Thursday, September 4, 2014

An Airbnb fiasco

Jerry here.

Laura will have to write some back posts from her time in Ireland before I arrived, but my participation began today. She'd been staying at a workaway house she described as a squat house belonging to a hoarder with a million cats, so for the first night after my arrival, we booked a room through airbnb where we hoped we could get a nicer, more private and hotel-like experience.

Holy crap, were we wrong.

This is the listing. Seems promising enough, no? First warning sign: although it had been cleaned like a show property for those photos, it hadn't been cleaned again for months following. Sundry junk, laundry, papers, mail, cups, renovation supplies, etc, piled everywhere, and an absolute REEK of cat. The listing says she has three cats, but in practice the property is crawling with them (she informed us that while she has three microchipped cats she considers hers, she feeds all the neighborhood strays, so they congregate.) It stank of unchanged litter and unfixed tom spray. I say this as a known cat person who has fostered up to five at once before. It's possible, but involves obsessive cleaning and litterbox changing, which she wasn't up for. I've also never been under the asinine impression that I could let rooms for money in an apartment where I was fostering a cat colony.

Whatever. We don't have allergies and I had just been awake for 24 hours and on a plane for 12. It was for one night. I was happy to take a bath and go to bed.

The owner came home abruptly in the middle of the day and knocked on our bedroom door as we were getting ready for a bath. Second misnomer about that listing: "peaceful." She's very friendly, in a neurotic, probably has anxiety issues way, but I don't know why it would occur to her that a couple who hasn't seen each other in seven weeks and one of whom has been awake and travelling for over a day would want to chat endlessly. Nonetheless, we decided to humour her while the water was heating for the bath and got redressed and went and sat on the patio to be publicly social.

There, Laura presented me with a scotch tasting set she'd picked up at a great price at a flea market:

Omg yes.

As we were admiring it and reading the tasting notes, our host had a panic attack.

Apparently, she has a traumatising history with violent alcaholics and the sight of it triggered her. She shouted at us for breaking the house rules. For the record, her listing says "If you're just in Dublin to party, this is probably not the place for you." We had taken that to mean "no college kids on a bender puking everywhere and breaking things." We operate a bnb as our main source of full time income, listed on the same site, and that's what we mean by a very similar statement in our listing.  We were not aware that meant "no posession of sealed gift sets of expensive scotch by completely sober high-end service industry professionals who's living situation and interactions with alcahol are widely documented and reviewed all over the goddamn internet."

We apologised for the misunderstanding and turned the whole set over to her for peace of mind that we would not drink a drop on her premises. We assured her that we just wanted to take a bath and go to bed, and did just that. An hour later (about three in the afternoon) she wakes us up and demands we get out, as raging alcaholics only ever got worse in her experience.

... right.

She started babbling at me about refunds and acceptable alternatives. I informed her that as I hadn't slept in 24 hours, my only requirments were anyplace with a double bed and a taxi there. I then told her I was laying back down until she had it figured out.

And after several more incidences of her knocking on the door and yelling, Laura and I just got fully dressed and repacked all our bags, moved them downstairs, and sat at her kitchen table to wait, attempting to have a pleasant conversation and do nothing to alarm her. Several times she put us on the phone with a very flustered airbnb agent, who I did my best to calm down by assuring her in my nicest phone voice that we would be absolutely thrilled to be transferred anywhere with a bed at all and was completely unfussy as to parameters other than being able to be asleep again as soon as possible.

This is sort of what her house looked like, only more shitty, because this is a stock photo. 
No one voluntarily puts pictures of houses that delapidated on the internet.

