Monday, June 27, 2005

tavel tips

I once asked a LAME in Cairns if the tropical climate caused any peculiar aircraft maintenance problems.

He thought for a moment and said, "Yes, cockroaches, because they thrive in all the hidden recesses despite blazing heat on the ground and chilly temperatures in flight, and can really make a mess."

Then he told me a story about a businessman who woke up some years ago on an international flight only to find a giant cockroach crawling down his cheek. He was so revolted by this that he filled in a complaint form about the incident and sent it off.

Some weeks later a letter from the airline's Public Relations Manager landed on his desk. It was an outstanding example of the practitioner's art and convincingly explained the airline's strict precautions against such pests before admitting that, in very rare circumstances, bugs did get on board their airliners, but when they did so, it was always somebody else's fault; the unhygienic dumps they had to land at, or when they had to rely on contractors for servicing, or when carried aboard in passenger's hand luggage.

Then to show how repentant the airline was, the PR manager invited the business man to present his letter at check-in when next he flew, when he would be automatically upgraded to first class.

After carefully filing the letter, the business man crumpled up the envelope and pitched it into the waste paper basket. As it landed he noticed something inside it. So he retrieved the envelope and withdrew one of the ubiquitous Post-it notes used nowadays to write messages in every office around the globe and apparently enclosed in error by the PR Manager's secretary.

It was his instruction to her to, "Just send this jerk the standard cockroach letter."

[Playboy, 1955]

A wealthy gentleman was badly bitten by bugs while riding on a certain railway line. Arriving at his destination, he wrote the company an indignant letter and received a prompt reply. It was, said the letter, the first complaint the company had ever had of this nature. Inquiry had failed to reveal any explanation for this unprecedented occurrence. Nevertheless, a number of new precautions were being taken to make absolutely certain such an unfortunate incident never happened again. The letter was signed by a high official of the railway.

The gentleman was well satisfied with this reply and was returning it to the envelope when a slip of paper fell out onto the floor. The hastily scribbled note on it read: "Send this guy the bug letter."

Both the method of transport (airplane, train) and the type of pest encountered (bedbug, flea, cockroach) vary from telling to telling.
Some versions situate the bedbugging in a snooty big-city hotel.
Origins: The

bedbug letter has been part of contemporary lore since the early 1940s. Its age notwithstanding, it continues to update itself, with overnight travel by Pullman car replaced by long distance journeys by airplane, and paperclipped instructions upgraded to Post-It notes.

Did a real event spark off this legend? Possibly. Brunvand reports on a 1992 letter from the corresponding secretary of the George Mortimer Pullman Encomium Society in which it was claimed the bed bugging took place on 4 March 1889 to a Mr. Phineas P. Jenkins, a salesman of pig-iron products. After spending a night in the company of far too many bedbugs (which in my book would number "one"), Jenkins penned a note of complaint to George M. Pullman, President of the Pullman Palace Car Company. In return, Jenkins received a wonderfully detailed and heartfelt apology from Pullman. Its effect was undermined, however, by the enclosure of his original letter, across which Pullman had handwritten "Sarah -- Send this S! O! B! the 'bedbug letter.'"

An interesting incident was recorded as a news story in November 2000, and there's little reason to doubt it. Ian Payne wrote the BBC to request a season of Jean Simmons films and the autograph of Lorraine Heggessey. He received back a short letter saying it could not consider a Simmons season at this time. Attached to it was a Post-It note reading: "Nutter, polite fob off -- no autograph."

The BBC has since gone on record as saying, "We have apologised unreservedly to Mr. Payne. We have tried to find out who wrote the post it note and we have compared the handwriting from the officers and we cannot find anybody’s handwriting who matches it. We are mystified at this."

Though this is not quite the bedbug story (a recurrent condition was not being passed off as a one-time occurrence), the element of a customer's written communication being responded to with a polite letter marred by the inclusion of a "send this guy a fob off note," thus revealing the real sentiments behind the response, is close.

Barbara "apology excepted" Mikkelson

Last updated: 10 December 2000


Blogger kaitlin said...

That's gross.

It reminded me of the bed bug incident in February of this year where the couple got attacked on their cruise...

7:43 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

My friend was flying on some airplane (I don't remember which airline) and was using the bathroom when three or four roaches crawled out of the walls. She of course flipped out and the stewardess gave her a $25 gift certificate for her next ticket purchase and some more pretzels.

8:17 AM  
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12:49 AM  

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