May 14, 2012

Life as a Robbie Part III

Daily life as a Robbie is my early 20s is mostly smooth sailing now that I fully accept that I can go by Robbie to everyone I meet, but my legal birth name is Robert. Just because my name is always Robert on airline tickets, college degrees and my driver's license does not make me any less of a Robbie. Now those years of therapy just seem silly.

That's me on the left.

But even as a 26 year old (yes, I said early 20s...) I still run into the unexpected kerfuffle in the name department. Not too surprisingly, my recent name fiasco involved United Airlines. I was about to make a joke involving their "friendly skies" tagline, but evidently they stopped using that slogan in 1996. I don't know what's more staggering - the fact that I stopped paying attention to United's marketing after age 11, or the fact that I paid attention to United's marketing as a child younger than 11.

During another merger, United Airlines recently changed the numbers for everyone's Mileage Plus account. I never got an e-mail about this, I just couldn't log into my account. Thankfully my dad overheard my "thinking out loud" complaints to the cats as I bashed my head on my computer keyboard, and he told me the numbers had been changed. I found the appropriate link to plug in my old number, but there was still no record. I tried those useful links for if you forget your username, forget your number, forget your pin, forget your password, or just completely lose your mind, and still nothing. According to United, I did not exist.

"Do you want to take his miles or should I?"
But United, I do exist! I am still complaining about my 50,000 frequent flyer miles that suddenly turned to 0 because I flew your cheaper competitors for over a year. Trust me, I'm still bitter. But finally, after digging through the e-mail archives, I found the right link to request my new Mileage Plus number and got it. Whew! Now I can plug in e-ticket numbers from my recent flights and build those miles back up.

Wrong. The mileage requests would not process because "the name on the account did not match the name on the ticket." My name on my account is Robbie. My name on my tickets is Robert. Most of us know Robbie is a simple derivation of Robert, but the website did not understand, and that online chat girl, Alex, didn't get it either. There is no option to change my name on my account, even though it's not really a name change. That leaves the 1-800 number.

I called 1-800-United-Robot and went through the fun of chatting with Mr. Man. "Name change" was never an option; I don't know why. He also didn't seem to understand me, so I pressed "0" to get an operator. But Mr. Man kept fighting for my attention, asking, "Are you sure I can't help you? Let me try again." But his vocabulary doesn't change and he doesn't turn into a real person (as charming as he sounds). He even tempted me, warning that I could be put on hold to talk to an operator, but I could talk to him "here and now."  Is this a 900 number? (And do 900 numbers still exist?)

Is this also a gun?
I pried myself away from the soothing robot and started the holding process. While technology in talking to robots on the phone continues to advance, what really lags is that sound quality of the "on hold" music. Rhapsody in Blue never sounded so terrible! There was nothing blue about it - it's Rhapsody in a Garbage Disposal. Why are these 21st century 1-800 numbers still playing music through phonographs, making our ears bleed? I'll take cassette quality at this point - anything to help ease an already annoying situation. It's 2012, an age where we can keep our entire music library on our phones, even storing it all in thin air through a cloud program, and United Airlines is still playing Rhapsody in Blue on a record player with a pterodactyl beak. Get with it!

After a half hour on hold, I am finally connected to United's phone hub: Calcutta. I know outsourcing is alive and well with American companies, and I prefer that my operator has a hint of an accent to make things fun and stir up conversation. However, I need to understand at least one word in the operator's sentence, and English should be his second language, not distant third. We started off poorly with my number. I said, "EFX" and he heard "EDZ." But I do enjoy the game of thinking of an animal that starts with the letter on the spot. "No, I said 'X' as in 'X-Ray,' not 'zebra.'" in "zebray?"
But once we got over initial alphabet hurdles, John was able to solve my problem and change my name. After an hour battle, I'm now an all-around Robert in United's eyes. I'm also glad I called him since I apparently qualify for a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to earn 40,000 bonus miles. What flattery, John! But just as I was about to thank him, he'd already transferred me to the next hold for a Mr. Chase Bank. A bit crushed, I hung up. Maybe I'll give things another try with that robot.

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