KILLER CROWS IN ROME, LUCKY SHIRTS IN QUITO, When I was filming Raw Travel Season 1 in Quito, Ecuador, a raptor or some enormous avian creature excreted on me in mid-shoot. Cameras weren’t rolling, and we didn’t have the presence of mind to film a “When Travel Goes Wrong” segment at that point, sadly. I thought someone had thrown something on me, but alas, it was just a big old bird with digestion problems. In Latin America, it’s supposed to be a sign of good luck. Hmm, maybe, but the color was obscene (not the typical white), the amount voluminous, the smell was rank, and the look even worse.
I went to a public bathroom, washed off the shirt as best I could, and proceeded to film the rest of the day’s shoot shirtless, in a zipped up hoodie (Quito is high altitude, it’s chilly even during the day), until I could finally replace with a shirt bought off the street. Just in case the “luck” thing is true, I still have the original shirt that was splat upon to this day. I love that shirt and can’t find myself willing to part with it. Not sure of the replacement, probably not since it was likely something cheap and, most importantly, a bird hadn’t shat it upon.
Today Alamo announced all employees are required to wear masks. I don’t know if our posts had anything to do with it, but I assume it didn’t hurt. Let’s hope other car rental companies follow suite. Here is the letter I sent their customer service.
To Whom it May Concern at Alamo Rental Cars / Enterprise Holdings
My name is Robert G. Rose. I’m the producer and host of Raw Travel TV and a recent Alamo customer. On April 1st, 2020 during the beginning of the peak of COVID 19 pandemic in New York City , I decided to travel and self-isolate on the farm where I grew up in Middle Tennessee. I booked a one-way flight to Nashville Tennessee.
After flying on a near-empty flight to Nashville International Airport (BNA), I proceeded to pick up my rental car from Alamo, which I had reserved for 14 days since I knew I would be self-quarantined at least 14 days. During the trip, I took every possible precaution, including wearing a mask and gloves the entire flight and drive home, as well as frequently sanitizing my hands.
When signing paperwork for the vehicle, I asked the gentleman at the counter if I could extend beyond 14 days if needed. He replied I just needed to call into the number on the receipt jacket to do so.
After my initial 14 days of isolation, it became clear that New York City was still not safe. I thought it safer for me and others to remain on my rural farm rather than a small apartment in a crowded city rife with the virus.
On or about April 13th, I called in to extend my rental. I spoke to Michelle, who said she would extend the rental for 14 more days until April 29th at the same weekly rate I’d previously booked. She specifically recommended April 29th as the return date because that date would lock me into a lower weekly rate rather than a more expensive monthly rate. I thanked her and agreed to her terms. She gave a reference #35133893.
I took the opportunity to report to her that the front passenger tire had a leak and was flat on day 2 of the rental, but that we had fixed the tire by plugging it ourselves to avoid any unnecessary contact with roadside assistance. Also, I told her about damage on the rear left fender, which I hadn’t noticed when I had picked up and she said she made a notation
On April 28th, when it became apparent I would not be returning to NYC anytime soon, I called customer service again to inquire about extending the rental for another two weeks. The lady I spoke with informed me that since I had already extended once on the phone, that I would need to go into a physical Alamo location to extend the rental again.
I asked her if I needed to go to the Nashville Airport
location specifically, or if there was a location closer to me where I could
take care of it.
After giving her my current zip code, she suggested that I instead go to the Huntsville, Alabama airport (approximately 40 or so miles away from me as opposed to Nashville almost 90 miles away).
Since I had an issue with the tire and back rear damage, I
inquired about the possibility of exchanging the vehicle.
She stated that if I wanted to exchange the vehicle, I’d have to do that in Nashville, but if I just wanted to extend the current reservation, I could do so in Huntsville. She stated she was sending a message for Nashville to ring or email me within 48 hours to be certain, but I never heard from them (and my frequent phone calls and emails went unanswered or flipped over to the national customer service).
To my initial confusion, she also insisted that the vehicle was not due back until 6 pm on April 30th, not April 29th as I had in my notes. After a little back and forth, I took her word for that. However, to be sure, I did call back a few hours later and spoke to Robert, who confirmed the information, and he also stressed that the vehicle was not due back until 6 pm on April 30th and he again confirmed that I could extend the rental at the Huntsville airport.
