One of those matters I missed blogging on, because of all thats been going on with me, has been the demise of Thomas Cook, the travel agents, and airline over here in the UK recently. Originally started in 1841, strangely enough by a man called Thomas Cook, it decided it needed to expand its base in 2007, and combined with some of the choices made, and the fact that more people now make their own holiday plans online, rather than using travel agents in town centres, they began to run into trouble, and its all just fallen apart from there. I mean, I cant remember the last time I used a travel agent to book my holiday package, so suspect its the last century, in those good old pre internet days.
Funnily enough, in recent times, I’ve only tended to use 3 airlines for my flights (though last flight was actually with Jet 2, to Portugal) to the US, Delta, American, and Thomas Cook, though I have actually flown with Virgin American, and Alaska, on connecting flights for 2 of the above, but all bookings made through those 3.
Though I would never have called Thomas Cook a luxury airline, the premium economy section was fine, all the same. I couldnt say more, because the staff were clearly not that attentive, as my most ‘ironic’ flying memory is flying that way from New York to Manchester. Firstly, despite having booked a seat (and paid extra to do so), they moved me,with no reason given, from a window seat in one row, to a middle seat in the row in front of where I should have been. As far as I could tell, a couple had wanted seats together, despite not booking them, instead of sitting across the row from each other, and what did other passengers who had booked seats, at a cost, matter?
The thing is (strictly not their action, but?) the guy I was now sat next to, was politely asked to switch off his mobile phone for take off, as he should have done, an action he just ignored, continuing to talk to someone on his phone regardless. In fact, he only stopped when presumably we’d reached a height where he lost his connection! Nothing done by plane staff at all, despite him not even hiding the fact he was still on his phone all that time!
To be fair, I had any number of good, and pleasant flights with them too, but given all the safety talks you get, it did make me wonder just how vital they really were at the time? All the same, I will miss Thomas Cook Airlines, they did tend to be the cheapest way to travel to the US, which when you’re on a budget, was always handy. So who I fly with next time, who knows? But Thomas Cook, no more.
OK, video time. For those of you old enough to remember 10CC, I’d call this line up 2, with half of the original group, plus a few others. I’m sure I must have flown with a few Mandy’s in my time, though thankfully none under the sad circumstances of this song
As I mentioned a couple of months back, I had actually managed to build up the funds to pay for my holiday next May, and at that point, normally I would pay for it, get the whole matter sorted, and in this case, look forward to Seattle. But yes, there was one thought nagging at the back of my head about whether the body was up to a West Coast flight, and stay in a hotel, given the state of my back. In truth, my biggest concern wasnt the length of the flight, though that doesnt fill me with joy, it was the idea that if I stay in a hotel, I will be expected to get out, at least for a while each day, and I had no idea how that was going to work out. In truth, in a sense, I still dont, as of course, I dont go out every day, just 4 days a week, and even then, the 2 days in a row leaves me a bit sore, let alone 7! In truth, I think the public transport is probably a bigger issue than the work, and walking around, though most likely, its a combination of all those things.
But equally, I said that, in January, I’d have to make a decision on the matter, and its now January! In truth, Thomas Cook have sort of twisted my arm by having a sale at present, so it makes sense to get in during that, if I’m going for it. Given that the back doesnt seem to have deteriorated further, I’ve decided to give it a go, and see what happens. Crazy? Yes, maybe, but if I dont try it, I’ll never know. Its not like I dont know I cant do a US flight, I did one with same issue in September! But that was East Coast, not West, a whole lot shorter flight.
Even more so, given that flying out, I will need to travel all the way down to Los Angeles, and then fly back up to Seattle. Thankfully, coming back, its a direct flight. Yes, Thomas Cook only start their new direct flight service that weekend unfortunately, or I could have done it both ways. I would love to have flown out via Las Vegas (gentler route on back, and would allow me to add Nevada to my States visited list, earlier arrival too), but thats £50 extra, and thats an extra too far on my new budget restrictions lol!
One thing I do know, that will be the only trip to the US this year, for sure. Yes, the second trip was always an interesting (but doable) budget challenge when on a 5 day working week, but on 4, impossible. Possibly for the better, less strain on the back, and all that, but sad news, all the same. I’ll do something in September, only over here, and just for a few days instead.
But yes, I’ve decided I will throw my back into the unknown, and hope it doesnt fail me!
The amusing, and some might say, annoying thing about my planned hotel is that as a ‘group member’ I get a discounted rate. Whats annoying about that you’re probably asking? Well, its the fact I can get said discounted rate for a standard room, but not an accessible one! Fine, I probably dont really need it, but extra mobility room, and a suitably designed bathroom might have been handy. But again, $17 per night, for 8 nights, just to get that, I dont think so!
So now, once the money has been transferred, I can get it all booked, and get my wheelchair rides booked! Yes, this time, no qualms about doing that lol, I am officially disabled, though thankfully just mildly!
