Escape to Pisa, II: Mistakes, Corrections, and a bit of History

As an informal and sometimes formal travel advisor, I am forever reminding--my wife calls it bullying people--to double check everything, including passports, visas (if necessary), ticket times and dates.  I once showed up at Belgrade airport for my flight to Paris, only to be informed that the flight--and hotel reservation--was for the next day.  My bag was also overweight.  But this was Belgrade, where the motto used to be Nema problema, no problem.  The kind lady even winked at my overweight bag.  In Paris, at the Hotel Littré, where I used to stay and was arranging a program, they welcomed me as an old friend.  It doesn't always work out that way.

For example, I was trying to use advance check-in on our United flight to Francoforte.  On Friday, the UA system would not allow me to photograph our passports, but I was happy on Saturday morning that the system worked, except for informing me that I would have to check in again at O'Hare, and when, after an expensive bus ride to the airport, the same thing happened at the check-in kiosk, I waited to speak to a human being.  She asked to see my passport but could see nothing wrong:  Expiring November 26.  Yes, I knew that.  2023.  I had checked it repeatedly and seen nothing wrong.

Another expensive bus ride back home and two days of the rigmarole that I hate most in the world--if I make it to Purgatory, it will be something like the task faced by Asterix in the cartoon "The Twelve Labors of Asterix," where the intrepid Gaul has to get a form from a government bureaucracy.  Despite the terrible reviews it receives, I went through the expensive "Rush My Passport," which promised, for a measly $640 plus $203 to the State Department, to deliver a passport in 3-5 days.  The alternative was to wait until Tuesday to call a State Department office in Chicago, make an appointment, and endure the horror of a day in snowed-in Chicago.

Yes, the nightmare was aggravated by 8 inches of snow and temperatures going down to -14 Fahrenheit.  3-5 days, when the MLK work-stoppage and fudge factors were included, turned into perhaps 9.

Then there were the tickets to rebook.  I had booked with mileage plus fees, and while United quickly reinstated half the miles, they did not reinstate the other half.  I could purchase two similar tickets at this late date for a bit more than $3000, which seemed to this poor man a lot of money or, I could get one ticket with mileage and spend $2000  for a second.  Jim Easton urged me to do what I hate to do: contact the airline directly.  I started with their robot system and got nowhere, but after an hour, when I connected by text with a human being--a lady named Claudine, who is not the ex-president of Harvard--she took over and did the booking for me.

If all goes well, we leave a week from Wednesday, on 24 January.  By then we shall have used up 9 days of apartment time on the 28 days we rented, but something is better than nothing.  I informed the owner of the apartment of our woes, and she was very kind in offering an extra week free at the end so we do not lose out too terribly.  This will give me a few days extra in Florence to check things out for our Summer School on Medicean Florence and a possible program in the Fall on Tuscany.  Watch this space.

So even the most carefully worked out travel plans by an overzealous planner "gang aft agley."

The bit of history, I shall post today

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

1 Response

  1. Joshua Smith says:

    A Cat Ballou reference and an Asterix & Obelix reference all in the same week! That’s what keeps me coming back.