Fun_People Archive
27 Feb
Reservations of an Airline Agent

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 98 02:57:41 -0800
To: Fun_People
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Subject: Reservations of an Airline Agent

Forwarded-by: Alter Vister <>
Forwarded-by: Karen Stanley <>

     (After Surviving 130,000 Calls From The Traveling Public)
     By: Jonathan Lee -- The Washington Post

I work in a central reservation office of an airline company.  After more
than 130,000 conversations -- all ending with "Have a nice day and thanks
for calling" -- I think it's fair to say that I'm a survivor.

I've made it through all the calls from adults who didn't know the
difference between a.m.  and p.m., from mothers of military recruits who
didn't trust their little soldiers to get it right, from the woman who
called to get advice on how to handle her teenage daughter, from the man
who wanted to ride inside the kennel with his dog so he wouldn't have to
pay for a seat, from the woman who wanted to know why she had to change
clothes on our flight between Chicago and Washington (she was told she'd
have to make a change between the two cities) and from the man who asked if
I'd like to discuss the existential humanism that emanates from the soul of

In five years, I've received more than a boot camp education regarding the
astonishing lack of awareness of our American citizenry.  This lack of
awareness encompasses every region of the country, economic status, ethnic
background, and level of education.  My battles have included everything
from a man not knowing how to spell the name of the town he was from, to
another not recognizing the name of "Iowa" as being a state, to another who
thought he had to apply for a foreign passport to fly to West Virginia.

They are the enemy and they are everywhere.  In the history of the world
there has never been as much communication and new things to learn as today.
Yet, after asking a woman from New York what city she wanted to go to in
Arizona, she asked " it a big place?"

I talked to a woman in Denver who had never heard of Cincinnati, a man in
Minneapolis who didn't know there was more than one city in the South
("wherever the South is"), a woman in Nashville who asked, "Instead of
paying for my ticket, can I just donate the money to the National Cancer
Society?", and a man in Dallas who tried to pay for his ticket by sticking
quarters in the pay phone he was calling from.

I knew a full invasion was on the way when, shortly after signing on, a man
asked if we flew to exit 35 on the New Jersey Turnpike.  Then a woman asked
if we flew to area code 304.  And I knew I had been shipped off to the front
when I was asked, "When an airplane comes in, does that mean it's arriving
or departing?" I remembered the strict training we had received -- four
weeks of regimented classes on airline codes, computer technology, and
telephone behavior -- and it allowed for no means of retaliation.  We were
told, "it's real hell out there and ya got no defense.  You're going to hear
things so silly you can't even make 'em up.  You'll try to explain things
to your friends that you don't even believe yourself, and just when you
think you've heard it all, someone will ask if they can get a free
round-trip ticket to Europe by reciting 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'."

It wasn't long before I suffered a direct hit from a woman who wanted to
fly to Hippopotamus, NY.  After assuring her that there was no such city,
she became irate and said it was a big city with a big airport.  I asked if
Hippopotamus was near Albany or Syracuse.  It wasn't.  Then I asked if it
was near Buffalo.  "Buffalo!" she said.  "I knew it was a big animal!"

Then I crawled out of my bunker long enough to be confronted by a man who
tried to catch our flight in Maconga.  I told him I'd never heard of Maconga
and we certainly didn't fly to it.  But he insisted we did and to prove it
he showed me his ticket:  Macon, GA.

I've done nothing during my conversational confrontations to indicate that
I couldn't understand English.  But after quoting the round-trip fare the
passenger just asked for, he'll always ask:  "...Is that one-way?" I never
understood why they always question if what I just gave them is what they
just asked for.  But I've survived to direct the lost, correct the wrong,
comfort the weary, teach U.S.  geography and give tutoring in the spelling
and pronunciation of American cities.  I have been told things like:  "I
can't go stand-by for your flight because I'm in a wheelchair."

I've been asked such questions as:  "I have a connecting flight to
Knoxville.  Does that mean the plane sticks to something?" And once a man
wanted to go to Illinois.  When I asked what city he wanted to go to in
Illinois, he said, "Cleveland, Ohio." After 130,000 little wars of varying
degrees, I'm a wise old veteran of the communication conflict and can
anticipate with accuracy what the next move by "them" will be.  Seventy-five
percent won't have anything to write on.  Half will not have thought about
when they're returning.  A third won't know where they're going; 10 percent
won't care where they're going.  A few won't care if they get back.  And
James will be the first name of half the men who call.  But even if James
doesn't care if he gets to the city he never heard of; even if he thinks he
has to change clothes on our plane that may stick to something; even if he
can't spell, pronounce, or remember what city he's returning to, he'll get
there because I've worked very hard to make sure that he can.  Then with a
click of the phone, he'll become a part of my past and I'll be hoping the
next caller at least knows what day it is.  Oh, and James..."Thanks for
calling and have a nice day."

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