A Triple F for AAA

Back in July friends of ours in Missouri invited us to join them at a timeshare in La Paz, Mexico, in January. We were glad to say yes immediately. Who wouldn’t want to spend a week near the tip of the Baja Peninsula in January?

We all purchased tickets in August via AAA’s Web site, seeing that prices were rising and knowing that the closer we got to January, not only would prices be high, but tickets might be hard to get.

Sometime in October the situation changed and we started getting changes in our schedule. That would have been fine, except the changes were at odds with the rest of the schedule. For example, Paulette and I were flying into Guadalajara to catch a plane to La Paz, but the only flight to La Paz would have already left. The four us were also leaving La Paz for Guadalajara on a flight that would make us late for our return flight to Dallas.

At first we dealt with Travelocity and we managed to take care of the Guadalajara conflict by going through Mexico City. No problem. But trying to straighten out the conflict on our return flight soaked up our cell minutes but got us nowhere.

It was then that I turned to AAA. Because I used AAA to book flights in the past, I just happened to have a phone number you won’t find on the AAA Web site. It wasn’t the same person, but the person who answered did direct me to the folks who handled international travel for AAA.

My friend called and his flight was changed so the conflict was removed. The travel agent then called me to confirm that I wanted the change also. I said yes but when I never received confirmation, I checked American Airlines for my itinerary and discovered that the flight had not been changed. I called AAA’s international travel number, explained the situation, listened as the person spoke to someone at the airlines in Spanish, was promised a return call and confirmation that the change would occur.

Never happened.

I talked to my AAA contact, who, while sympathetic, could not help me despite the fact that I’m up to date on my dues. So I called the other number for a third time, explained to yet another agent what happened. It took at least 30 minutes, most of them on hold, before the agent said that the airline had to “protect” me because of the conflict or I could get a full refund. The protection made me stay overnight in Guadalajara (no offer of a hotel) and fly out the next day.

I took the full refund.

Fortunately, I was able to book the trip through another Web site and it’s actually a better route than the original. I think I’ll forget AAA in the future.


Trickle-Down Cuts

Early the other morning, my wife said she had seen breaking news about the CIA giving money to someone in Afghanistan and she was trying to get the story by watching CNN.

I had just freed my local newspaper and The New York Times from their plastic wraps, putting the local newspaper on the kitchen counter to be read with my next cup of coffee and the Times on the coffee table in front of the sofa to be read later in the day during happy hours. I had already skimmed the Times online, but prefer to read hard copy and don’t even give it glance when I unwrap it in the morning.

“The story’s right there,” I said, pointing to the Times. I knew that much from my morning online skim. “It’s probably the lead story,” I said. I walked over to the coffee table, picked it up and handed it to her.

It was the lead the story, complete with a four-column photograph and a two-column headline, indications of the high value Times editors placed on the story: “Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by C.I.A.”

This was not the first time I’ve pointed out to my wife that many of the in-depth stories she hears about on TV appear first in The New York Times. And that’s why cutbacks in the newsroom at the Times—and the most recent announcement that 100 more will occur—is bad news not just for the Times, but for all of journalism.

The story had three bylines on it and a fourth reporter was credited as a contributor at the end. It was a massive reporting effort both in Washington and Afghanistan. How many newspapers or cable news channels are going to put four reporters on an in-depth two-country story?
But how many newspapers and news channels picked up on the Times’ story and used it in some fashion, including as a topic for the talk shows?

And there’s where the loss of 100 positions in the Times’ newsroom really means 100 fewer positions in newsrooms around the country. It means less coverage for everyone.

So while I am sure there are those who are happy to see the Times in reduced circumstances, they too will suffer in the long run. Democracy is fueled by information and a free and open debate. Journalists, through their work, help provide the fuel.