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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fix that while you're at it...

The last few days of a two week trip are always the hardest for me... especially if there has been a lot of airline travel involved.

I landed in Delhi this evening (for the second time this trip!) after a long delay on the ground in Goa, and promptly fell asleep in the courtesy limo sent by the hotel to pick me up. 

I never do that.  I am a suspicious person by nature, but I am especially vigilant when I am abroad since there is no way of knowing who has access to my itinerary.  So when I woke with a start as the car pulled to a stop in front of the hotel's stairs, I knew I was both lucky and exhausted.

My company has a special check in on the top floor (on the hotel's 'Corporate Club' floor) but for some reason, even though I explained this to the bellman, he insisted on steering me to the front desk.

When I tried to explain to the woman at the front desk that I preferred to check in upstairs where they knew me, she ignored me and began processing my check in.  Being too tired to argue, I just handed her my passport and credit card.

She asked me if I preferred a smoking or no smoking room and I began getting annoyed.  It was past my bed time and I'd been in transit all day... and the damned hotel had my profile on record.  All she had to do was read the freaking screen.  But I didn't say this... I just gritted my teeth and said. "Non-smoking please".

She handed me the electronic room key card and wished me a mechanical and entirely insincere good evening.

This hotel is one where you need to flash the room key across the elevator panel or it won't take you to your floor.  Naturally she had neglected to program the key so I stood there in the elevator unable to do more than wave impotently at the panel and stab the button with no result.

I stormed back to the front desk, and when she was finished with the person she was checking in, I politely explained that she hadn't programmed the key.  She took my key card, programmed it and returned it without so much as an apology... as if this second act was part of the check-in ritual.

I went back to the elevator... successfully accessed my floor... and finally found myself outside my room. 

The doors in this hotel are such that you have to push a little button above the handle and then wave your card in front of the reader to activate the lock.  However, when I pushed the button (with the card nowhere near the reader) the door swung inward revealing a darkened interior.  It had been open.

I generally pay attention at the de rigueur security briefing I get before each trip abroad, so as the door was swinging inward on the meager force of my button push, our security officer's instructions rang in my ears as if he ware standing behind me:

"Under any circumstances you should open the door all the way before entering the room to makes sure nobody is behind it.  But if you are entering your hotel room and anything feels 'wrong' about it, push the door all the way open to the stops with all your strength and step quickly back out into the hall.  If someone is behind the door or waiting inside, that should throw them off balance long enough for you to get away easily."

I shoved the door as hard as I could and heard a satisfying 'bang' as it hit the stop.  I looked at the darkened doorway for a moment and decided I wanted a new room.  If the door hadn't latched for the last person who had been there (presumably the hotel staff who had cleaned the room), it might not latch properly for me. 

When I went back to the front desk I was beyond annoyed.  I went to the woman who had checked me in and asked her to call the duty manager, and stood studying the crowded lobby until he arrived.

I explained about asking to check in upstairs on the club floor and being ignored.

I explained about being asked about my room preference when I had gone to the trouble to join the hotel chain's member club and had specified all of my preferences in advance (including an additional time when my secretary had made the reservation).

I explained about being given an un-programmed key card and standing like an idiot in the elevator.

I explained about arriving at the room and finding it unlocked/unlatched.

The duty manager apologized and offered me an upgrade to a suite for my trouble. 

Now, I sometimes get upgraded for being a frequent guest or because of the company I work for.  But I really didn't want him to think I was being a petulant @sshole just to get a better room.  I just wanted what I was supposed to get.  No more and no less.

So I turned him down.  I told him I just wanted a room with a door that locked when it closed.

He turned to the woman behind the counter and said something to her in Hindi and she quickly programmed a new key and handed it to him.  He then escorted me to my new room.

When we arrived, he opened the door, taking pains to ensure it was locked properly before activating the electronic key... and waved me inside to inspect the room.

It was the standard room (which is really very plush) but the first thing I noticed was the smell of stale smoke.  I quick look around the room confirmed my suspicions... there were ash trays everywhere.

Now I was beyond any semblance of politeness.  I told him to have my bags taken back outside and to have me checked out.  I told him if the suitcases were not outside by the time I got a taxi, he could send them to the (insert name of another hotel chain).  I was too tired for any more crap.  With that I left him in the room and took the waiting elevator to the lobby.

He must have caught a faster elevator, because by the time mine reached the lobby he was waiting for me, wanting to know what was wrong.  I told him that even though my profile had specified a non-smoking room, I had humored the desk clerk and repeated this request.  Yet she had still put me in a smoking room.

