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Frugality and language barrier undermine spring break safety

By Dani Frank, Editorial Editor

Generally when a person needs their computer fixed, has lost their purse or needs general information, they can place a call and receive an answer. Customer service, the police or a quick call to 411 are usually the go-to sources of assistance. So what to do when the person pioneering you on a 20-hour bus ride speaks no English, his superior speaks fractured English, and you are in Orlando, FL, with no wallet? Funny you should ask, because this exact thing happened to my friend last week while we were traveling together.

The first order of business would be explaining the purpose of riding a bus from New York City to Orlando. At a total of $30, compared to a one-way airline ticket of around $180, the prospect of being cramped in a bus seat for almost an entire day is slightly more appealing. But ultimately, this is a lesson in why shelling out the extra $150 would have meant avoiding riding on a bus reeking of feces, full of smelly babies and populated by people who decide eating Popeye's and Arby's meals on a 20-hour bus ride is a wise decision.

 Secondly, you may ask why no one was able to speak English. Choosing your transportation method through the Internet and using cost as your only manner of discretion may result in a bus company owned and operated by Chinese Americans. Through the website Go to Bus, we were placed on the Sky Express. Considering the name of the bus is not Fung Wah, and that reviews of the bus did not mention the language barrier, one would not have expected that designated stops would be announced by the bus unceremoniously pulling over. Better yet, the time the bus would stop for was indicated only by a showing of two hands held up twice.

With such helpful guides on our coastal journey, it seemed we would be sailing in smooth seas ahead. Not really.

Reaching and departing the bus in Orlando was all well, until my friend was about to pay for our taxi ride and found she did not have her wallet. After frantically searching through purses and luggage we surmised that it was either stolen or still on the bus. Now we have reached the crux of the matter: outsourcing and hiring unqualified workers for the sake of cutting costs.

Our first thought was to call the bus company. If the wallet were still on the bus, wouldn't it be either in the possession of the driver, once the bus had been cleaned off, or have been left with the operator of the depot? A call to the first number listed on the number yielded no answer. The second number yielded a woman who was unaware of what was meant by "wallet", and claimed it impossible to reach the driver. Wouldn't this be one of the most basic abilities of a bus company, being able to reach their driver? Apparently paying $30 for a ride does not an effective bus company yield.

The ending to this tale of woe is largely predictable, with the wallet never found. Speaking with the operators of the Orlando and New York bus depots was also unhelpful. Every employee of the Sky Express Company was only able to produce fractured English and was not able to completely comprehend our predicament. If the staff were utterly unhelpful with a problem of a lost wallet, what would be the outcome if a passenger had suffered a seizure or heart attack? The wallet issue was solved by loaning money, frantic calls to banks and replacing identification calls.  One can only wonder how a more serious issue would be handled, if at all.

With our economy suffering the effects of outsourcing and people across the ocean completing jobs for American companies, this is a small example of the pitfalls in hiring unqualified employees to fulfill a job for lower wages. Paying employees who can barely understand English is a lower cost than employees who can actually assist in finding a lost wallet or solving a problem of larger consequence. Should the ability to travel at such a low price be at the cost of customer service, safety and general comfort? If you're traveling with Sky Express, it will be.

My lesson learned in this entire situation, besides being so cheap -- and not to pay $40 in exchange for two Long Island iced teas and two shots of an unidentified blue liquid -- has been to put customer service and efficiency above frugality. Worry about being cost efficient, and aim for a travel method with employees who can speak your language.

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