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We would be boarding our flight to London about now except that around seven this morning some one at Continental Airlines decided to cancel the flight. This turned out to be a great decision on their part. It has since been announced that Heathrow airport will be closed beyond the time that the flight was scheduled to land.

Without that decision we wouldn’t have been flying to London in an hour. We would have been looking for a way to get back home from an over-crowded Newark airport.

We spent the rest of today canceling plans.

The experience reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell’s story about doctors and malpractice claims. Worse doctors aren’t more likely to suffer more malpractice claims than better ones. Patients were less likely to file claims against doctors they thought cared about them.

Rose, the Continental representative was amazing. She was cheerful, helpful, and patient. She refunded the money for our tickets while answering my questions and commiserating with my daughter (who had to go to school instead of to London today). Angie, the Continental Rep I talked to yesterday, was equally as helpful and pleasant.

Helpful and pleasant doesn’t only apply to people who are able to give me a refund. Rick, the guy on the phone we talked to from British Air, was helpful and friendly but restricted by what he could do for us. He understood completely the problem we had. We couldn’t really take their London to Geneva flight next week since we wouldn’t be able to get to London to get on the plane. He couldn’t give me a full refund but he had concrete advice on what I should do and when I should do it. I hung up feeling good about Rick and British Air.

We didn’t ask the Globe theatre for a refund for our Macbeth tickets for Sunday. We just called the box office to ask if we would be able to give our tickets away to someone else. If you’ve visited the Globe you’d understand. The tickets were fairly inexpensive and we’re not about to ask an institution like that for our money back.

The St. Giles easily cancelled our hotel reservation and refunded our money for the first part of our stay. Samir made all the right comments about being sorry that our trip was cancelled and assured me that of course he would take care of everything right away.

As a complete contrast the Hilton was a wall of rules and regulations. First they needed to see a record of our reservation. We sent that. Then they needed a record of our flight itinerary and proof that the flight was cancelled. We sent that too. They needed us to confirm the phone number we left when we made the reservation even though we didn’t make the reservation over the phone. We sent that too.

After all that, they told us that they could only refund us our money if the airport is closed on the day we are to stay at their hotel.

What? We don’t fly in on that day. Our flight was cancelled today and we can’t be rebooked in time for our reservation. This information didn’t fit into their script.

“Sorry,” the non helpful voice on the other end of the phone said, “no refund.”

It wasn’t the “no refund” that bothered me. Well maybe that’s not quite true. I am bothered by there being no refund. But I was more bothered by hearing “sorry” from someone who isn’t. “Sorry” from someone who just wants to get me off of the phone. “Sorry” without considering my situation.

It’s one thing not to give a refund, it’s another not to care about the people you are dealing with.

When I called Continental yesterday and Angie answered I asked her how she was holding up. She’s been handling angry calls for days – I’m sure her day wasn’t going any better than mine. I’m sure she would have been nice anyway – but it began a personal conversation that took no longer than a scripted one would have taken and it got a lot more accomplished more quickly.

I learned that from my mom. It used to embarrass me when she did it. That person doesn’t care about you and your day. Just ask them what you called to ask. But that’s not my mom. And she knows people everywhere. And they know her.

So when Angie asked what she could do for me I said “actually I don’t know. I don’t know what you can tell me but …” and I told her my plans for the next day. And she laughed and told me exactly what I needed to know and then some.

It’s beginning to look as if conditions may line up so we’ll get our refund from the Hilton. But that’s not really the point. My takeaway is positive from two companies that are giving me refunds and from two that aren’t.

Whether I get a refund or not in this final case doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the outlier in all of these experiences just didn’t care enough about me. There’s no refund for that.