Recently I took my Creole husband and his parents on a guided tour around the US. We visited New York, (because it’s New York!) Texas, (where I went to University and lived before moving permanently to Reunion,) and Michigan, (where my parents live, and where I was born and raised.) I had been planning this trip since January…and our itinerary was pretty good, if I do say so myself!! So I’m going to share it with you, just in case you ever find yourself in any of these places and you need to know the best things to do!!!
But first let’s start with how NOT to fly to the United States.
As we were traveling in prime Reunion Island vacation period, I decided not to fly through Paris, since ticket prices were sky-high. Instead, I took us through Johannesburg, South Africa. It seemed too good to be true! One direct flight to Johannesburg, followed by one direct (15 hour…ugggg) flight to NYC. Clean, uncomplicated…and we saved about 800 euros each on the cost of a ticket!
So funny story…here’s what really happened. Air Austral canceled our flight to South Africa a few weeks before, and rescheduled us to go through Mauritius, which added another day to our travel time. We arrived way too early in South Africa and had to wait the entire day in the airport until our flight to NYC. Not the end of the world, we thought, and we took turns guarding all the luggage while the rest of the family browsed the boutiques. After what felt like forever, we finally could check in our bags and go to the boarding gate.
That’s when the lady at the boarding gate informed us that my mother in law’s ESTA Visa (which is required by French citizens to purchase before going to the US) was not validated. We found this a little strange, since all three of the ESTA Visas the Frenchies needed were purchased at the same time, and the other two were fine. « Go find a wifi connection and repurchase her Visa, » they told us. Except strangely enough, we couldn’t find a wifi connection. And when we did, we would fill in the info for the Visa and the connection would cut out every time JUST before the transaction was validated. This happened about 4 times, and the minutes were ticking away. I was freaking out, but there was no way I was missing that plane. I would be back home in my country in just a few (15) hours, I was sure of it.
We ran (and I mean RAN) all over the airport, asking, begging, employees of shops and cafes, the boarding people, ANYONE to help us, to let us use their interntet, to do SOMETHING. They just shrugged and said things like « I’m sorry, can’t help you. You have to pay on your phone. » I have never felt so helpless in my life. Finally, the boarding woman told us: « you’ve been removed from the flight. You can go get your bags in baggage claim. » My heart broke. I really have never wanted to punch anyone in the face more than I did at that moment.
So we were stranded in South Africa and it was almost midnight. Someone at the information desk « had a friend » with a motel close to the airport and they arranged for us to go there. The motel was dirty and had these brown ugly carpets from the 1980’s that smelled like smoke and feet. There were no towels in the rooms or any heat, and it was probably about 9 degrees Celcius that night. We asked for a heater and he gave us this dangerous looking thing that sparked when we plugged it in, and shook so loudly that we couldn’t sleep with it on. I spent the coldest night of my life stuck like glue to Richard.
The next morning, we made some phone calls and found out that the Visa was indeed validated and that there should have been no reason why we were denied boarding. Armed with this knowledge, it was time for me to go to war. I called every single person that works for South African Airways, but no one wanted to help us get on the next flight. They kept telling me the flight was booked, or we would have to go to Germany for a connection, or even better…that we had to PAY to rebook our tickets!! So we decided to take a huge risk and continue the war face to face at the airport. It was almost the same story at the airport…we were being passed around from desk to desk, person to person, told to wait for some manager who comes in at noon, and so on. I don’t fight my customer service wars by yelling or causing a scene, I do it by smiling politely, thanking people, and killing them with kindness. Up until that moment, that tactic has worked my whole life. I did not understand South Africans.
FINALLY THANK GOD we found the right man. He was a manager of something important and he actually had a heart. After catching up on our story, he looked at me and said « I’m sorry for what happened to you, » and I almost burst into tears. (Oh funny side note, I was also almost seven months pregnant during this time.) He got us on the « completely booked » flight that night, and handed us tickets. We had won!!
The 15 hour flight was awfully long, and we arrived in NYC early the next day with what I’m sure were high fevers thanks to our freezing night in South Africa. Actually we were extremely sick the entire week…but who cares?? We were finally in New York, baby!!
And I guess since this story got a little long…I’ll have to make another podcast to tell you the rest!
So! To be continued….
prime – principal
sky-high – au sommet
rescheduled – replanifié
browse – jeter un oeil
boarding gate – porte de l’embarquement
ticking – tic-tac
beg – supplier
shrug – hausser les épaules
punch – coup de poing
stranded – bloqué
sparked – étincellé
and so on – et cetera
catching up – rattraper