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[conventions|travel] The high cost of cancellation

As I mentioned yesterday, I am having issues with United Airlines. This first cropped up a while back, as discussed here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

This all goes back to my troubles trying to get to this year’s World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. (I have discussed some of this previously here on the blog.) Last summer, I tried to book plane tickets for me and Lisa Costello to fly there. The $700 per person UK arrival fees for a free mileage award ticket were impossible for us to meet. At the time, I checked out simply paying for a fare, and even the cheapest was far higher, because those $700 fees were embedded in any trans-Atlantic airfare to London.

Unnamed Benefactors stepped forward and offered to fund our airfare if we would pay our own on-the-ground expenses. I very gratefully said yes, and proceeded to arrange a low-cost European vacation for myself by couch surfing in London and Paris, spending money only on the Eurostar train to get between the cities. Except for the convention hotel itself, my only expenses otherwise were going to be food and incidentals, as my Unnamed Benefactors provided tickets for the two of us on United Airlines. Lisa was planning to fly out the day before the convention and join me.

Three days before my scheduled departure, Lisa’s father suffered a massive stroke. Other relatives stepped forward to respond with immediate help, but Lisa needed to fly to Maryland at the end of that week to help with the necessary but difficult lifestyle transitions now underway.

That meant (and still means) that Lisa was now juggling my life-ending terminal illness and the life-changing illness of one of her parents. I could not leave her alone with this. So with great reluctance, we cancelled our trip to Europe. We also severely truncated a post-trip engagement with my agent, and cancelled the visit of another friend who was due after Orycon, both of these to great regret.

The financial aspects of this situation have turned into a severe mess.

In order to cover the expenses incurred by my Unnamed Benefactors, I also sought a compassionate medical emergency refund from @UnitedAirlines, which states on their Web site that they provide such consideration. Unfortunately, since our tickets were purchased as nonrefundable airfares, United Airlines also does not offer any refund. Their response to me did not even acknowledge the nature of my request, simply stating that my tickets were nonrefundable, but that I did retain an airfare credit. Which isn’t even my money, as the Unnamed Benefactors paid for it. And it’s not like I’m going back to Europe anytime in the rest of my drastically foreshortened life.

At the same time, my Unnamed Benefactors wrote me asking me to pay them £1,295.90 (approx. USD 2,073), as we would not be attending WFC.

This absolutely floored me. If I had $2,073 to spend on airfare, I would have bought the damned tickets myself in the first place. What I thought had been an act of kindness and charity towards me turned into me being expected to pay $2,000 for the privilege of not attending WFC so I could help Lisa care for her stricken father.

The books do in fact balance somewhat. Were I to directly pay back my Unnamed Benefactors, I would get to keep the airfare credit, less change fees and penalties. But I don’t have $2,000 sitting in a travel budget to give them. If I did, I would have bought my own tickets in the first place. If United were going to refund the tickets, the whole business would just be a wash.

But after multiple rounds of discussion, United has flatly refused to refund the airfare. Apparently a sudden life-threatening illness on the part of my partner’s father does not constitute a medical emergency in their eyes. Which makes me wonder what the hell does? I’m pretty damned irritated about this, most especially about the amount of time I have already spent focusing on this issue. My life is running out of time — between the shocking and insensitive demand from my Unnamed Benefactors and United Airlines’ refusal to honor their own compassionate exemption policy, I have been expending significant amounts of that finite time and energy on things I should never have had to deal with.

All to no avail thus far.

I’m honestly not sure what to do here. Had I known the original offer of tickets to WFC required a complete payback in the event of cancellation, I almost certainly would not have accepted it. My own health is too precarious, quite frankly, which is why all plane tickets I buy and pay for these days are purchased with trip insurance. While I have enough money sitting in my bank account to pay back my Unnamed Benefactors, that’s not what it is for. And I cannot spend a United Airlines airfare credit to pay my bills or help Lisa help her parents. The budget isn’t there, especially to pay for a trip I am not even able to take.

I’m feeling very pushed around right now, and looking at a lot of expense well beyond anything planned or budgeted at a time when our expenses have skyrocketed due to both my own illness the problems in Lisa’s family. I’m also much more wary of accepting offers of assistance in the future, as I never foresaw hidden strings like this and do not know how to foresee them going forward.