If anyone knows anyone in the Seattle/Seatac area that I can use as a ‘support’ during my stay, I’d love to know. Positive I wont need it, but just handy to know that if one day I need a little assistance, its only a call away! I know, but no harm in asking?
Right, video time. As so often with me, big clue in the blog title!
One thing I’ve often heard said by disabled people, especially those in wheelchairs, is that a large number of people either tend to look away, or look over them, trying to pretend they’re not really there. In honesty, I’ve got to the point where I nearly always try to acknowledge them, even if only briefly in passing, simply to prove that I do know they’re there, and are happy to be seen with them.
The other group of people that I always try to acknowledge in a friendly way, are Muslim women wearing either the Niqab, or occasionally the Burqa, simply to show that I want to be friendly, and supportive of them, unlike sadly too many people nowadays. One thing I enjoy about Bradford is that nearly everybody I see, if not approving of such wear, at least doesnt react in a bad way. Mind, that might be because I only really see it being worn in the city center, though hopefully not the case.
But until now at least, the one thing I’ve never discovered is what life is like on the other side of the issue. Yes, I’d be fascinated to know what life is like inside of the Niqab, or Burka, and show my support for Muslim women who wear it that way, but I suspect its too complex a religious matter for it to ever happen. But yes, it would be both fascinating, and probably informative to spend a day wearing the Niqab, and seeing how people react to those wearing it. Probably only brave enough to do it somewhere like Bradford, or similar community, if going out, but as a whole, just seeing what life dressed like that would be a fascinating experience, and probably one that if more people tried it, we might have a lot less religious issues in the world too.
Yes, I am saying that if someone offers me the chance to wear Niqab, or Burka, either privately, or outside, then I would love to do it. And if it can be done in a way that brings up positive publicity for Muslim women, then so much the better!
Equally, fortunately, up to now, I’ve never known what its like to spend time in a wheelchair. I must have done as a child, when my knees were wrecked at the age of 9 or 10, but you dont expect me to remember that, do you? But at least on that point, in 5-6 weeks time, I’m going to get to see how people react to me in a wheelchair. Will they look me in the face, and be supportive, or will they try to pretend I’m not really there, hmm?
Yes, I have to be practical about my flights in a few weeks time. Currently I can walk to a pretty reasonable degree, and I can sit down without too many pain issues, though how much of that is currently clouded by painkillers, I have no idea! However, the one thing I cant do at present for more than a few minutes, is stand still. And yes, while the check in queue, and the security check queue will require some standing in line, you usually move along at regular intervals, which may, or may not be sufficient for my back not to lock up completely. However, when it comes to the queue at Boston, to go through Immigration principally, and Customs to a lesser degree, is that you tend to stand in 1 place, in a queue, for far longer than that. Now it is possible that in 5 weeks time, my back may be less of an issue, but until I’m on proper medication, I wouldnt like to bank on that. Even if on proper medication, I dont want to be confident on that, and not sure we will reach that point in 5 weeks, anyway.
So yes, today I’ve bitten the bullet (you have to give a minimum of 2 weeks warning, but being realistic, I’m not going to improve dramatically in 3 weeks), and requested assistance from the airline for my travels through the airports. Yes, I know I need it, but that doesnt stop the guilt factor, when I can walk reasonably well, but thats just my nature, I guess?
But yes, it will be fascinating to see how ‘fit people’ react to this ‘poor old lady’ in a wheelchair, I must say. So yes, if on 9th September, at Manchester Airport (or Boston later that day), you see a middle aged lady in a wheelchair, be nice to her, it might just be me! Yes, same plan booked for JFK flying back on evening of 18th, just saying…I wonder?
Right, video time. No, I have no plans to be wearing this while sat in my wheelchair, though it might be fun if I was! But yes, feel free to look at me, all the same!
Yes, given where I’ve just flown back from, you might have worked out what the song is tonight, for the last ‘double’ blog for a while. You might not guess who’s singing it, unless you look though. Thats right, not Albert Hammond!
Yesterday morning, I had a text (well actually they sent me 2, for some reason?) they moved my shuttle time forward by 15 minutes, because we folk who share shuttles tend to have to fit in with others in the area, to save them cost, which is fair enough. Anyway, irony, just as I’m about to shut down the laptop, pack it away, and get ready to go, the phone rang. Yes, you guessed it, the shuttle driver, saying it was actually back to the original time. Yes, stop laughing, there was a good reason, incident on the freeway, or so he told me.
