Thursday, November 20, 2008

Life Goes On

On occasion I get a little nostalgic. I remember when I was 12 starting to cry as I laid in bed thinking back to the good times I'd had with my brother and sister when I was 8. Maybe I should say overly nostalgic. This excess nostalgia reared its head again today when I went to AAA to book the honeymoon for Ashley and myself.

I actually went to the AAA office for the first time yesterday. The office itself has a bit of a "days gone by" feel to it - it's staffed primarily by older women, brochures and posters cover most surfaces, and little wooden signs hang from the ceiling above various open air sections: "Insurance", "Auto", and "Travel Agency". I was going to the "Travel Agency". When my name was called I went and sat down at the desk of an agent named Suzanne. Like most of the employees, she was a woman who looked to be in her 50s. She was very friendly; an impression that I think was aided by the tinge of red coloring the end of her nose, most likely due to the unusually cold day. I told her where I was looking to go (the U.S. Virgin Islands), how long (5 nights) and my hoped-for budget. She, however, didn't look hopeful. But she was going to give it her best. She started typing quickly on her computer while also calling (using her speed dial) other travel agencies - the ones that actually made the reservations, it seemed. I waited patiently while she called several, intermittently shaking her head and asking, "What about an earlier flight? What if we add a layover? How about the garden view room instead of the ocean view?"

After a few calls she gave me the lowest price she could find. A few hundred more than I wanted, and the flight had a layover in Charlotte. I told her to hold it for me; I had to discuss it with my fiance.

The next morning I took the time to look at airfare and room rates online. I discovered I could get a pretty cheap direct flight if we went from Monday to Saturday instead of Sunday to Friday. Then I checked the hotel's rates and saw that room and and airfare added up to hundreds less than the lowest quote from Suzanne. However, the AAA package deal came with cancellation insurance, and none of what I found did. So I went back to the AAA.

I told Suzanne what I'd found, but said that I'd be willing to still go with a AAA package if it wasn't too much more because I thought it would be worth it for the cancellation insurance. I suggested she get some quotes on Monday to Saturday to see if that would help, since it made a difference in the airfare I found. She started calling around, much as she had yesterday, while also looking up flights on her computer. After a few minutes of keyboard clicking and screen peering, she looked up from the monitor with a doubtful expression. "Are you sure it was a round trip you were looking at? Because I'm just not seeing anything below $700 on any airline." I assured her it was round trip. "To St. Thomas?" Yes, to St. Thomas, I said.

I glanced at her screen. The computer itself looked relatively modern, but the program it was running looked ancient. Green text on black backgrounds, hardly any graphical interface to speak of - most likely a holdover from the 80s, back when the idea of an interconnected global database of flights seemed incredible and gave travel agencies real value. She made a few more calls, ending the last one with, "Well, I don't know what to do. I'm going to just, uh, talk to him." She knew it was fruitless. So did I; I'd guessed as much ten minutes earlier. Not only could she not find anything to bring the price down, she wasn't even able to book the hotel for the Monday to Saturday time because it had to be through one of these other agencies and they couldn't book that Saturday (evidently agencies are allotted blocks of time to book and they can't book outside of their block).

With that, I expressed my gratitude for her help as sincerely as possible and left. I headed straight to my house and within fifteen minutes I had booked the flights and the room.

On the way back to the office I wondered whether I should call Suzanne (she gave me her card in case the cheap airfare I'd found wasn't there anymore - or if it turned out to be a one-way price) to let her know I was able to book everything and thank her again for her help. I thought it might be awkward, though, to come so close to pointing out what I felt had become very apparent: her job was completely unnecessary. She'd been defeated by a home computer and an internet connection. Her old travel-agent only program that supposedly tapped into reduced rates from all the major airlines, her network of contacts at various agencies, her years of experience; all rendered inefficient, redundant, and pointless by the internet revolution.

It made me sad. Really, it made me nostalgic for a time I had never even experienced - one where overly cheerful travel agents were needed, one where engaged couples waited in hushed anticipation to hear whether the agent could "work some magic" and get them the within-budget honeymoon they were hoping for, one where all that clicking and peering was mysterious and exciting.


Ashley W. said...

Awww....well, now I'm nostalic for it too. It sounds so much more exciting!

Sara said...

Great post, Jacob. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Heather and Ryan said...

Me too. You write very well.