Booking a Flight to India | India | Living in Mexico

Booking a Flight to India

The trouble began when, while at the beach with Paul, I found I had to change my flight date. Foolishly, I had booked through Expedia—the online travel agent. Expedia's change policy appears to be: Make things as difficult as possible for the customer.

I called from a pay phone at the Port of Manzanillo. Turns out Expedia's 800 number, posted on their website, is wrong. Paul helped me complete my call using a Telmex operator, his Spanish being better than mine. I took over as soon as we got an answer and spent five minutes picking my through a labyrinthine call director. Carlos Slim's exorbitant charges were piling up fast. Finally an automated voice told me I had passed the keypad dexterity test and now qualified to speak with an actual human agent.

An accented female voice came on the line. Things had finally come full circle. In order to change my flight to India on an American airline through an American travel agent, I was going to have to speak with someone in—India.

She spoke with the same cadences as Apu, owner of the Kwik-E-Mart in The Simpsons. I couldn't understand most of what she said. When I finally convinced her I wanted to move my flight dates back a week, she said, "Thank you for sharing your issue. I am most anxious to help you, but I cannot at the present moment. Our computers are down. Please call back in an hour." Click.

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Photo and lettering: Paul "El Guapo" Latoures

That exchange having exhausted my phone card balance, I retreated to an Oxxo (Mexico's Kwik-E-Mart) to purchase another. Not believing the computer problem story, I called Expedia right back, swiftly threading my way through the call director. (I am nothing if not a quick learner.) This time I was connected with an agent who spoke intelligible English and had had some actual training. A mere thirty minutes later, she completed the rebooking of my flights.

Bangalore call centers manage to combine Indian hyper-courtesy with Indian hyper-bureaucracy. At every turn I was told most politely, and with the most sympathy, why it was that I couldn't do what I wanted. Indian agents are masters at the art of saying "no." In Suketu Mehta's superb book about Bombay, Maximum City, he describes the place as the City of No. Indians learned obstructive bureaucracy under British rule. After independence, they took all that red tape and multiplied it. Example: A simple court case can take ten years to settle, if it ever gets settled at all.

Before I find myself teeing off on Indians, I have to remind myself: I was dealing with an American company. What were they thinking?

Something good has come from this experience: A new travel tip. Use Expedia to explore flight options. Then go to the airline website and book your flight directly. You'll save a few bucks, and if you need help, the airline has a much larger incentive to help you out than any travel agent ever will. And most of them don't use offshore call centers either.

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