Anyway, at the newly agreed time of 12.30, I’m stood outside, when the shuttle pulls up. That was when the fun started. He’d managed to get hold of me, and warn me, but had no joy with the other 2 he was meant to be picking up, phones not connecting or something, probably given the wrong number? Anyway, as we were heading off in the right direction, his phone rang. Yes, one of them was contacting him, to see where he was. Thing is, we went to the address he’d been given for her, not there. So now, he rang back, and she gave him a totally different address, thankfully not too far away. Even then, she couldnt tell him where she was, as she didnt know the name of the road she was on! We found her, eventually, so one to go…? No joy, no one at the address he had, so off we headed to the airport.
As we were getting close to the airport, his phone rang. Seemingly the woman we’d never found had rung them to find out where he was. Anyway, he got ‘ticked off’ for not telling them, but for whatever reason, he didnt seem to care too much, part of the job I guess? Finally, as he was dropping us off at the airport, he checked for his next job. Now whether this was just the luck of the draw, or someone at head office was feeling vindictive, but apparently it was 66 miles away from the Airport!
I booked in, and was directed to an escalator to get to the security gates. Fine, except when I get there, I get told no, and get directed to the other end of the building! After that, everything went fine, until this morning.
One of the beauties of premium economy flight, is that your case gets a priority tag, so should be one of the first on the baggage carousel at Manchester. Well…It doesnt appear, and when the dreaded sign, delivery completed, comes up, off I head to the rep’s desk, along with a few others, in similar position. However, just when I fear I’m not getting my case today, lo and behold, she finds a few cases that somehow missed the carousel, and were sat out the back. Yes, my case was one of them!
After that, and with the assistance of a lovely lady, with a mobile phone, I firstly warned the taxi driver about the delay, and then sorted out where to meet him. From there, journey home was straightforward, thank goodness.
Oh, one last thing. For September, I had noted that Expedia had a nice price for a Virgin Premium Economy flight into Boston, and back out of JFK was being offered a couple of weeks back. Of course, by the time I’ve got things sorted, back in the country, price has shot up £200! Thankfully, much to my surprise, and delight, Thomas Cook Airlines wasnt as basic as I expected, albeit I was in Premium Economy, but anyway…
To cut a long story short, they have flights to fit, and its about £150 cheaper than the economy Virgin price is now! I know, I’m hoping the leg room in economy is reasonable, but I’ll take my chance, especially as it will be a much shorter flight. In truth, the outbound flight is a better time too, but yes, only some of their flights have premium seats, and this wont be one of them! Ah well… It never rains, but it pours.
Which leads me to the video. Found this Barry Manilow version of said song, and actually, I think I prefer it!
…Its the way that you do it! Yes, tell me about it.
In truth, when it comes to receiving customer service, I’m probably more forgiving than most, because its an area I’ve worked in for much of my life. However, there are times, and people who even drive me to frustration, and yes, I met one on Friday.
The rule I’ve always applied personally, is, if in doubt, ask someone, and make sure you’re doing the right thing. It has led to moments when I’ve been 99.9% certain that I’m right, but still feel its better just to make sure, especially on critical matters. Anyway, on Friday…
Normally, when I have anything to do with foreign currency prepaid credit cards, I head to Thomas Cook, as I did on Friday. Their card does all I need, and the staff in Huddersfield know exactly what they’re doing, and you get smooth, professional service. To cut a long story short, I was over in Bradford on Friday, so I thought I’d get it done over there. Not a wise move!
I guess I should have taken the hint when the woman behind the counter was fighting a losing battle to put a currency order into the system, and asked me to wait while she sorted it out. As I now know, like a fool, I did! I should have walked out the door, there and then, but fine, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I rather gathered she’d never had to issue, and activate a prepaid card before. So after a few minutes of trying to convince the system let her do it, she gave up, and asked for help. The snag was, the woman who she called for help had never done one either. So, instead of the 5 minutes I have spent in the past doing this, in Huddersfield, we were now up to 15 minutes, and no closer to getting it issued than when I had walked in!
Eventually they said they’d won the battle, and quoted me a dollar figure for the amount I was handing over. I misheard, or I would have said something because the figure they put through was ridiculously low. Yes, instead of giving me the sell rate, of around $1.20, they gave me the buy back rate about $1.11! But I only realized this after they’d handed me everything, including the receipt. After all that time (about 25 minutes), I wasnt inclined to start again, for about the sake of $4.50, as I was only putting a small amount on the card to get it active.
So, got it home, registered the card online. Yes, its showing up, but no, its not showing any balance! My suspicion, they havent confirmed something, or they’ve confused the system with the exchange rate they’ve used, or something? So now, on Tuesday, I’m going to have to go into Thomas Cook, in Huddersfield, on my day off, and get the whole matter sorted out. All because 2 people, who admitted they didnt know what they were doing, couldnt ask someone who did, or ask me to go to another branch where they would!
Yes, I’m glad thats not my regular branch! I’ll stick with Huddersfield in future!
The video, as so often, a clue in the blog title. An, err, interesting live vocals performance by a group of people who I suspect were more used to lip syncing!