On April 30th, I ultimately chose to extend the car rental in Huntsville because it was 1) closer than Nashville and 2) I was short on time and 3) I could then be assured of keeping the same vehicle which had only had one occupant for the month, so I knew it was clean and safe from infection.
I arrived at Huntsville airport at approximately 5 pm, one hour before the car was supposedly due at 6 pm. I was surprised to see that receivers at the return area were not wearing masks, nor were they seemingly practicing social distancing, even though I had on a mask and gloves and was clearly trying to maintain distance.
When I walked into the airport to extend the rental, the clerk was behind a makeshift plexiglass window, and she did seem to be sanitizing her hands frequently. However, after a few minutes on the computer, she informed me that she was unable to extend the rental beyond one more day. And when she tried to extend for one additional day the entire bill increased by over 50%.
She seemed incapable of grasping the billing discrepancy but
made no attempt to call Customer Service Headquarters or to ask for help from an
on-site supervisor who she said was busy with other customers.
So, I called Customer Service while standing there and after getting hung up on by someone initially, eventually spoke to Danilo. He said that because I returned vehicle April 30th instead of April 29th, the extra day had kicked in the monthly rate instead of the weekly rate I’d been quoted.
Frustrated that was getting late and I was getting nowhere
fast, I informed the lady at the counter that I was going to try to drive to
Nashville and return it there before they closed. I asked her what time BNA closed.
She again was unhelpful and was unable or unwilling to tell me and replied that
every location has different hours.
Before heading back to the vehicle to drive to Nashville,
now a 2-hour drive instead of a little over an hour drive, it would have been
for me initially, I tried customer service once again. I spoke to a young lady
whose English-language skills were challenging. However, she did connect me
promptly to a supervisor, David.
Unfortunately, David only made this deteriorating situation
worse. Instead of helping to resolve the problem, David droned on endlessly
without pause how company policy was that rental extensions had to be taken at
the physical location where the vehicle was picked up.
When I was finally able to edge a question in, I asked why both
previous agents had told me otherwise. David deflected and again went on a
long-winded explanation about company policy, without addressing the erroneous
information I’d received or offering a hint of apology.
He also all but accused me of being a liar, saying that he had no record of me extending the vehicle to April 14th. When I gave him the reference number provided, he said he could see in the notes that I’d called in and wanted to extend but saw no evidence of the contract being extended. He kept saying he understood that I thought I had extended but that since Michelle didn’t extend the contract in “the system,” I hadn’t actually extended the agreement. Thus, because I had returned the car a day later, I would be subject to the higher monthly fee. He then added that I was currently in breach of contract because it was past 6 pm on April 30th and would be subject to even more potentially higher penalties and fees.
I asked for David’s employee #, and he gave me #E772PF, but
given how the conversation was going, I have doubts that is his real Employee
#. If that is indeed David’s employee # and if his role is to de-escalate
tension and retain customers, he did the exact opposite. Because of David’s
rude tone and could-care-less, glib response to my inquiries, I then decided
that I’d return the vehicle to Alamo and use any another car rental company my
remaining time in Tennessee and, if I could help it, for any future travel.
When I finally arrived at Nashville Airport about 2 hours later nearing 8 pm (4 hours after I had set out) with a fully gassed up vehicle, the young attendant who received me was without mask and gloveless. He was climbing into the vehicle to check the mileage, etc.
He asked if everything was ok and I told him I was not happy. He then walked me over to the night manager and asked him if he could help me. The mask-less night manager and the other young man were standing right next to each other, about a foot apart. Despite me having a mask and gloves neither appeared to be practicing any social distancing.
When I mentioned there was a pandemic going on, they did
apologize and separated a bit. But when I aired my grievances with the night
manager, he mumbled something about the car was no longer accruing charges and
that he’d take up with management in the morning about my billing and
I rented another vehicle with Budget Rental Car on the spot paying a premium for the last- minute rental. I sprayed and wiped down the new car from Budget as much as possible and drove home with my mask and gloves on, trying not to touch anything other than what was necessary to drive safely. I arrived back home at about 11 pm, roughly 7 hours from when I’d begun an errand that should have taken 2 hours to complete.
Despite the billing hassles, the repeated misinformation, and the glibly rude treatment by David the supervisor and the shrugging treatment by the Nashville night manager, by far, my biggest concern from this experience was Alamo’s attitude towards customers during this pandemic. Instead of making it easy to extend via telephone, I had to interact with up to 6 people in person yesterday, each seemingly taking safety precautions much less seriously than their customers, many of whom were wearing masks.
