Jerry Seinfeld is not just a gifted comic, but also a wise man. I have often been thrust into one of life's many awkward situations and thought, "this is just like the time on Seinfeld when..."
The episode that stands out most in my mind is the one in which Jerry struggles to understand the reservation booking philosophy of an unprepared rental car agency that doesn’t have a car to give him. As he so often did, you can see him smirking during the episode when he's not supposed to be, probably because he recognizes how true yet completely ridiculous his predicament is. Case in point: on a recent trip home to the great white North (a.k.a. Canada), I decided to book a car from a company that shall remain nameless (I will only say that it is popular among Star Trek fans) because it offered the best rates.
Because of a series of bad experiences (with several companies in several countries), when I go to pick up rental cars, I always go in with very low expectations. Still they never fail to disappoint.
Me: "I have a reservation for a standard car. The name is Rainey.”
Employee who initially seems to indicate my streak of bad rental car luck may soon end: "Yes ma'am. We have a Nissan Sentra on hold for you" (as it should be because if you remember the Seinfeld episode, it is not the taking of the reservation but rather the holding of the reservation that is key).
I think, "Great. This should be quick and easy.”
Wrong. I fill out all of the forms and he says, “Okay. Let's go take a look.” Only, the keys to the Sentra are not in the magical key box. Where oh where have my Sentra keys gone? I roll my eyes without really doing it, knowing my streak will continue. "Oh, I rented that Sentra an hour ago," says another employee, whom I do not know personally but detest based on the nonchalance with which he delivers this devastating news. He clearly does not recognize the meaning of 'holding’ a reservation.
So. My next option? They excitedly tell me they have no more standard cars but they would like to offer me a free upgrade. Sure, why not? Have you ever driven a Hummer? Well now I practically have. I thought I might get a nicer sedan but instead, I get a massive 4-door Jeep Wrangler I have to grunt to get into. Ok, fine. Let's do it. The salesperson says, "Let me go and see if it's clean." The Jeep parked right out in front of the office suddenly disappears. I'm guessing it is not clean! By this time, my poor brother who has been waiting patiently outside comes in to ask what is taking so long. All I have to say is 'Seinfeld' and he understands.
The salesperson comes back after what seemed like 20 minutes (it was probably more like five, I've been known to exaggerate) and says, “Okay, it's ready.” I go back to this area I'm pretty sure was not originally designed for customers to see. There in the darkness is a soaking wet black 4-door Jeep.....with no roof? The guy notices the confused look on my face. "If you want to, you can drive around topless," he says. Although that is legal for women in Toronto, progressive city that it is, I think I'll pass. “Okay,” he says and he, in his dress pants, long sleeved white shirt and tie, goes around to the back and takes out the first of two huge panels. I can tell he is not really sure how to put them on, which does not put me at ease. With a little trial and error and help from me, the jeep soon has a fully enclosed roof. I feel a little better that, should something happen, my nearly-three-year-old darling son won't go flying out of the top of the vehicle.
So long story shortened, I got my vehicle after about 30 minutes and a series of disappointments. I suppose I went in there full well knowing it would not be a quick stop and I would probably end up driving away in either a tin can on wheels or something that wasn't the standard car I'd requested. I can honestly say that after three days of hoisting myself into the front seat and having to fill up the gas-guzzling tank several times (at a rate of about $5.50 a gallon no less!) I will not be buying a 4-door Jeep Wrangler any time in the near future (though I’m sure it is a wonderful vehicle for some, it is not for me).
I remain puzzled about the reservation process of rental car companies, and to echo my sitcom mention that began this rant; it is not so difficult to take a reservation—anyone can do that—it's really the holding that is key!
I reached out to the car rental company involved in my last experience and asked them how their reservation system works and why it often seems they can’t honor reservations. This is the bulk of their brief response.
“We operate solely based on the principles of supply and demand. Occasionally, we experience situations where customers are not able to return vehicles at their scheduled times and this can cause scheduling conflicts.”
Thanks for the explanation.