Monday, November 26, 2007


In all our travels we had never been in such a situation before. It was still a Saturday night when we arrived home from the airport. It was most embarassing for us as we had earlier bade farewell to our neighbour" Apek", cheerfully. And now, 3 hours later, we were dragging ourselves and our luggage back.

We had no clue or any idea or any rational explanation what had actually transpired. No one was in direct communication with us except Ms cba from ABC agency. Although, we were dead tired from all these wasteful exertions and energy, my mind was still clear.

I rationalised that we were both innocent victims of a most unprofessional foul-up either by ABC agency itself or in conjunction with their 2 or 3 other business affiliates.....that led to this dead end. As Ms cba told us that she was also in the dark as to what had really happened, we had no choice as to our next course of action. The only instruction I gave her was to have our passports returned to us by noon the next day( Sunday ) and " better for your ABC agency not to take this fiasco lightly ".On her side, she promised to get her superiors to do something about the situation and get back to me urgently.
Nothing more happened that night. We were so drained that we had no more energy to be boiling mad and fell asleep rather fitfully....expecting to be awakened in the middle of the night.
I believed that Ms cba must have contacted her superiors and her counterparts from the 2 affiliate agencies....sometime in the night and tried working out a plan to salvage the already precarious situation.
Remember, the original group we were supposed to be in, had already flown off to Beijing. We did not even know then if our 2 names were on the list. XYZ airlines refused to divulge to us.
And even Ms cba could not confirm that. Even though we had zero information on the fiasco,
I was and still am not an ignoramus about the processes and the ins and outs of this business.
And any number of possible reasons could have resulted in this....but all were bad and negative.
Like what? Incomplete payments/ outstanding debts between ABC and their affiliates, lack of trust in each other, lack of faith, cutting-corners to the fine wire ( prevalent practice, quite common ), deliberately putting ABC agency under pressure by the others due to business rivalry or other reasons....etc....etc.
The next day, SUNDAY......early morning.....
The phone rang. I jumped up to answer it. It was Ms cba on the line. "Urgent!" She said.
I looked at the clock. It showed 7:15 am.
She:" Sorry to have awoken you suddenly but we have just got confirmation, although at the last minute, that we have 2 seats for you both for Beijing. But the flight is leaving close to 9:00 am. Can you be ready in half an hour and I pick you up from your main road junction, to save time.
I'll drive you to the airport myself.
Me: "Ms cba, I don't think there is enough time. It's already 7:15 am now and we have to go through a proper check-in, security, immigration....and whatever! "
She: " My friend from the other agency will be bringing your passports and meeting us there. This came from them. To save more time, I will get my mother to accompany me so that I don't have to park . I'll just ask her to wait for us in the car while I help to check you in."
Me: "Ok. We'll meet you in 30 minutes."
D2, awakened by then, heard the conversation and nodded in understanding. We got ourselves ready in 15 minutes and began to lock up our home again, after calling family members to inform them we were off to the airport again. As we walked out of our porch, a smiling "Apek" greeted us cheerfully.
Apek:" Where you going today? CHINA again? "
Me: " Yes, last night some problem. Now, must rush to airport again. Yes, Beijing!'
Apek: " Ok. Good luck and take care! Bye bye. "
Ms cba kept to her word. She picked us up and drove us to the airport and left the car as she said she would, with her mum in the front seat and hazard lights on. She was a careful driver and did not speed at all. I kept looking at my watch, the minutes and seconds ticking away sadly.
Her friend from the other agency was waiting for us outside the unloading bay area.
We rushed to the counter which was still a distance away.
When we approached XYZ airline staff there we were told check-in had closed. And the plane was already ready for take-off on the runway!!!
No amount of pleading from us and the other 2 ladies could budge the XYZ staff to let us through on an urgent basis.
So, for for the 2nd time and two days in a row...we have been left high and dry.
This has NEVER, EVER happened to us in all our life !
Then I took charge!
I asked the 2 lady travel consultants to, " let's go sit down somewhere as I have important
matters to tell you and discuss with you, your bosses or your agencies ".
At the sit down meeting, still within the airport, I asked for the return of our passports.
I told them both I'm still in the dark about the fiasco the day before. I asked them both to listen to me most carefully as it might affect the future of their agencies.
I told them I was quite familiar with the workings of travel agencies as I was the former President of S'pore's leading travel adventure club. I too was familiar with many aspects of air-ticketting, filling-up airline seats, double-booking, over-booking, boosting of groups by affiliate co-operation, group discounts for 8 or 10 pax, early-booking discounts, air, land and hotel arrangements, etc......etc... ." The looks on their face showed they were very worried and took me seriously.
And I told them," Your agency have made us EMBARASSING FOOLS.......TWICE ! I am not sure whether we are your only victims or maybe there are others unknown to us. But you have picked the wrong passengers to make a fool of. I have so many friends and contacts in the press and media waiting, dying, to have such a story, especially from me. Think what the consequences will be for your agencies."
" The only saving grace in this whole NONSENSE is this young lady here... I pointed to Ms cba, who all my trained eye and experience, tells me is an innocent, frontline staff used as a buffer by her agency to delay,deflect blame until a way out is found. She has acted beyond her call of duty on all occasions though things were beyond her control. She tried her BEST to try to help us and maybe her agency too. Right now, her mother is still sitting in her car outside! "
With my reminder to her, Ms cba asked what I would do next.
The other lady said there was a mixup in communications between the 3 parties....that our names/seats were not confirmed for Saturday flight but no one informed ABC agency. She did not explain why we were not confirmed since we were told everything was 100 % confirmed by ABC people. I was under no delusion to believe her or anything she said.
Clearly afraid now, this 2nd lady asked to keep our passports " so that they can work out something by tomorrow ( Monday) . "
I thought for a moment and told her, " Ok. I will give you all until tomorrow noon and if nothing comes up by then, please return the passports to me in person, at my home."
Ms cba apologised profusely and her mum also felt very sorry for us. We reloaded our luggage in her car and she dropped us off at our place.
My neighbour, "APEK" saw us returning again....with UTMOST DISBELIEF in his old eyes!
Surely this cannot be, he must be thinking.
Apek: "Wah Mr fast come back from CHINA again? Beijing must be very near huh? "

