It’s a dark, dark day; Marriott let me down.
It’s my go-to brand when I need a room in a location where I don’t know the hotels. You’re not likely to be stunned by some new amenity or service (though the Café in its Courtyard line is the best new restaurant concept I’ve seen in years). But you’re assured Tony Soprano-scale protection from unpleasant surprises, too.
Which makes last night all the more heartbreaking. Because a res agent got caught up in rules and process instead of listening and trying to please the customer, I ended up trying to sleep on a cot in Chicago’s Midway Airport with several hundred strangers arrayed to either side of me.
Because of bad weather, my 7:40 p.m. flight out of Midway was steadily pushed back. Finally, a little before 1 a.m., Southwest cancelled the flight. As about 140 of us stood in line to be rebooked the next day, I called Marriott’s reservation line to see if I could score a room near the airport. My mistake was saying, “I need it for tonight.”
Sure enough, there were plenty of rooms at three Marriott properties near by, the res agent assured me. We completed a booking for a Courtyard. Life was looking good. Then she asked me when I’d arrive. Cue the Monty Python music.
“I’ll be there in about a half-hour,” I told her.
“Huh! That’s definitely an early check in,” she responded.
“No, no, no—it’s for tonight, not tomorrow night.”
“Well, I don’t know where you are, but where I am it’s after 1 a.m., so it has to be for tonight.”
“I actually need it for yesterday, then.”
“It’s Thursday, not Wednesday,” she finally said. “Don’t you want it for tonight?”
“Yes, but ‘tonight’ as in ‘right now,’ not 12 hours from now.”
“Well, you don’t have to wait 12 hours. Check-in’s at 2.”
That give and take continued for about 10 minutes. Finally, I said, “If I go over their right now, would they have a room for me? Because that’s what I need, not a bed in 12 hours.”
“Yes, they would,” she assured me. And they have a courtesy shuttle from the airport!
In her defense: I never stepped into her procedures. I should’ve told her, I’ll be checking out on May 26, not May 27. But it didn’t occur to me.
So off I went to catch the shuttle to the hotel. A half-hour later, the rain pouring down, I charged into the lobby with the hope of getting off my feet and into a clean bed. With free WiFi!
Instead, the woman at the front desk told me I was a day early.
I told her what had happened. She threw up her hands and told me she had no rooms, and neither did any of the other hotels in the area. I’d best head back to the hotel and try to score a cot with the other strand-ees. She’d even call the shuttle right away to take me back.
The good news: The shuttle driver had been left most of a pizza by a customer. Hearing my story, and how I hadn’t eaten and how everything at the airport was closed. he asked me if I’d like some. A free dinner, sort of on Marriott.
By that time, I only had about four hours until my flight out of Midway. By the time I booked a downtown Chicago room, which were plentiful that night, I’d have to turn around and come right back to the airport.
The cot was looking pretty good.
Now I’m in Orlando, waiting for my connecting flight back to New York. The total time for my post-NRA show back home will clock in at roughly 24 hours, with a little airport-corridor camping thrown in.
I’ll definitely go back to a Marriott. The one awful experience is offset by a hundred good ones.
Still, there’s a lesson there. I can’t possibly be the only traveler in Marriott history who discovered he needed a hotel room after 12:01 a.m. on the calendar day I was booking.
Please, someone explain to that agent that she’s in customer service, not rules execution.