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Photo by Kozy
Photo by Kozy

Photo by Kozy

“Excuse me, sir, I’m going to put you on hold.”

Calling 800 Numbers Can Cause Health-Related Issues

  I was 24 hours from boarding a flight to South America when I noticed a discrepancy between the name on my passport and the one on my boarding pass. The one on the boarding pass was missing my middle initial.

  Normally, that would not be an issue. But in reading the rules of this particular airline - Good Luck Airways - on its website, it clearly stated that if the name on the boarding pass and passport don’t exactly match you will be denied a seat on the aircraft.

  Well, I thought, how difficult can it be to change one initial?

  I called the airline’s customer service number. I checked my watch. It was 8:15 a.m.

  Three rings and on came a recorded voice that sounded like a robot on downers. The message? ALL TOGETHER NOW:   “Listen care-ful-ly, as our men-u options have re-cen-tly changed.”

  It took four attempts and 30 minutes before I figured out that if I go in this exact order – prompt 3, prompt 4, prompt 2 – and then say “Customer service, pretty please,” I would get a human on the line.

  But when I initially heard a voice, I wasn’t sure. So I asked:   “Hello, are you a recording or a real person?”

  “Hah, you are Mr. George, right? Yes, I am real. My name is May Lin with Good Luck Airways. How can I help you today?”

  I explained my issue.

  “No problem,” said May Lin. “I can help you.”

  In the background I heard, unmistakably, a rooster crowing.

  “May Lin, where are you? I asked.

  “I am in Banu Fuso.”

  “Is that a rooster?”

  “Yes, Mr. George. I work from home and we have a chicken farm. Lots of chickens. My husband is feeding them now. Our rooster is excited.”

  I heard May Lin tapping away on her keyboard, a hopeful sign. Sadly, my good feelings were short-lived.

  “Sorry Mr. George, I’m going to have to put you on hold while I speak with my supervisor?”

  “What if we get disconnected?”

  “No worry. I have your cell number and will call you back.”

  May Lin was gone. She was replaced by an on-hold tune that made me feel as if I was on “Final Jeopardy,” except there was no question and the music would….not….stop.

  I checked my watch. It was 9:02, 47 minutes into the call.

  I put my phone on speaker and started working on my To Do list for my trip. Final load of laundry. Breakfast. Begin packing.

  After returning to my desk, I dozed off.

  “Hello, Mr. George, are you still there?”

  Startled, I stammered: “Huh, ah, yes May Lin. I’m here.”

  I looked at my watch. It was 9:51, a 49-minute hold.

  “So, Mr. George, I am not able to help you, so I’m going to transfer you to my colleague.”

  “Transfer!” I said. “After all that time. What if you lose me and I have to start over?”

  “Don’t you worry, Mr. George. We have your number in our system and will call you back. Thank you for flying Good Luck Airways. Have a nice day. Good-bye.”


  A phone line rang. And rang. And rang. Five minutes passed before there was a click and a voice.

  “Hello. Mr. George?”

  “Yes, that’s me.”

  “My name is Kafir. On behalf of Good Luck Airways, I am happy to help you today. So I understand we’re trying to get your middle initial, J for Juliet, onto your ticket that presently only has your first name – Golf, Echo, Oscar, Romeo, Golf, Echo – and last name – Tango, Alpha, November, Bravo, Echo, Romeo. Is that correct?”

  That was too fast to process: “Sure, if you say so,” I said.

  “OK. Let’s see what we can do. How’s your day going so far?”

  “Well, other than being on the phone with your airline for, let me see, one hour and 56 minutes, just peachy keen.”

  “Sorry about that. We’ll get things sorted out.”

  Suddenly, in the background, there was an enormous kaboom, followed by the rat-tat-tat-tat of an automatic weapon.

  “Ah, Kafir, where are you?” I asked.

