Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I was tired.
After three days in New York, I was lacking some of life's basics.
Light, for example.
Then, late on Friday night, United Airlines emailed me.
The subject line read: Possible Travel Disruptions in San Francisco.
United just wanted me to know in this last minute, casual manner that my flight might be delayed by, wait, how long?
"The city plans on doing extensive work that would require the closure of Runway 10R/28L for up to 30 hours," read the email.
This surely was planned maintenance, so United could have informed me well in advance.
I was booked on an early-morning flight the following day and I really didn't want to spend longer in New York.
So I called United Airlines customer service.
I was hoping for helpful. Instead, I got something that drifted me toward maniacal.
I explained to the customer service gentleman that I'd just received an email telling me my flight might be delayed by 30 hours.
He explained that, yes, indeed, I had until October 5 to rebook my flight.
"But I'm flying first thing tomorrow morning," I replied. "Why did you send me this email only now?"
Then came the moment when I wasn't sure whether I was talking to a human or a BingBotBat from the Planet Plim.
The customer service person/entity declared:
We sent the email when it was time to send the email.
I took a breath. How was I supposed to respond to that? How does United Airlines calculate time? On an abacus?
I didn't have time to react verbally, as the Customer Service agent continued with (presumably) a prepared spiel. He suggested I could, and perhaps even should, rebook my flight.
Which was, as I may have mentioned, the last thing in the world I wanted to do.
I then had an alternative thought, given that we seemed to be in an alternative universe.
I asked him whether his systems showed my flight was on time.
"Yes, I can see that your flight is on time," he said.
"So why are you suggesting that I rebook?" I asked.
He paused, perhaps for thought. I took the opportunity to ask again about the necessity for the email, if my flight was on time.
"Our emails are automated," he said.
I told him that I would risk attempting to get on my on-time flight and thanked him for his service, while furiously rubbing my forehead.
"Oh, just before you go," he said.
Please, no. What now? Would he suddenly suggest that I still not fly and instead stay for three more weeks? Or would he perhaps offer me three air miles for every minute my flight ended up being delayed?
His tone turned to cheerful:
I just wanted to tell you that we partner with Hertz for your rental car and Hotels.com for your accommodation.
For a moment I wondered whether I was imagining things. I quickly realized that this was his script and he was damned if he wasn't going to stick to it.
I think I managed a thank you.
I contacted United to ask about its emails. The airline declined to comment.
Sources suggest, however, that the machines may have made a mistake in sending its email to me so late.
Customer service surely involves listening and quickly understanding the essence of a problem.
You might have hoped that the customer service agent could see that the email hadn't been helpfully timed. Instead, he stuck to a logic pre-ordained by whatever machine governs him.
And just when United is busily trying to improve its customer service image.
Indeed, United CEO Oscar Munoz insisted only recently that the airline's goal is about "easing the experience."
After this phone call, I felt more queasy than easy.
As for my flight, well, it landed on time, thank you.