It was less than 3 hours ago since he bade us farewell!!!


jlow said...

Uncle Dick,

I'm just curious, so what happen on Monday and did you make it to Beijing in the end?

Love your blog, your ukelele stories and feel really happy for you for having found 2 of your neighnours at SLP.

Good job and keep on blogging.

unk Dicko said...

Hi jlow,
Welcome to my world! Thanks for your kind comments about the blog and the stories fiction,all true.
To answer your question "what happened on Monday, the day after?". If you click on the next blogpost after that nightmarish story, the one about our 1st visit to Gold Coast, Australia...that was what followed.
The nice lady "cba" called us early the next day and asked if we've been to Aussie land before. When I affirmed we had been, she then said their agency had a tour group that had departed a day earlier for Gold Coast, and would we like to take up the offer to join them ( 1 day later).
Our holiday plans have been totally destroyed by this agency and money already all paid up. This Gold Coast package, though it cost more, was not what we wanted to do. Our plan was Beijing!
So, without any alternative left, I told ms cba "if your agency is willing to absorb the extra cost and ask for no further payment from us...then ok, we go!".
They agreed. We met up at Changi Airport that same day and took off without any problem. Both my wife and I simply opened our travel bags at home, filled with thick winter clothings for China, and emptied all.
We brought along the barest of necessities as it was Summer at Gold Coast! And we knew we could buy nice, new clothes over there.

Did my problem with that hopeless agency end on my return?
No! They made a complete "about turn" about that G Coast trip being compensation "in lieu of" being subjected to our worst ever nightmare before a trip proper ( Beijing Tour)...and so insisted on extra payment for the Aussie trip.
Guessed what I did and WHO won in the end?
Even their top boss was involved! He was called in to speak directly to me on the phone.
Hey...maybe another post huh?

jlow said...

wah, you are certainly one who doesn't back down when you know you are right. I admire your conviction, your knowledge and most importantly your courage.

Nowadays the travel agnecy are very smart, they put in a lot of clause that put them on an advantage edge which allows them to do whatever changes they want like change itinery/date of departure/hotels/meals/taxes etc etc and consumers like me will have to accept all these crap without protest. Sometime I wish I know what my rights are, so I have a chance to voice my displeasure and not have to swallow these injustice, afterall I'm the one paying.