This morning, May 1st, Anthony, the Nashville Tri-Brand Manager for Alamo, Enterprise and National called to apologize and straighten out the billing. He informed me that as of today, May 1st, 2020, all Alamo employees are required to wear masks when interacting with customers. Anthony was going to send me an email with his contact info and billing summary, but as of the writing of this letter about 4 hours later, I have not yet received it.
I did, however, also receive a call from Mr. Shawn Hurley, VP of the Middle Tennessee area rental car locations, and he assured me that corporately, Alamo and Enterprise Holdings do take customer safety seriously. Shawn expressed his frustration at my treatment and said he would do everything he could to improve his staff’s behavior when it comes to safety. I appreciated Shawn’s call and believe he will try his best to address this issue.
Based on my observations, neither Nashville or Huntsville
Airport Alamo Rental Car employees are taking enough safety precautions to
protect themselves or customers. It’s frustrating to see and hear companies pay
lip-service only to something as crucial as customer safety.
I, like many, am extremely challenged during this time. I’m trying to continue to run my business, while working remotely. I am trying to ensure my employees, vendors, freelancers, and others who depend on this show for their livelihood are taken care of while keeping myself and my loved ones safe. I’ve had many friends and friends and relatives of friends who have had COVID 19 and recovered but it was tough. I’ve had others who have not been so fortunate and have succumbed. I take this dangerous disease and health recommendations seriously and if you want my business, I believe you should as well.
I specifically chose Alamo because I felt the service would
be better than an off-brand, less expensive choice so I could focus on other,
more pressing issues. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred. As a result, I
am behind on my sleep, my work, and my business.
Yet, I consider myself very fortunate compared to so many who have lost so much. I owe it to them to do what I can to communicate the urgency of this matter to others who may not understand or comprehend the potential of this situation. It is absolutely zero fun to watch a pandemic explode all around you, while you wonder if you will be next, or do you already have the virus and not know it or does your neighbor have it or who will die next from the disease or to wonder if you should shelter in place or escape while you can to a safer environment?
I could have easily dropped this matter when the billing discrepancy
was adjusted. However, I feel a bigger responsibility to my friends, family,
viewers and social media followers to be transparent so that they can
potentially avoid any unnecessary safety risks or additional stress during this
stressful time. I regret that I cannot recommend Alamo Rental Car to them.
I hope that by publicizing my experience, this may help in some small way bolster Alamo’s commitments to better customer treatment, more robust customer service training, and most importantly, during this unique time, a much more significant commitment to employee and customer safety and health.
We were all fired up about our trip to Portugal’s Azores Islands to film over the Memorial Weekend Holiday.
Weeks of planning had taken place and the Visit Azores folks had everything set for us and put together an excellent itinerary. This was going to be a great couple of episodes, but first, we had to get there.
Azores Air flies direct to the Azores once per day out of Boston Logan Airport at 9:05PM. Our flight was scheduled weeks in advance and was to leave on Thursday.
I had lunch with our Providence affiliate, WNAC Fox 64 and MyRI 64.2, so I decided to drive up from NYC via a rental car from Avis/Budget which has an office near where I live in Manhattan.
I booked a flight for the film crew on Delta Airlines leaving from JFK in NYC at 3pm and arriving in Boston Logan a little after 4 PM. Our plan was that I would meet them there around 5 PM after my lunch and a couple of afternoon meetings in Boston.
I was worried that the crew would be exhausted waiting around Boston Logan before catching our fight out hours later as we were to begin filming immediately on arrival to the Azores the following day shortly after 6:30 AM, so we’d all be sleep deprived.
Turns out, my worries were misplaced.
I began getting texts from the crew around 2 PM that Delta Airlines was postponing the flight. I began to get worried because I know things can go south quickly when this begins to happen. It was a rainy, dreary day but a little light rain shouldn’t be enough to cancel flights, especially a shuttle flight from NYC to Boston which are pretty much every hour on the hour. I’ve made that same commute many times myself.
After receiving notification that the flight was going to be really late getting into Boston Logan, I decided to pull over at a rest area about 70 miles and 1.5 hours outside of Boston Logan to make some calls.
I alerted our travel hosts at Visit Azores and called Azores Air to see what our options were.
They indicated the crew should be at the gate no later than 8PM. Delta’s new ETA for the crew’s flight into Boston Logan was now 7 PM (or at least as best as my crew could decipher from the reportedly un-helpful gate agent at JFK’s Delta terminal).