There’s a strong temptation to tell my Unnamed Benefactors to take a hike, but that’s hardly ethical as I’m apparently inheriting the airfare credit regardless, given the intransigence of United Airlines. I’m tempted to hold a small fundraiser to pay this off, but that also hardly seems fair to people who might want to support me. If United Airlines honored their own compassionate refund policy, the problem would essentially not exist, but that road has now been closed.

This situation frustrates me immensely. At this extremely difficult time in my life, I am left with yet another large, unbudgeted expense for which I have nothing to show but trouble and a waste of my precious, waning days.

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[conventions] Orycon, day two

Had quite a nice day here at Orycon yesterday. Good breakfast with my dear friend [info]bravado111. Did a panel on political systems in SF (and fantasy) which was ably moderated by Brenda Cooper. Enjoyed a lovely lunch with con com chair Lea Rush and Jacob E—. Spent my afternoon visiting in the lobby bar and crashing out in my room, with an eventual touch of the party circuit. About the speed I move at these days, so it all worked out well. Saw lots of old friends and new, and got some nice one-on-one time with a few folks.

Today, the Lakeside movie is showing, then I have a panel on reprints. Lisa Costello is coming to fetch me about 2:30 so we can load out, then we’re off to the Powell’s Authorfest at the Cedar Hills store.

See some, all or none of you around the joint today.

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[conventions] Orycon, day one

My Orycon day one was rather abbreviated by medical and legal/disability activities, and compounded by the trailing edge of jet lag due to our Wednesday return from Maryland. I did manage to greet a few folks, and attend my panel on living with late stage cancer. (Which was ironic, given the fairly horrid day I’d had.) I then went out to dinner with my agent and her associate, a sumptuous repast at a place called Little Bird Bistro.

See some, all or none of you around the joint today and tomorrow.

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[conventions] My Orycon programming schedule

My Orycon programming schedule, for them what wants it.

Friday, November 8

5:00pm – Panel: Living With Late Stage Cancer

Saturday, November 9

11:00am – Panel: Political Systems in SF

Sunday, November 10

10:00am – A showing of the film: Lakeside
12:00pm – Panel: Reprints

I will be arriving at the convention in the mid- to late afternoon, due to medical and legal appointments today. I’m booked for dinner tonight, but will otherwise be around tomorrow and Sunday to the degree my physical energy and GI issues permit. Sunday afternoon, I’ll be joining many other writers at the Powell’s Authorfest over at the Cedar Hills store.

See some, all or none of you there.

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[travel|conventions] We are going to WFC in Brighton

As previously discussed, thanks to the extreme generosity and support of Unnamed Benefactors, Lisa Costello and I will be at World Fantasy Convention in Brighton at the end of this month.

I’ll actually be flying over on October 23rd, arriving on the 24th and going straight to Paris to visit friends until the 26th, then back to London staying with friends until 30th. Lisa arrives on 31st, and we’re down to Brighton, flying home on the 4th.

Due to my ill health and mobility impairments, and the resultant travel fatigue, my schedule will be quite light. However, there will probably be some kind of public event or appearance in Paris, which I will announce. I may also have a bit of social availability in London, so if you’re hoping to see me, let me know. And of course we’ll both be in Brighton and generally available to the extent my health allows.

See some, all or none of you there.

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[conventions|travel] So, probably WFC in the UK after all

I am humbled. An Unnamed Benefactor has discreetly stepped forward to solve the airfare problem in getting me and Lisa Costello to the United Kingdom for World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. We are currently working through logistics, but at this point it looks like Lisa and I will be there.

More to come when I am certain.

And my thanks to everyone who offered suggestions, sympathy or help. Especially to the Unnamed Benefactor.

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[travel|conventions] Not coming to WFC

A while back, I checked my frequent flyer mileage balance with American Airlines, and discovered I had enough miles to take me and Lisa Costello to the UK for this year’s World Fantasy Convention. I held off making plans until the recent scan, because of the distinct possibility of being back in treatment sufficiently heavy to keep me from traveling. Things went well on the scan side, however, so yesterday I went to book.

$700 per person in fees to secure the free mileage ticket.

I’ve never, ever encountered this before with award tickets. It’s a London thing, I guess. I’ve booked international award travel to China and Australia in the past, and never paid more than about $50 in fees.

