Friday, 20 November 2009

The Accidental Relationship

As the eldest of six, siblings have been very significant in my life. The same holds for my wife, who is one of eleven.

As our four have all left home, it is probably a good time to reflect on the sibling relationship and its significance at different life stages. You don’t choose your siblings (hence “accidental relationship”) but they have a major influence.

When I was a child, I fought cat and dog with my brother who was eighteen months younger. My two sisters also copped a fair degree of harassment from their older male siblings, myself included. My wife reports the same from her older brothers.

Whether this was harmful or helpful – I’m not sure. It was probably a bit of both. Our parents were always around to make sure it didn’t get out of hand. My siblings grew to become strong and confident adults, who have lived successful lives. Perhaps this robust give and take helped. Between us we have a school principal, an assistant director-general, two successful wives and mothers who balanced professional careers (music teaching and public service) and child rearing, a company manager and a rural GP whose hobby is emergency medicine.

Our relationships have seemed to grow stronger with the passing of time. We have a joke about our family “Mafia”. Each of us has a different area of expertise (music, finance, education, caring, technology, and medicine), and we never cease to call on each other in times of difficulty when sound common-sense coupled with genuine expertise is needed. We may spend months in which we have no contact, but when something difficult or challenging comes up, there is this immediately available support network that seamlessly kicks in.

The only time I ever felt isolated from it was my two years in the army, especially during my tour of Vietnam. Having said that, instead of the one or two letters that the other diggers received at resups, I would often get a relative avalanche of mail from my bothers and sisters. So even then, the network was there.

Recently, one of my brothers has been going through a very tough time as one of his kids battles with the aftermath of the removal of a cerebral tumour. He’s needed all the support he can get, and it’s pretty much been there.

I hope my kids maintain these mutually supportive relationships as they move through life.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Webjet Wobbles

One of my adult sons had a birthday recently. He’s a full-time student (Flinders in Adelaide), so not over supplied with ready dosh.

He also had a friend getting married in Canberra in November, so a return air fare (Canberra-Adelaide) seemed an appropriate birthday gift.

Usually, I book on-line direct with the airline, but on this occasion, I decided to use Webjet, mainly to identify the cheapest fare. Self-funded retirees also tend to be short of ready dosh.

Bad decision!

Halfway through the process, a dialogue box popped up, which read - “The booking engine has failed”

This was after I had entered the flight details and my name, but before I’d provided my card details. There was no further guidance, so I went back to the beginning of the process, and resumed the booking.

This time it went through smoothly, and in about half an hour I received the confirmation, the booking number, and the itinerary which I forwarded to my son.

Next morning, up popped an email with a second booking (in my name) and a second itinerary. Immediately I sent an email to Webjet headed “Spurious Booking”, asking it to be cancelled and the $361 dollars to be refunded. (A check on-line of my bank statement revealed that I had been billed for both the real booking and the spurious one).

There was no response in the next 24 hours (the original booking was made on 28th September) and my search on the website for a complaints hotline for Webjet was unsuccessful. It seemed that the only way you could make contact was via email.

In the meantime, I phoned Virgin Airlines and my bank. Virgin were at first a bit uncooperative, saying that I would be billed a cancellation fee. This was the response from the person in Manilla I initially spoke with. My bank explained that it was too late to stop the card payment.

I didn’t argue with the Filipina in the call centre. I discovered long ago that call-centre operators offshore have neither the English skills nor the authority to negotiate, and asked to be connected to an operator in Australia.

The answer was interesting. Apparently the calls are distributed randomly to a range of call centres, and only a few are in Australia. I would have to keep calling until I lucked one onshore.

Having neither the time nor the patience to do this, I reverted to older technology and used the phone book to find Virgin’s office admin number in Brisbane. There I spoke to a helpful (female) person, who cancelled the spurious booking without penalty when she heard the full story. She also made the comment that this wasn’t the only complaint about this problem that she’d dealt with that day.

A big tick for Virgin!

Webjet was another matter entirely. I sent three emails in all, patiently explaining the mix-up. These emails included chapter and verse (times, booking numbers, bank debit reference etc.) By this time I’d accumulated what could only be described as a dossier which was beginning to fill a folder on my desk.

Finally (two weeks in), an email arrived from Webjet’s customer centre asking me for a booking number (which I’d already supplied in the first two emails). This was encouraging – at least they were beginning to acknowledge my existence.

My hopes were unfounded. Three weeks later, I had heard nothing more and the money had not been refunded.

I got a bit busy (two western trips intervened), and didn’t sit down to review the situation until last weekend. This was about six weeks after the spurious booking went through.

It was time to stop being polite and reasonable. I sent another email which summarised the situation to date, included copies of all the previous emails, and gave them a deadline of a week to refund the fare or the whole dossier would be sent to my solicitor. I also found a 1300 number for Webjet, which I phoned.

The (male) person answering took my details, and said he would get back to me via email. He sounded tired. I got the distinct impression that he’d fielded a number of similar calls and was fed up to the back teeth.

This morning the refund popped up in my bank statement.

I’m not sure what did the trick – threats of legal action, or my phone call. Either way, it seems far from reasonable that I’ve had $361 missing from my bank account for six weeks because a computer system failed, and it’s taken three emails and a threat of legal action to fix.

So far there’s been no apology from Webjet.

Interestingly enough, they advise that any complaints should be directed to their feedback form. Maybe that’s where I went wrong.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...