You breathe like that yoga lady on YouTube taught you two days ago – ocean breath – before picking up the phone. You’ve got a house phone, which is strange in this tech-savvy world with apps on cell phones smarter than the stuff they used to send a man to the moon, but you need it because your 50’s brick house devours any signal that might otherwise power your iPhone.

Hello? Yes, it’s me again. I just want to confirm… Yes. I can wait.

You sit on the couch as the KLM hold music plays. It’s actually quite pleasant. You sip cold coffee. At least the baby is still napping.

I’m still here. Uh-huh. No, they booked it for me. Well, she’s not on my orders. They say they can’t add her, you have… Policy? Oh. Yes, I’ll take that number. For them to call? Okay, I’ll check. Thank you. Bye.

You press the red button. You’d rather hang the phone up, hard, but phones these days, even landlines, don’t have anything hanging. You’re not angry. Not really. You’re frustrated.

You dial Germany.

May I speak with a travel representative?

This is the third time you’ve called in two days.

Yes, hello. KLM told me they can’t change my reservation. Can you? They said something about a trade desk. I have the number… Oh. Well, I don’t know. The lady said… No, I understand. Policy. But isn’t there a way I can pay for my daughter’s ticket?

You use ocean breath while the man explains.

No… I just… I don’t know what to do. You’re saying you can’t and they’re saying they can’t and I’m looking at just driving thirteen hours. Yes? Yes. Okay, I’ll try that.

You are no closer to reaching a solution than you were fifteen minutes ago, or forty-eight hours ago. This is how bureaucracy works: if the policy says no, the person holding the clipboard behind the desk says no. There’s no adjusting for each situation, no listening to the customer, no exceptions or workarounds or digging into the rules. Ordinarily, you’re not the sort of person who would doggedly pursue an issue like this for so long. You’d have found a less complicated solution. But this is about the principle. This system was put in place to help you and it’s doing the opposite. When two entities tell you no – in fact, tell you the other one should be helping you – and you’re stuck in the middle, then what? You lose, is what. You either give up on the system or bypass it entirely.

The next day you drive an hour to the closest airport to speak with a KLM representative in person. You’ve got your infant daughter, that smiling baby all this trouble is about, in tow. You find a parking spot, strap her into the buggy, and roll up to the automatic glass doors that part to welcome you to the rest of the world. As you’re not sure how this will go down, or how long it will take, you buy a coffee and a croissant and nurse your daughter in a discreet corner of the airport. The lounge music is a mix between the 007 soundtrack and Lord of the Rings. A hen party passes by, all ten of the women wearing headbands with bright green shamrocks and shirts that have, presumably, a picture of the bride-to-be with the words “Dublin or Bust!” written in gold on the back. You notice a group of university-aged youngsters (when did you get so old?) sitting nearby, waiting for their flight. They are passing the time telling riddles, something you haven’t heard in ages, and you can’t help but eavesdrop.

“A man walks into a bar. He speaks to the bartender who gives him a glass of water and pulls a gun on him. The man says thank you and walks away. What happened?” You think about this riddle while the other students ask questions. You switch your daughter to your other side. She’s nearly milk-drunk. “I know!” A male student with long hair and some sort of cat-galaxy shirt exclaims. “Hiccups! The man had the hiccups!” Ah, yes. Touché, college boy.

You delay for as long as you feel comfortable, then decide it’s time. You walk up to a desk that says “Customer Service” and ask what you can do to buy a ticket for your daughter to sit on your lap on a flight that’s already been booked for you. The two ladies smile and genuinely want to help. Except they’re not KLM reps. They’re just check-in ladies. Apparently, the only true KLM reps are in the Netherlands. So much for your German travel rep’s helpful advice. They sweetly suggest calling KLM again; ask if there’s a way to authorize them to go into the booking, maybe an email from the third-party perhaps? You call. The lady asks for your infant daughter’s information – full name, date of birth – and you can’t help but hope. You wait a long time. Nope. Same spiel. Policy. You go back to the desk.

The two women look as puzzled as you feel and they don’t know what to tell you. You feel stranded, abandoned. You can’t help but think this wouldn’t be a problem if you could simply buy your tickets and put in a travel claim for just your portion for the government to reimburse. That’s how lots of companies do it. This is the twenty-first century; you can call a cab with a click of your phone, you can tap your credit card and pay for your groceries, you can compare prices with one website. But, no. You say you’ll call your travel rep one last time, just for shits and giggles. What’s there to lose?

You dial Germany again. You get the rep who booked your flights. His German-accented English is pretty good. You plead with him, explain you’re standing in the airport you’re booked out of, say you called KLM for the fifth time and they still say no. He hums and haws. He puts you on hold. His music is nowhere near as nice as KLM’s. He says he needs to talk to some other people, maybe his supervisor, and he’ll call you back. Sure thing, you say. I’ll just wait in the airport in case that’s helpful.

You’re being charged airport parking, which isn’t cheap, but you’ve committed to being here for as long as it takes, so you walk your daughter around in her stroller and will her to take a nap. An airport is an exciting place full of new and shiny things, plus people, so she’s far from being drowsy. You return to the car to grab an orange you thoughtfully packed just in case you’d get peckish. You’re peckish. You stroller around the grounds of the short-stay lot, then up the wheelchair-accessible ramp, then through the Arrivals door. It isn’t much different from the Departures door. You browse the sale rack of best-selling books of a grab-and-go store, look at outrageously priced candy bars, then park yourself on the end of a row of chairs near a pay-by-the-minute internet kiosk. A sign helpfully points out the printer is broken.

Your phone makes a strange sound. You realize you turned it off of vibrate, where it lives nearly all the time, so you wouldn’t miss this important call. It’s ringing. Your German friend speaks. I have good news and I have bad news, he tells you. Which do you want first? Let’s get the bad news over with, you say. I wasn’t able to get KLM to add your daughter to your ticket when I called the trade desk, he says. But the good news is that my leisure travel colleagues can handle adding your infant to your ticket.

You’re flabbergasted. This is what you’ve been asking for this whole time. How was this conversation any different than the others?

Oh, great! You manage to sound happy, rather than incredulous. What do I need to do? He tells you. You end the call.

You walk to your car, long-overdue to be home by now, and wonder what transpired offline. It all seemed so simple. Why did it take this much pushing to get, seemingly, the travel rep to do his job? You’re grateful this situation is sorted, but perplexed as to what the system is, exactly.

As you punch your paid ticket to exit, you hope your May flight doesn’t come with this much hassle. You don’t think you’ll make it through all the red tape again.

One thought on “Red Tape

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