The nightmare began Wednesday evening, as I used the aggregator site to search for a flight for my next trip to the East Coast, which will be in about 3 months. I found a suitable schedule at a suitable price, and was taken to the discount broker to ticket it. It was processed fine, but when I went to the airline's site to double check, it had the booking but indicated that it hadn't been ticketed or paid for. But the broker's site said it had been.
It was too late to call the broker, but I spent the next day submitting a series of increasingly concerned e-mails and phone messages to them with no response. I had also called the airline to confirm the status and that they couldn't do anything to unplug the problem.
This morning I called the airline back. I already had the basic info; what I was trying to find out now was what would happen if it stayed in this limbo status indefinitely. (Broker reservations don't automatically expire.) I spoke to three successive agents, and all three absolutely and utterly sucked at customer relations. They kept on telling me things I already knew (like that I needed to contact the broker), despite the fact that we'd established that and I was trying to move on to follow-up questions. They kept blaming me for the broker's problems, even saying it was my fault for being foolish enough to use one. And when I got frustrated at this unhelpfulness, they blamed me for that, too.
Then I made one more call to the broker, and surprise, got right through. I told the guy, who said he was a manager, about all the messages both written and spoken I'd left the previous day, and he apologized but didn't object when I said I wouldn't be using them again. But he also said the reason for the holdup was that the airline's website wasn't processing the order properly. It wasn't a problem with my credit card, as I'd feared. So maybe it wasn't the broker's fault, but the airline's? The man said he'd cancel the reservation and I should try booking directly with the airline. The cancellation went right through, and I thanked him and hung up.
Now, on to the airline's site to discover that I couldn't book the return I'd gotten on the previous booking, and none of the options it offered were anywhere near as good schedule-wise. So I called them again and was able to book it through one of their agents, though it cost a heck of a lot more. Was its unappearance due to one leg being a code-share flight? Was it due to the extra-long layover at O'Hare? Was either of these the reason their site didn't process my original reservation? I was unable to get an answer to any of those questions, but I did get the ticket.
And I like my 5-hour (yes, 5) layover. This should be long enough for me to leave the airport and take the El to some appealing neighborhood in Northside Chicago to have lunch, something I've done before. I was dreaming of such a thing, in fact, on my nonstop flight home from New York. It wasn't at all uncomfortable by the standards of air travel, but I felt intensely restless and itchy, and was wishing for a good long layover as a break. If this makes for a less restless trip, then I may just not book non-stops westbound (which takes longer) from the east coast any more.