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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Here I sit, broken hearted....

Given the events that unfolded in my life today, I am inspired to wax poetic. The actual diddy this is based on is a bit on the risque side, but my version is not quite so:

Here I sit, broken hearted.
Paid my fare, but never departed....

If things had gone according to 'plan' I should at this very moment be sititng on a flight bound for London Gatwick from Newark, with an eventaul link over to Belfast. But, alas, I am the victim of that which binds both the US and UK together -- a slow postal service.

Last week I had to make an 'emergency' change in my original flight plans that would have brought me back to Belfast on the 13th, and the adjustment was to arrange for flights that would start in Boston at 4PM today (the 16th) and put me in Belfast by around noon or so tomorrow (the 17th). With a little jet lag out of the way by Tuesday, I could make all my various appointments and resettle into an academic life in Northern Ireland once again.

But there was a hitch.

Like many others, I typically rely on reservations and connections that involve nothing more than showing up at the airport, picking up 'electronic tickets', checking bags, and making it through the lines and hurdles of airport security. This time, because the very last leg of my trip from Gatwick to Belfast involves a "code share" with FLYBE (British European Air), I needed to be "paper ticketed.' (It seems that FLYBE and Continental, my originating carrier, can't quite come up with a way to share their e-ticket systems....)

Simple enough. Order the tickets online and they will be sent by snail mail right to my door -- someday, that is. "Allow 5-7 business days for delivery" is one of those phrases that you always think is a formality or an exaggeration -- that what they really mean is only two or three days. Given that I made my reservation on the 10th, that should be plenty of time -- after all, the mail is delivered on the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th -- each well before my flight on Sunday the 16th. And certainly (so I thought) a big company like Continental would have all that factored in when they established the policy of mailing paper tickets....

To put it nicely, neither Continental nor I should not have counted on the US Postal Service (USPS).

Here it is Sunday, and no tickets. Off I go to Logan airport hoping they will let me start my trip without the paper tickets in hand -- but without those precious tickets it will cost me about $1700 to make the $664 trip (and that doesn't include a $100 penalty I would have to pay for something called a "Lost Ticket Adjustment" (or whatever)).

Thank you USPS. Thank you Continental. Thank you Lance Armstrong (I bet he never gets his mailed air tickets to France late....)

So a few pleadings later with the nice staff behind the Continental counter at Logan's Terminal C, and we have achieved a compromise of sorts. Here I sit back in my US home, waiting for the next delivery of the US mail (which is Tuesday the 18th, since tomorrow is M L King Day, an official federal holiday -- that's 'bank holiday' to you UK types). The deal we struck (once they got approval from the 'higher ups' in Houston) is that I will take the exact same itinerary next week using my paper tickets, and we will call it even -- no higher fare, no penalty, etc.

But heaven help me if the tickets never show -- then I have to engage in one of those great bureaucratic nightmares where, half outraged and half in tears, you tell your story to (you hope) the nice and compassionate folks in Houston (or Newark or wherever). As for USPS, well it might as well be the Royal Post or some other mail service....

And what will I do with my extra week in the US? Well, I will not make those meetings and appointments I set up in Belfast. I will be put back in the NHS queue for that hearing aid I was to pick up on the 18th after over a year of tests, etc. (sorry, friends, you will still have to speak up a bit louder!); I will miss a meeting of the Institute staff at Queen's University which I promised to attend, and also that dinner with a delegation of legislators from Albania; and of course I will miss the pleasant company of friends and fellow coffee drinkers at QUB.

But as for how I will fill my week, well that is the obviously going to be the subject of more blogs....
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