Elizabeth Willis Barrett
I accomplished something so great today that I think I ought to receive an award. After around two weeks of searching, pondering, calling, disputing, figuring and befuddling, I purchased two round trip tickets to Beijing, China, on the Internet.
It would have been easier if computer program people didn’t delight in tripping you up on the very last step. I couldn’t figure out how to purchase the ticket that I had finally chosen from a long list of options.
It didn’t help either that I had to keep asking my daughter who lives in China what she thought about the choice of airline, the choice of day, the choice of time and the fairness of the price. When I most needed to talk to her, she was most asleep. Beijing time is 15 hours ahead of ours which I am getting pretty good at computing.
Computing the airline time was much harder. I didn’t know that 12:00 PM means noon. Did you? Why doesn’t it mean midnight? For the correctness of the return trip, I had to calculate backwards from when the plane lands in Phoenix after first landing in San Francisco– which is in a different time zone from us–and then add how many hours the flight from China to San Francisco is to finally figure out if 12:00 PM meant noon or midnight. That makes a difference when you’re asking someone to take you to an airport. My head was spinning. It was too much math for me.
Finally I could choose the best outgoing and incoming flights but, as I said, I couldn’t find the button that would make that happen. After some work, I found the phone number for United Airlines, thinking that a real person could book the flight for me. The answerer informed me that that would add $25 to the price, so instead I let her pass me over to the tech center.
Anyone at a tech center that I have ever called in my hour of desperation hasn’t spoken the same English that I speak and this was no exception. It took several clarification exchanges before I finally understood that in order to “select” a certain flight, I had to hit the “select” button. Oh! I had seen that button but it looked like a style of flight not a button of selection. United, you can do better than that! It makes me really love Southwest Airlines because it is straight forward and understandable and when you call them to help you, they don’t charge another $25. Unfortunately, Southwest doesn’t fly to Beijing.
I think every company who writes computer programs for services used by ordinary people like me should allow some of us to try out their programs while the writers are watching from behind two-way mirrors. I believe that is what they do at Fischer Price Toys. They bring in real children to play with their new products while innovators watch to see where they are lacking. As a “real person” I could show various computer programs where they are lacking in clarity and understanding. If they could get me to understand them, most of the world could understand them.
Anyway, I was giddy after my success. We have been to China before but not with the added joy of spending our time with beloved family members. That is the best way to travel. So China, set out some extra chopsticks ‘cause here we come!