The Mekong Delta has become one of my favorite places to
travel, especially when heading places relatively unvisited by foreigners. I
love the surprise and following interaction with local people that have never
or rarely seen a foreigner. Recently, I just returned from such a trip.
One evening, Nghia and Hau (my friends from V’Explore)
called me up after having a few beers in the evening and were asking to get my
rear end down to Saigon so I could join them
on an inspection tour of some Mekong Home stays. (A homestay is usually a
family home that has had additions, or allocated rooms for guests to stay. The
accommodation can range from a grass hut and a fan, to a hotel like room in a
large house and is quite often offered with a tour to the floating markets and
other local destinations. As is so usual in Vietnam, things can go sideways
very quickly, but sometimes (rarely) can be straightened out almost as quick.
I arrived at the airport for my flight and checked in the
same as I have done many times. I am travelling light and did not expect any
problems when the clerk asked me for my credit card. “Xin Loi” I replied. My
credit card is at home. I was told to speak with customer service. Hmmmm…..
Whatever…. In Vietnam
strange things happen so I went to customer service 45 minutes before my plane
was to depart. I handed them my e-ticket and frequent flier card and asked it
there was a problem. The receptionist stated that a person who booked a flight
was required to present their credit card for verification if booked on online.
Whaa???? This is news to me. In 2 years of flying all over Vietnam, I have
never been asked this before and stated so. She responded to me as if I was a
liar and began to test my patience. I was told that I could fill out a form and
submit it and in 10 to 30 days I would be refunded. With gritted teeth, I
calmly explained to her that I did not have a lot of cash to purchase another ticket.
Her reply was “then you will not be catching a flight” and my ticket was
cancelled. I tried to explain to her I was working, and meeting with business
people in Saigon to promote tourism, and I
knew she had discretion as I have flown perhaps 20 times without going through
this process. Again, she treated me as if I was some kind of idiot and
explained the official line. I had had enough. I barely had enough cash to
cover another ticket, but now horns were locked!! My last pitch was that if she
did not let me board, I would have the boss of Vietnam Airlines get involved. Again,
she gave me a brush off. It is now 35 minutes before take off and the airport
is 40 km away from home…… time to play my hidden trump card (something I do not
like to do).
As it happens, many of my close Vietnamese friends are
connected or related to people in authority. Nghia is one such individual and I
dislike very much having to abuse our friendship by asking for favors, but in
this instance his help was required. At 9:45 pm I caught him entertaining
friends and explained the situation. Nghia was afraid his Vietnam Airlines
Executive friend in Hanoi
might already be sleeping but gave him a call on my behalf. Meanwhile the lady
behind customer service watched with unease and was perhaps beginning to take
what I was saying seriously. I hung up and was waiting for a return call. It is
now 35 minutes to take off and announcements are being made that check in will
be closing. I was just about to give up and dig out my cash when the phone rang.
With a relieved laugh, Nghia jokes about how I wait until
the last moment for his help and tells me not to worry, that a new ticked was
on the way. Sure to his word, about 3 minutes later customer service received a
new e-ticket in my name at no cost. Well…… The customer service people seemed
to take note of that. So much so that they offered and quickly completed the
refund form for my cancelled ticket on my behalf. They also told me that they
would put a priority on the refund. Aha!!….. Now I am guiltily feeling a bit
smug! A person has to love when a demeaning person can be put in their place,
but I have to say that I would rather this situation never happen.
Up the stairs I hurried to security where after my bag
cleared, a security woman declared that I had fish sausage in my bag as a gift
for my friends. “Thui” (stinky) she demanded. “Thom” (smell good) I replied. I
had wrapped the sausage very well but she insisted that it would stink up the
aircraft. Back and forth we went for a while before finally I gave up and ran
back downstairs and checked my bag……… Funny thing that the scissors were
allowed 😉 They had no problems re-opening the check in counter for me, and the
same young lady who was the one who sent me to customer service, checked in my
bag, also ran up and saw me off to the aircraft. I made it!! I was off to Saigon to arrive at around 10:30 and was expecting to have to deal
with a headache taxi driver.