So I checked the American Airlines website for regular fares. Turns out that $700 per person fee is embedded in the ticket price as well. Likewise United Airlines. British Airways. Icelandic Airways. The cheapest fares I could find were about $1,200 per person, inclusive of that $700 airport fee.

At that point, I gave up. My income’s been limited for a while due to Short Term Disability, and will be zero during October as I transition from Short Term to Long Term Disability. $1,400 for free tickets just ain’t in the cards.

But I don’t get it? What’s the logic from the UK end? That high a passenger fee makes tickets fantastically more expensive than they already are. The UK just lost a week’s worth of my tourist dollars by making it too expensive for me to fly in there.

(And yes, I have looked at alternatives like flying to Continental Europe and coming back on a regional flight or a train. That takes up too much time, as Lisa’s available vacation time doesn’t allow us to burn the extra days, and also takes up way too much of my energy given my fatigue levels and mobility impairments. I cannot afford to be that clever.)

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[conventions|travel] Home from Worldcon

Lisa Costello and I are home from Worldcon as of late yesterday evening. ([info]the_child and her mother arrive late this coming evening.) Our flights back had some mild logistical hassles, but both legs also included some epic skywatching which more than made up for that. The San Antonio to Dallas flight went through cloud canyons glowing with later afternoon light which were some of the prettiest I have ever seen. We flew between towering anvil clouds, saw thunderheads marching to the horizon, and looked down on the ephemeral kingdoms of the rain. I even spotted a rainbow among the clouds.

I attempted to take photos from the airplane window, but as usual, those things don’t work out very well.

IMG_1820

IMG_1825

Near the end of the Dallas to Portland flight, somewhere over eastern Oregon, we watched a distant thunderstorm in the darkness. The starry night glowed above the lightning like God’s spilled jewelbox, and a few orange-tinged towns slept down below, as the cloud banks glowed and flashed and contested among themselves.

The convention was a lot of fun, even within my current mobility and fatigue limitations. I’ve posted about that some, but here’s a few more things, including a wonderful post-Hugo photo of me, Mur Lafferty and [info]the_child by James J. Seals.

Jay Lake, Mur Lafferty and Bronwyn Lake at the Hugos
Photo © 2013 James J. Seals, all rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

Also, in no particular order of chronology or significance:

  • I did a television interview, though I have no idea when or if it will be broadcast
  • Being thoroughly charmed by Cady Coleman, astronaut, scientist and musician
  • It was great good fun bringing my daughter on stage, and watching her navigate the weekend in general as a young woman of character
  • I am still emotional about the impromptu tribute to me led by Paul Cornell from the stage
  • All my wonderful friends and colleagues, some of whom I saw for moments, and some of whom I spent serious quality time with
  • Some damned fine food and some damned mediocre food
  • The exhibits covering the Campbell Award and my cancer
  • My biggest autographing line ever
  • Being nominated for a Hugo, with that means from readers, friends and fans; and having the privilege of watching Brandon Sanderson take my category

There’s more, lots more, but I’m still a bit muddle headed from the trip. If I saw you there, I’m glad. If I missed you there, I’m sorry. Thank you everyone.


Cloud photos © 2013, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Creative Commons License

This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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[conventions] Hugos

So yesterday was the Hugos. Not to bury the lede, Brandon Sanderson took my category. No Hugo for me. That leaves me 0-4 on awards this year. It was wonderful all the same.

The old saw about it being an honor to be nominated is very true. I was in excellent company. And some real cool things happened. [info]the_child and I were thrilled to give the Campbell tiara to the talented Mur Lafferty. Mur accepted the tiara with grace and wore it with style. Toastmaster Paul Cornell organized an impromptu on-stage tribute to me that made me cry. Odd and funny things happened all day. (For example, misplacing the tiara prior to the ceremony…)

It was a great day and a great weekend for all sorts of reasons. Lisa Costello and I are off for home in a few hours.

I love you all. Thank you.

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[conventions] Still at Lonestarcon 3

Lisa Costello and I are still at Worldcon. [info]the_child and her mother arrived last night. Also, I saw my aunt and uncle and cousin Niki Lake yesterday for my cousin’s birthday. And been having fun hanging out with friends, especially Lezli Robyn. Yesterday she’d lost her voice, so I did her reading for her at her book launch.

Today, panels on the Lakeside movie and cancer, then Hugo rehearsals, then Hugo madness. Tomorrow afternoon we go home.

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