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Orbitz TLC campaign leads to online booking bloodbath

Reg hack in serious condition as inscrutable itinerary blows up in face

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Product review Who knew that the online booking crew recently threw their throwback jerseys on?

In a bizarre series of events that brought back the flying nightmares of yesteryear, the Register's ICANN Lisbon correspondent found himself living out of an airport hotel in Dakar, Senegal, on a flight path only Google Maps could love.

The quickest route from Lisbon to San Francisco at this point most definitively does not pass through Dakar.

After a last-minute non-refundable booking went through online travel service Orbitz's approval routine, which proved to be the only available booking that returned to SFO in time for my annual UIGEA-approved fantasy baseball draft, your hard-pressed author clicked the "I ACCEPT" button and went about his business. Only later did I check the itinerary and realize that Orbitz's booking software had an unsavory return itinerary of Lisbon-Dakar-New York-and-about-fucking-time-San Francisco.

Uh, you mean Dakar...in Africa?

Here's the final timeline, from start to finish.

Hour 0:

9pm, Portugal time. Check in at Transportes Aereos Portugueses (TAP) counter. Joke with lady at counter about checked luggage making it from Portugal to San Fran via Senegal. Priority means priority to make it or priority to get snagged? Asks why I am routed through Senegal to get to New York, with all the major airports in Europe to go through. Not quite sure, I say.

Hour 1.35:

Hour and a half layover in Dakar scheduled. Should be easily makeable in a backwater airport like Leopold Sedar Senghor Aeroport in Dakar, Senegal. Only 20 minutes behind schedule.

Hour 2.00:

File in to what looks like the approach to the plane, only to find that it funnels us into a motorcoach, which then chugs off across the tarmac toward the plane. Stop in front of the plane - feeling pretty good, until I realize they're not actually opening the glass doors for us.

Pressed to the glass like sardines, and forced to observe the unnerving efforts of the flight crew flailing around desperately trying to get the back door of the plane to close. Guy on tarmac driving ladder truck repeatedly bashes the extended stairway into the stubborn door, finally knocking the jam loose.

Now 45 minutes behind, and cutting it close, but at least we're on the go. Quickly pass out after long week.

Hour 3.25:

Shake myself out of strange dream to the whirring of jet engines and the scrape of tires on tarmac. Check the time on my cell - over 1 hour spent waiting on tarmac. Latent anxiety rises to surface.

Hour 7.50:

Rubber hits road in Dakar. Grab carry-on. Final call for flight to NY over PA. Flash copy of itinerary to airport security. Waves me over to mass of flesh in disembarcation area. Transit line mysteriously closed.

As situational urgency sets in, long lost high school French makes comeback. Find helpful security agent, who takes me to the line for boarding. Am informed that flight is closed. Shamelessly beg to grab checked luggage and go. Luggage nowhere to be found. Adios, flight to NY.

Hour 8.00:

Last piece of luggage rolls off baggage claim. Thar she blows.

Hour 8.50:

Warren of offices in depths of Dakar airport. Argue with local TAP rep for hotel room for night. No dice.

It's not our fault, he says. Why should we pay?

Your flight was two hours late. It's your responsibility.

How were we supposed to know you had a connecting flight to New York? Who ever heard of such a thing?

Point, counterpoint. Too tired to argue any longer.

Hour 9.00:

Now in office of South African Airlines, one of four airlines somehow involved with this trip. Am told there is only one flight daily to NY. Am promised slot on next flight. Come back tomorrow.

Hour 9.25:

Slog upstairs to airport hotel. Besieged by late night scumbags offering assistance. Can't they clear these vermin out of the airport?

Hotel closed until 6am, local time. 45 min to go. Wait it out with beer at 24 hr restaurant across from hotel with other stranded travelers. Part of airport marketing plan? Slip 1 euro piece to meth-addled asshole to be left alone at last.

Tomorrow is the Prophet's birthday, they tell me. It's a national holiday.

Hour 10.00:

Check in to hotel. "Concierge" checks out bald eagle-bedecked passport.

So, you are American. Just one night?

Yes, I'm on my way to New York.

So what are you doing here? he laughs.

I don't know.

Enter room. Disgusting. Undershoots even my already abysmal expectations. Hotel Hellhole is almost a palindrome. Crash out.

Hour 23.50:

Back in SAA offices. No way I will miss this one. Promises me I am connected all the way to SF.

Back to 24 hour restaurant to wait it out. Fading quickly. Just enough afro-francs left for a beer. Last beer and testament.

Hour 26.50:

Down to check in. Absolute chaos. Now traveling on expired ticket, which exasperates my African hosts.

Hoping security's real tight on the Prophet's b-day.

Hour 27.00:

Tight enough- not letting me through due to expired ticket. Manage to flag down SAA manager from night before, who smiles and waves me through.

Hour 27.50:

At counter at last.

This ticket was for last night, the lady says.

Yes, my flight from Portugal arrived two hours late. I had to spend the night.

Well, have you paid the penalties?

Penalties?! They told me last night I didn't have to pay any penalties! That's crazy - I already had to pay for a hotel and this wasn't even my fault.

Who told you you didn't have to pay the penalties? Who?

The manager, last night. He was just here...

A tall man?

Yes, where is he...

Don't actually remember anything about penalties, but am starting to figure out how this game works. Huge and growing crowd behind getting restless.

Well if you don't pay the penalties, then I have to pay the penalties. A manager must approve this.

Continue eyeballing stirring crowd. She folds.

Hour 28.00:

Security keeps squinting at me over lapsed ticket. Retell story.

Hour 29.50:

Out on tarmac at last. One more carry-on inspection. Happy for that.

Only xanax can help me now. Now that's a palindrome.

Hour 43.50:

Arrive at JFK. Attempt to check in.

Sorry, but all the flights to San Francisco are booked.

But they told me in Senegal I was booked all the way through to SFO?

Well, they did something wrong. You can fly standby. It's the start of the holiday week.

You've got to understand, I've been travelling for two days. I'll take anything, whatever you've got. Through Denver, Chicago, anywhere.

I explain the situation about TAP and the itinerary. He's Portuguese and we chat about how much I loved Lisbon.

Well, I'll see what I can do. Tap, tap on the magic keyboard.

Well, we have a flight at 1 through Chicago, but it's out of La Guardia?

I'll take whatever you can guarantee me.

Hour 44.00:

Now on bus from JFK to La Guardia for flight to O'Hare. La Guardia, airport number 4 of 6 on return trip alone.

Hour 47.50:

Guy at JFK at least gave me real travel vouchers. Security no longer giving me the look. Chicago, here I come.

Hour 50.50:

O'Hare at last. Layover in Chicago at this point is nothing. I piss on your layover.

Hour 53.25:

Home stretch - O'Hare to SFO. Forgot how ghetto United is.

Hour 57.00:

Hard to believe I'm back. Thank god I've got Limost picking me up. I need a beer.

Grand total: 57 hours, 6 airports, and 8,362 miles.

Now that's what I call TLC. ®

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