Then a thought occurred to me and I asked him if the first room I had been assigned had been a smoking room too.  When I told him the room number he said yes, it was.

That's all I needed to hear.  I wished him a good night and went out to the front of the hotel to get a taxi.  If I wasn't asleep in the next hour I was seriously going to lose it.

The duty manager chased me outside and literally begged me to come back and let him give me a new room.  I knew I was being unreasonable, but muscle fatigue from the flights, lack of sleep and hunger had ganged up to deprive me of my usual good humor.

After a moment of meditation on just how big a jerk I must have appeared to him, I forced a smile and told him that I would give him one more chance to make things right.

He took me back inside and instead of asking the desk clerk to do it, he want around and began programming things himself.  I interrupted him and reminded him that I did not want an upgrade.  At that point it was more about proving to him that I wasn't fishing for better conditions with my tirade.

He must had been doing just that because I watched as he canceled something and began a new series of typed commands.  Within a minute he had my new card and had taken me up to my room.

The new room was just fine.  Locked door, sweet smelling, no ash trays... everything I needed in a hotel room. 

While he was still in my room, he made a call on his cell phone to arrange to have my bags transferred from the original room (where, by this time they had been delivered) to where I was staying.  I listened to his side of the conversation, not understanding the Hindi, but following the context when he mentioned the old room number and the new one in English.

After a brief pause he turned to me and told me that the bellman had confirmed that the door lock was not functioning properly... and that the door seemed to have been kicked open because the door stop had broken off and the handle had gone through the wall. 

He then dialed the engineering department and began giving instructions to someone in Hindi.

I could have played dumb, but interrupted him and explained that I had probably broken the doorstop when I got spooked by the door being unlatched.  He looked at me for a moment and said, "Oh right... you're Israeli.  I guess I can't blame you for that... especially after 26/11 [what they call the Mumbai terror attack here].

I explained that I would be happy to pay for any damage, but he shook his head and turned his attention back to the phone conversation.  Now he switched to English and instructed the engineer to have the lock replaced... and finished up with, "... and fix the doorstop and wall while you're at it."

He wished me a pleasant evening (and seemed to mean it) and let himself out.

I've just had my cup-o-noodles, a granola bar and two bottles of water... and I aaaaaaaaam outahere!

Posted by David Bogner on January 26, 2010 | Permalink

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Hope you slept well after all this hassle. Somebody didn't want you to have too smooth a time.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jan 26, 2010 9:35:45 PM

whoa. remind me not to make you angry at *my* door ;)

Posted by: LeahGG | Jan 26, 2010 10:50:14 PM

You are so lucky you are in India. I often travel to Italy, and when there are similar issues, they just stare at you and say there is nothing they can do. Just like in Israel :-)

Posted by: Mark | Jan 27, 2010 12:22:28 AM

Dude, you got far better customer service than you would in the Netherlands! I... am... so... feakin'... JEALOUS!

Posted by: At The Back of the Hill | Jan 27, 2010 12:27:18 AM

India is a lovely place, or so I have heard.

Posted by: Jack | Jan 27, 2010 4:40:02 AM

Good thing you weren't packin' at the time,eh?

Posted by: Jacob da Jew | Jan 27, 2010 5:08:59 AM

LeahGG

I must disagree with you, I live in Italy ,but often go away for long weekends, last time in Umbria, and had no trouble whatsoever changing my room when I pointed out that it wasnt the type of room advertised, same in Tuscany.
I also go back to Israel twice a year , last time in Nov and the front desk staff was the most helpful,when i asked for the change of the room.,in Telaviv.

In the otherhand in UK i found "the sorry" nothing can be done attitude.

Posted by: iva | Jan 27, 2010 3:59:55 PM

BTW BD
I admired your upright character , in your place after the elevator accident , i would have had a serious hissy fit , and accepted with no remorse the upgrade wink

Posted by: iva | Jan 27, 2010 4:11:14 PM

You're a good storyteller.

Posted by: Deena | Jan 27, 2010 7:59:29 PM

So, are you sending this post to customer service and management at the hotel? I'm told that restaurants desperately desire honest feedback that reveals flaws they haven't discerned. I always talk to my tenants about their experience, and a critical comment sometimes has real value to me. Perhaps the same is true with hotels. So, as a contribution to better hotel service in general, you might want to let them know about this. On the other hand, if you do so, you might have to avoid the hotel for a while. The employees resent you for bringing the hammer down.

Posted by: Barzilai | Jan 28, 2010 7:15:33 PM

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