry, due to the volume of calls, we can’t take your call right now. Goodbye.” Can’t take my call? But what about my reservation? Will you credit me if I don’t cancel? I’m not used to this. I’m used to calling Lesli. She never says, “Due to the volume of calls, goodbye.”

But I will not be daunted. If I could kiss my son goodbye tonight, my baby, I can deal with a plane reservation. I will call Expedia.

If I ever hear the song about the pouring rain again, I don’t know what I will do. I would do something to Expedia, send them more nasty messages, but how? Their Web site makes it so easy to book a flight — and impossible to cancel it, except by calling a line they don’t answer.

For one hour, I sit on hold. During that time, I cruise the Continental Web site. They tell me an “exception” applies to my otherwise nonrefundable ticket, but there is no way to avail myself of the exception except by doing the one thing I can’t do: Call them. They tell me I can’t cancel the flight — that I will lose the whole fare if I do — but that I can rebook. Great, but what about just leaving it open?

That is what I would say to the person, if I could find a person. But there is no person to talk to at Continental, and there is no person to even warn me off, to even tell me to hang up, at Expedia. There is only the endless pouring rain song.

I am a smart woman. I am even a good mother. I try so hard. I will never book a ticket online again. I promise. Fool me once, and all that. Shame on me. I finally give up, pick a weekend in October, change my reservation, pay another $150 for a ticket I am not using, and at least get to hang up on the pouring rain.

Not so fast, sister.

After I paid the $150 for a ticket I am not using, I get word that Continental has done me one better. They’ve canceled my flight home for Sunday. They won’t talk to me, won’t help me, but hey, they know as well as I do that we’re not going to Los Angeles from Boston on Sunday. So does that mean I get a refund? Do I get my $150 back? Who knows? The notice comes from Expedia, but when I call their number, I’m back to the pouring rain song.

“Travel agents are extinct, a dying species.” I hear people say that all the time. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

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