Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Shady Business Practices

I have a bug in my bonnet the last couple days and its over shady business practices. I decided I was going to write about my experience with this business as a warning for those who live in the Midwest area. It is a Somali owned travel agency. It is located in downtown Minneapolis around 9th street. My first brush with them was through a cousin of mine. We were catching up about life and I asked him when his wife was coming back to the US. At once he got angry and started about a travel agent he used to get his wife a round trip ticket from US to Kenya and back. On the day of her return flight, she was informed at the airport that there was no booking for her ticket. She had three days to get back before school opens for her children and her vacation time ran out. It was summer and most of the flights were booked solid. My poor cousin was livid to hear that the travel agency had taken payment from him but had not bothered to pay for the return portion of the ticket. Apparently they put a hold on a ticket and print out the itinerary for you. This hold is valid for a couple days I think and you leave thinking that you have everything sorted out. They don't make the payment in time and the ticket gets dropped and they have to scramble to find you another ticket. I sympathized with him because he spent his nights online looking for a return ticket for his wife.

Winter came and I had completely forgotten about my cousin and the travel agency. I got the opportunity to fly to visit my great grandma and grandma. I was so excited. My friend in North Carolina recommended his brother in Rochester. He was doing me a favor and hooking me up with what he thought would be a pleasant experience. I am all for putting money back in our community and making it flourish. I rarely eat at other places other than Arabic/Indian/Somali/Mexican, but I digress. Long story short I got shuffled from Rochester to Al-Amin travel in Minneapolis. I was on my wits end by that time because I had been given an itinerary four diff times. The trip was to be paid for by mom's business. At first they said fine and came by and took a photocopy of the card plus the ID of the business manager. Two days later they call me and say that Northwest don't take third party credit cards for passengers. What? Thats unlikely because I have bought tickets for people before and I never had a problem. So I called Northwest and they confirmed that if they didn't take third party credit cards they would have a hard time with parents shuffling the kids back for Christmas breaks and stuff. I called them back and told them what Northwest said, there was a mumble and then the stubborn somaliness reared its head. Before I lost my temper, I just asked him how much the ticket went up since this whole thing started. From $1600 to $2100. I bit back a curse that was fighting its way up my throat. I told him I would be by to pick up my tickets and would bring cash. Nearly in tears due to frustrations, I called my cousin and while he calmed me down he listened to me. He asked me the agency's name and I told him. I laughed! "Didn't I tell you my experience and here you are doing the same thing." I was confused at first then I remembered his problem last summer. I could have hit my head on the steering wheel. There was nothing to do now, because there ere less weeks left in my vacation and my grand-ma was waiting. I got the cash and went to the agency. Hands akimbo, I asked him to verify every flight of mine right then and there. For the international flight I got paper tickets for departure but not arrival. He explained that on my flight back Kenya Airway will provide the return tickets. I gave him my "I don't take BS and if you screw me over, you wish you had died" look. Leaning over the table and place my fingers on them, I told him I didn't want to have problems on my way back otherwise they will have more than they have bargained for. He got up and went to get me the tickets only to come back to say the printer is broken and can I come back later to pick them up. Do I look like I don't have anything better to do? Can you drop them off at my moms? Sure. I had barely taken two steps outside when my cell rang and my mom was pissed cause I used this travel agency when I could have used hers. I told her I didn't have any control they shuffled me from Rochester to here. She said she ran into the owner and he told her about me and my flight times.

Fast forward now. My brother in law is in the same predicament. I really could care less but its my sister who is suffering. He is supposed to be back from Somalia yesterday but they screwed up his tickets. I called the agency to ask them if there was something they could do. The guy was rude to me purporting that he couldn't divulge any passenger information to me. I wasn't asking for his stupid information. You have him on leash and you seem to be playing games. You are upsetting my sister and in turn in upsets me. If she calls you is there any way you can help her? The same stupid answer. He knew who I was. He knew who I was calling about. Something sparked in my memory. I remembered how my mom found out I was using his travel agency. "You didn't seem to be so concerned about that when you told my mom about my flights last winter.How come the double standard?" He kept silent then told me if I have a problem to call my brother in law. By that time I was seeing red. My sister keeps asking me everyday if there is something I can do. That in it of itself is another drama but all experiences with this agency seem to reinforce the idea that some people are not there to provide a service for their community but rather are there to take advantage of them. I asked around and there are many bad things said about their business practices yet I have never seen a review against them. They have the perfect location to look decent and legit but there is no doubt in my mind that this is a shady operation at best. I am sure if Northwest knew they said that about their business they would have something to say about that. Don't let this happen to you. I have decided when it comes to traveling I am sticking to my online sources.


Aya said...

SD, definitely take your dollars and business elsewhere. Furthermore, encourage your friends and family, and their friends and family to abandon this business. The arrogance and unprofessional behaviour comes from their feeling that Somalis will always come back. I cannot believe how much their incompetence cost you! We're patriotic and that's something some of these businesses exploit.

SleepDepraved said...

I agree Aya. I hope that my post deters others from experiencing the pains I did. I told most of my friends already so pass along the word.

AMTAF! said...

Oh SD,
I am so sorry that you had to do business with such scum. It is so sad to know that they're still around and will probably fool more people before they're apprehended. Such unethical behaviour on their part is unacceptable. Do as Aya says and spread the word far and wide.