  “Sorry for the distraction, Mr. George, I’m in Tazeekia. We are presently involved in a freedom struggle against our oppressive government. Excuse me, I’m a militia commander and one of my comrades has a question for me about a prisoner.”

  Comrade: “Kafir, what should we do with him?”

  Kafir: “Shoot him!”


  “Sorry, Mr. George, I’m back. War is hell. Now, where were we. Oh, yes, you need to have your middle initial, J for Juliet, added to your ticket.”

  As Kafir typed away I tried to process what I had just heard. No one will believe this, I thought.

  “OK, Mr. George, I tried to get J for Juliet on your ticket, but it didn’t work. I’m going to put you on hold so I can speak with my supervisor.”

  “Are you serious, Kafir?”

  “Yes. I’m sorry, Mr. George. I’ll be back soon.”

  I baked some chocolate chip cookies. Completed the New York Times crossword puzzle. Wrote several thank you notes. Finished my taxes. Took another nap.

  Finally, Kafir was back.

  “Mr. George, sorry for the delay.”

  I looked at my watch: 10:32.

  “I hope you have some good news, Kafir,” I said.

  “I wish I did, Mr. George. But for some reason getting the J for Juliet on your ticket has proved to be very difficult. I’m going to transfer you to one of our experts in this area.”

  “Transfer! Again. This can’t be happening.”

  “I’m sorry Mr. George. I’m certain he will help you. Thank you for flying Good Luck Airways. Have a nice day. Good-bye.”


  Kafir was gone. Fortunately, this time my wait was short.

  “Hello. Are you Mr. George?”


  “My name is Jameen with Good Luck Airways. I understand you’ve had a problem getting your correct name on your ticket to match your passport. Is that correct?”

  “Yes. Can you help? I’ve been on the phone for – I’ve lost track. A very long time.”

  “I’m sorry for that, Mr. George. It might be a software problem that’s not allowing us to change the name on the ticket. I’m going to try a few things. Please be patient.”

  Suddenly, there was an awful, guttural noise that sounded like a recording of “Yo Heave Ho” at half speed.

  “What was that, Jameen?”

  “You heard that, Mr. George? That’s poor Deebop, one of my yaks. She needs milking.”

  “Where are you?”

  “I’m in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Kingdom of Hummusstan.”

  “Really? How are you able to work remotely from a place like that?”

  “It’s easy. My office is in my tent, where I am now. At 15,000 feet, I get excellent reception. When I’m not busy with clients, I tend to my yak herd, which is nearby.”

  “That’s impressive,” I said.

  “Give me a minute, Mr. George, and let’s see what I can do. I’m going to try to get an old software to override the new software and then install a G1 megabyte algorithm to see if we can get that J on your ticket.”

  “Whatever. Please don’t put me on hold, Jameen. I couldn’t handle another one.”

  “No worries, Mr. George, this won’t take long.”

  In my head, I started playing my favorite golf course. When I got to the third hole, Jameen was back.

  “Hello, Mr. George. I am so terribly sorry, but my idea did not work. I am going to transfer you back to your first Good Luck Airways agent.”

  There was nothing to say, other than: “OK, Jameen. Thanks for trying. You’d better go milk Deebop. I can still hear her.”

  “Oh, thank you Mr. George. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. Thank you for flying Good Luck Airways. Have a nice day. Good-bye.”

Back to Banu Fuso

  “Hello! Mr. George?”

  “Hello, May Lin. I’m back. How are your chickens doing?’

  “They’re sleeping now. It’s night in Banu Fuso. I’m sorry you spent all this time trying to fix your ticket but I have some good news.”

  “What’s that?” I asked, skeptically.

  “The airline issued a new policy today. As long as first and last name on the ticket match first and last name on the passport, there is no need to have middle initial on ticket. So you good to go.”

  It was 12:42, four hours and 27 minutes after my initial call. I wanted to scream. But I didn’t want to wake the chickens.


Written by: George J. Tanber

Edited by: Michael Gordon

Photo editor: David Kozy

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