Charlie Funk
Charlie Funk
When I was a kid, if it was Sunday and I had a pulse, I was going to Sunday school and church that morning. And the Baptist Training Union and another worship service on Sunday night. And again on Wednesday night if the mood struck my mom. The practice was common to the point that there was a song written about it that achieved a degree of fame (notoriety?), at least in the South.

Most of my friends were in the same boat. Oh, we learned about right and wrong, modesty and humility, care for one another and gained a sense of an entity who provided comfort and protection from adversity and sorrow. Thinking ill of others, getting angry at one another, physically harming one another and cursing were definite no-nos.

On the upside though, it was a good place to meet girls. Moreover, if you went to school with them, as well, that was even better. It got me out of a jam with my girlfriend's mom one time, too, when she would not let me take her daughter to a movie but would let me take her to church.

Imagine my frustration when I later discovered that the three-services-a-week schedule stemmed from earlier days, when agrarian time demands prevented farmers from attending at certain times and not from some need to demonstrate to others that one was sufficiently devout.

To a greater or lesser degree, it is likely that many (or most) reading this similarly grew up with a sense of ethics, right and wrong and knew to treat others the way we wanted to be treated ourselves. Maybe that did not include spending hours of our early lives in compulsory surroundings, but we grew up with "religion" nonetheless.

In addition, almost certainly we have all had events in our lives that came close to causing us to lose that religion.

For some, it was that prospect who called for assistance with planning a vacation. After spending hours at times researching options only to have the parameters change repeatedly and leading to searches for totally different destinations, you finally found the best choice. Only then did the prospect call back and tell you they found the same $8,000 package online for $100 less, and they went ahead and booked it "since they were already on the site and didn't want to risk losing the 'deal.'"

For others, it was the client who became verbally abusive because you would not help facilitate their plan to sneak a third person into a double-occupancy, all-inclusive resort vacation accommodation. Never mind that it was, first, dishonest, and they were asking you to compromise your integrity; and second, a guaranteed certainty they were going to be caught. Of course, even though you had advised them not to even think about such a stupid stunt, they did it anyway and were indeed caught. Now it's somehow your fault that they were either ejected, forced to make the interloper sleep on the beach or worse and they want you to compensate them.

My all-time favorite type is the client who sends repeated emails, texts or even calls from another country to complain bitterly that it has rained the whole time they were there or it's been too hot or too cold to do anything and blames you personally for not telling them six months ago that this was going to happen. I have to confess, I told a client once who held me responsible for her unhappy experience that she could rest assured that if I were capable of forecasting the weather six months in advance I would not be hustling vacations for a living.

In addition, it is not always clients who find ways to tip over that religion bucket. If you have been in this business even five years, I know you have had the dreaded call. Something is amiss at the resort or on the ship. The air conditioning does not work, the food is bad or there is some other issue that the property can't or won't address. And no contact at the supplier will give you the time of day or even acknowledge the need to address the concern. I think the issue is one of feeling helpless.

Right now, I am about to lose my religion over airline ticket sales and accommodations. It matters not if our agency, a supplier or another third party made the reservation; our agency is the touch point for airline reservations that we have touched.

Issues revolving around airline schedule changes and seat selections right now are surely going to tear away what little religion is left.

We have an agent with clients taking a river cruise from Prague, Czech Republic, to Budapest and a pre-and-post package booked through an airline vacation supplier. I have lost track of the number of schedule changes. The responsible agent has worked every one and not disturbed or concerned the client, until the most recent one.

After spending nearly 12 hours working with the supplier, the agent finally found a schedule that would work. The only difference was that the return flight left Budapest at 6:25 a.m. rather than 9:30 a.m. Relieved that a viable schedule was at last at hand, our agent sent the revised schedule to the couples involved.

I received a call the next morning from one of the clients (who it turns out is also a member of the same church I attend; see how all this ties together?) informing me that the three couples were not happy with the schedule and wanted to come in collectively to talk about the problem. The problem was exacerbated, it seems, by one of the others "going online and finding a schedule that left later and got in at the same time," and they wanted that schedule.

Fortunately, I was aware of all the possible itineraries and knew the one found online had a one-hour connect time in Paris. I explained that we did this for a living and that I would not agree to such a change.

I advised them that we would change to the schedule found online but would require that they sign a waiver that exempted our agency from any consequences arising from doing so. After explaining that it might mean spending at least a day and perhaps more in Paris waiting for seats to become available, it turned out the schedule we had was OK after all.

All of this made me recall a poem about a railroad engineer:

It's not my place to run the train,
the whistle I can't blow.
It's not my place to say how far
the train's allowed to go.
It's not my place to shoot off steam
nor even clang the bell.
But let the damn thing jump the track
and see who catches hell.

It's like this: We don't have to be like the engineer. Just as a physician or an attorney sometimes has to give a client unhappy news and cannot -- must not -- deviate because the client is unhappy with the truth, we must be professionals and likewise have to share and stick with the truth. To do otherwise betrays the trust placed in us by our clients and relegates us to the role of travel agent wannabes and credit card processors.

On a happy note, this column is set to run July 20. A couple of weeks ago, the sun in my day, the moon in my night and the stars in my sky celebrated 36 years of marriage with me. Everyone celebrates our anniversary -- at least we think that's why everyone shoots off all those fireworks. An enduring memory of our wedding reception came when Sherrie's dad sidled up to me conspiratorially, put his arm around my shoulder and intoned, "Son, there's just something wrong about getting married on Independence Day." I still miss him every day.

And if you really want to see how all this ties together, send an email to [email protected] and put "Tie it up for me" in the subject line.
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