Tuesday, January 25, 2011

310. Just Use Our Automated System

I don’t do well with automated systems. I panic when I drive up to a toll booth where I must insert exact change. Self check-out at the grocery store gives me the hives.  So it should come as no surprise that I had a very difficult time ever booking myself on a vacation flight when I worked for United.

On the surface, it sounds simple enough: call the special phone number, follow the voice prompts. Sure—very simple, if by simple you actually mean “complicated.” I would call the system and enter my employee ID # (called “personal metric”—Terrorists, take note). Then, a very pleasant sounding male voice would say, “Leaving from what city, please?” And I would say, “Denver, Colorado,” and The Voice would repeat “Des Moines, Iowa, is that correct? Please press one if correct.” And here I’d be panicking, saying, “No! No! Not Des Moines! Den—ver!” and the helpful-sounding Voice would say, “So sorry, my mistake, Nashville?” Argh!

We’d go back and forth like this, The Voice and I, in our own little tennis match of naming cities and trying to enunciate clearly. My favorite was me trying to fly to San Diego and him confirming in his soothing tones, “Did you say Singapore?” Me: “NO! Not Singapore! SAN DEEE— EGG —OHH!” Him (trying his best), “Was that Sydney, Australia?”

Remember what my job was at the time: I was a flight attendant. Remember where I spent an inordinate amount of my waking hours: at the airport. So, that being said, many of these one-sided conversations between me and my computer phone pal were taking place in airport gate areas, often with an audience. Picture the scene: me, in my uniform, rollerboard suitcase at my side, yelling into my cell phone, “I said Seattle! SEEE—AT—UHL! Nooooo!  No, don't do this to me!  Operator!” These poor random passengers, waiting for their connections to Chicago or San Francisco were probably looking at me like I was insane (“She must be talking to her crew scheduler, and apparently she really has something against Seattle. I hope she’s not working on our flight.”)

I have not received a paycheck from United in seven years now, since I had my first son.

I had forgotten all about United’s fun little phone system, until the other day when I called my favorite local restaurant to book a dinner reservation. A friendly computer answered the phone, “Welcome to Crazy Town Restaurant! If you’d like to make a reservation, please key in the time, followed by the pound sign. Then, press the asterisk if correct, and key in the number of diners in your party.” I did the only thing I could: hung up. We have left-over pizza in the frig.

(“Memphis? Ontario? Vegas?”)


  1. Ugh! I can't stand those automated phone systems, either. I usually cross my fingers and press 0#. Most of the time, that will send you to a live person. :)

  2. United automated phone lines; totally get where you are coming from, and it's the most frustrating thing ever!! I just finished all of the posts. Very funny. Noting, of course, I relate to it all. Well, nearly all. Love reading. Thanks for sharing your wit!

  3. thank you, dear Tera, for reading all of it! Wow-- I am so glad you enjoyed it, please keep reading. :) I am hoping my writing will continue to improve and captivate.


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