Monday, June 20, 2011

Computer says no

I dropped the rental car keys on the counter of the AVIS desk at Gainesville airport. "The gas tank is 3/4 full," I said. "But I'm on the state rate."

Since I no longer worked at the University of Florida, I shouldn't be using the special state rate for car rentals; a discount that gave you a preferable daily rate, removed the hefty excess charge for dropping the car at a different Florida location from where you collected it and gave you a reasonable price for fuel usage, making it less important to refill the tank. However, since I still knew the magic phone number and no one ever asked me directly whether I should be doing this, I remained numb on the subject.

The assistant behind the counter punched in the details of my rental agreement to his computer and handed me the bill. I had been charged $25 for a quarter of a tank of gas. In the UK, this might be quite reasonable, but the gas stations in town were displaying around $3.61 / gallon. I shot the man a peeved look.

"I'm on the state rate," I pointed out. "It's only a quarter of a tank of gas."

He looked at the bill and shrugged. "It's what the computer gave me."

I was reminded unavoidably of Carol from the TV show Little Britain who works as a bank clerk and has the catchphrase "computer says no" which she utters in deadpan tones in response to customers' ever more desperate pleas.

"That doesn't mean it's right." I tried to smile pleasantly.

My unhelpful friend shrugged again and tapped away at the keyboard. This did not look good. But then:

"I could just remove the cost of the fuel from your bill."

"..... Yes, I would find that acceptable."

Hard not to, really.

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