I wish one day I'll travel as far and wide as you.

thanks for the additional information you had provided me with.

unk Dicko said...

Actually, travelling today is more affordable than 20,30 years ago. With so many tour agencies and budget airlines and everyone offering so-called "the cheapest" price...potential travellers are spoilt for choice. BUT Beware! Just like you have so rightly pointed out..the tiny,small print you cannot see properly is always hidden among a a long passage but it is BINDING!
No way out for you or I except to check and double check all the "sweet talk" by sweeter still sales consultant BEFORE making payment or signing anything.
Btw, when that big boss of the ABC Agency called me, it was not to sue me but to offer his and the company's sincerest APOLOGIES and to get at least a vocal assurance from me NOT TO GO TO THE PRESS or MEDIA or report them to the then STPB.
Just goes to show how insincere they were in the first before the big boss pleaded with me,only minutes earlier, someone who identified himself as the firm's chief Finance and Legal head threatened to sue me in court! I replied, " Thank you very much Mr so and so. You have just given me the final push to give a press interview about this sordid affair today. Pl check tomorrow's papers for all the juicy news told in 1st person!"
" No need to call me back again! Bye!, I added". Really pissed off with all these nincompoops. My wifey was by my side listening to everything.
Then minutes later...the Big Boss called. His voice was so gentle,no animosity detected, just like a mouse.
He saved their skins and hide, at least buying time to remedy things.
I wasn't fooling about going to the press!

jlow said...

I say kudos to you, it's about time the travel agency or rather the entire service industry learn something from you.

Instead of bullying their way through, they should really reflect on how to genuinely provide good customer service, which in my opnion is the key to good business in their industry. Honestly I think we (SIN) have a long way to go. I remember booking hoildays with some UK travel agencies, after the final price is conveyed to me, and I paid the deposit, the price is sealed, no more changes to anything, the agency will absorb any price hike from then on instead of adding it back to me when i pay the balance.

In SIN, you will hear instead, everything is subject to change (taxes/airfares/hotels/no of passengers/etc etc) with or without prior notice which offers very little assurance to me, which I hate! and I think it's ridiculous, it's almost like saying to me, well you may not be going for the tour that you have paid for, and in the event that the tour is cancelled, you should understand that this is the way we do business and pls make your way down to our agency and we will refund you and you should be grateful that we took the trouble to refund you, pls don't take you own sweet time to come for the refund otherwsie it will be forfeited. Pls do not expect us to appologise as we are actually doing you a favour for screwing up your for the language. But seriously, this is the message I'm getting from the travel agency in SIN.

Sorry for the rumblings, but i sure hope something more could be done to improve the situation. Anyway, I'm off to Japan tonight...woohoo, I will come back and read more of your blog, your sharing and your adventure.

Yes, please blog more, I love to read all these blog posts from you and some of your blog mates/friends?? about SIN and much much more.

Thanks much

unk Dicko said...

Thanks v much for your feedback! Most welcomed! I agree with you wholeheartedly about the travel industry and the unimaginable "extra, foolproofed " hold that tour agencies have over those who book their tours.
Frankly,it needs to be seriously looked into. No,sorry... it needs a MAJOR OVERHAUL so that innocent people like you and me and doubtless thousands of others will not be so easily conned.
The tough question is WHO can make them do it...this overhaul?
Not Parliament, not STPB, not CASE then WHO?
That's why they are acting in exactly the way you have so aptly described! They feel no one can stop "their" nonsense.
It's a take it or leave it scenario.
Like it ( but don't grumble), don't like it..don't buy ( no one force you).
That happens to be the present scenario in the travel industry.

Ps: Have a good trip to Japan.
Btw,which part?

jlow said...

Central Japan, which include Tokyo, Mt Fuji, Gifu, osaka and kyoto.


jlow said...

Central Japan, which include Tokyo, Mt Fuji, Gifu, osaka and kyoto.

Thanks and thanks for your warm welcome

unk Dicko said...

Went thro the same route twice in last decade. Lovely and exhilarating!
Have some posts in blog, including my 1st trip to japan in 1972.
You are in time for Sakura...Cherry Blossoms!