At that point, I could have booked the crew on the following evening’s flight on Azores Air out of Boston as the ticket agent told me there were exactly 3 seats available. But those 3 seats would go fast and the Azores ticket office was scheduled to close soon.
I decided against it assuming Delta would make the flight happen. Bad decision.
To complicate matters, after visiting the restroom at the Rest Area, I discovered my rental car had a flat tire and, surprise, surprise…the car did not come with a spare tire.
Roadside Assistance was called but the folks they arranged to tow the car were 1.5-2 hours from being able to assist me, so now I was in danger of missing the flight as well. David, the very nice telephone agent at Roadside Assistance, advised me to abandon the car and get an uber to the airport if I could.
I set about arranging for uber pick up and was in luck as one happened to be in my area. Uber driver Keith swung by to pick me up and we were on our way, albeit in heavy traffic.
Minutes later I get a call from the crew informing me that the JFK flight had just been officially cancelled. Delta gate agents then suddenly became helpful and booked the crew on a flight out of LGA to Boston that would get in around 7:30 PM, it would now be really, really tight but we could still make it. The Domestic Terminal was a 15 minute walk / run from the International Terminal I was told.
I instructed the guys to sit up front as much as possible. They already only had carry on luggage/gear.
But flying out of LGA is especially nightmarish these days, with construction going on. I was afraid the crew’s taxi wouldn’t make it on time with car traffic a mess there.
They actually did, but it didn’t matter because as soon as they arrived the LGA Delta Flight to Boston Logan began getting delayed, and eventually cancelled.
Unfortunately for us, all this happened too late, the 3 seats were no longer available and the ticket office for Azores Airlines was closed.
When I arrived to the airport (1.5 hours and $96 poorer from the Uber ride), I promptly checked in and received a call from my Azores Tourism contact, who, was working into the wee hours of the night there to try to accommodate us and save our trip. I felt so guilty.
She suggest I fly in (it’s not like I could just turn around and go home as I’m now in Boston, live in NYC and had abandoned my transportation due to the flat tire/no spare scanrio) and then we either try to get the crew on the next flight in the following couple of days, or I could scramble and try hire a local crew there. Either way, hopefully, I would still be able to shoot something.
Alas, after the Azores Airlines flight at was on the taxi way at around 9:30 or 10PM, we received word from the Captain that the flight had been cancelled due to a technical problem with the plane.
After waiting what seemed like hours for my checked luggage, I did a quick online search only to realize there were no hotels to be had in Boston as this was Harvard Graduation week. I had not graduated from Harvard, but even dumb little old me could figure out this was not my time to visit the Azores.
I could hang out in the Boston Airport for more than 24 hours and hope to catch the next flight to the Azores or take a train home (I was already exhausted having been awake since 6AM and it was now 12:30 AM the next day).
I ended up sleeping (or trying too among the bright lights and constant airport announcements of “if you see something, say something” and “Lexus the official car company of Boston Logan” or some non-sense announcements) at the Boston Logan Airport before taking the 5:05 AM train to NYC.
The Amtrak train home was by far the most pleasant part of the journey.
A lot of sweat equity and money was wasted on a trip that never materialized thanks to bumbling, fumbling travel corporations that dropped the ball and just plain old lady luck.
I also share the blame because obviously, in retrospect, I should have never relied on airplane travel or even car travel, I should have just trained it. But with Amtrak’s own woes of late, that carries it’s own risk.
Is there a boat service up to Boston that anyone is aware of?
I’ve included some photos and a short video of the entire experience. I hope you can enjoy it because I sure didn’t.
P.S. Be on the look out for this and more misadventures in Season 5 when we premiere “When Travel Goes Wrong” in February 2018 and here’s hoping the Azores trip gets rescheduled. Stay Tuned.
6/10/17 POST SCRIPT:
Today I received this bill from Avis/Budget Rental Car for $182.04 for the Roadside Assistance and Towing.
Remember they didn’t provide a spare tire in my car rental and advised me to call RA and take an Uber to the airport as a result. So let’s see
(1) Original 1 Way Car Rental Cost NYC to Boston = $115
(2) Uber to Boston Airport = $75
(3) Roadside Asst. Cost = $182…
so my $115 Car Rental Tab is now $372.04 for a trip. Ouch. Talk about adding insult to injury.