She came into the kitchen at this point and demanded that we leave her house this instant, saying that airbnb would call us later. As politely and low-voiced as I could manage despite now having been up something like 27 hours, I told her that was not possible. As she very well knew, neither of our American phones worked in Ireland. We had paid for a room with early check in because we wanted to be able to put our luggage down and go to sleep immediately. It was not worth the refund to be left stranded on the street with all our luggage, no phones, and no hotel. I told her if she was impatient with airbnb's handling of it, she was also welcome to keep the money and book us another room anywhere out of her own pocket - which is how we've handled it when we accidently overbooked ourselves. She refused. We told her in that case we'd be happy to leave as soon as possible by the method she had chosen. Because, you know, I wanted to be awake and being polite to a screaming nutcase for as long as possible; it's my idea of a good time.

She said "she had been told" that she had the right to remove anyone who made her feel unsafe immediately. I told her we were also airbnb hosts with over 50 5-star reviews (hundreds if you count all the sites we're listed on) and had actually read the host contract. If she wanted to cancel our reservation in the middle of it by yanking us out of bed, she was required to get us rebooked. ("Emergency removal," which she was referring to, says a host will not be penalised if a situation is so extreme that she has to have it broken up by police, such as if we were physically assaulting her. Not remotely applicable here.) I told her if she broke the contract I'd happily put her out of business.

That seemed to work.

She contented herself by calling a second airbnb agent on her cell phone and screaming at them until the first one called her landline back. The poor terrified agent was having trouble finding another comparable listing, because at 4pm on the day of, things were being booked out from under her as she tried. I did my best to soothe her until she managed to find us something and gave us the confirmation number. The agent told us to catch a taxi and fwd her the reciept and said she'd call us at the other hotel in 20 minutes to be sure everything was okay.

On the way out, I stopped to apolgoise in my best restaurant-manager voice a final time for alarming the host, thanked her for her patience (lol) with the airbnb process, and offered her the laurel branch of not reporting anything about the situation to airbnb. Laura told me as we were searching for a cab that she thought we should still put the crazy lady out of business.

This is a lot closer to what her couch actually looks like in practice.

I disagreed for several reasons. The woman was clearly someone to be pitied, not hated. She's got overt symptoms of anxiety and has clearly had a traumatising past with an alcaholic ex husband. Of course, her handling of it later was infuriatingly unprofessional, but she's not a professional. She charges half what we do. It's fine. I think the most important thing was that airbnb modify her listing to clarify her violent fear of the sight of any alcahol at all, sealed or otherwise, to avoid similar misunderstanding in the future. Her life was unhappy enough and I didn't want to make it any unhappier.

That's the thing about all these years in high end restaurants. After the situation is resolved, you have to let it slide off your back and become no more than a funny story, or you'll go crazy. Too many people in the world are having bad days or bad years and want to take it out in the form of a nasty customer service experience to either hang onto it or add to the total of long-term unhappiness in the world.

Our cabbie was very pleasant and enthusiastic to tell us about what to see in Dublin, and as the ride progressed we noticed we were going from the middle of bufu nowhere suburbs towards the central district, all tall buildings and bourgeois shopping. He finally stopped in Temple Bar, on the quay, in front of this utterly different door:

The fellow at the desk remembered my name without checking his book and removed our bags from the taxi before we finished paying. He had a key for us the moment we came in and told us that although we'd been booked a standard he'd given us a deluxe and that although we hadn't purchased breakfast he'd gone ahead and added it. The concierge was evidently parking a car, so with profuse apologies for the delay he offered to have our bags brought up after us momentarily. We assured him that as it was just a small carry on we'd be quite fine and he insisted on carrying it to the elevator for us at least.

As those who know me know, I am a service standards WHORE. And this man knocked it out of the park.

Oh and this was the room.

Trade up much? 

And it was still only five in the afternoon. By that time we were well awake, so we had dinner, took a walk around temple bar, and then sat in a second hot bath in a much better tub tasting all the scotches before finally going to bed in a WAY more awesome bed.

Finished the next morning with a long email thoroughly thanking the airbnb agent for her hard work and the amazing upgrade, and recieving a very relieved response about how she was totally confused how top rated hosts were supposedly being crazy drunkards and how she was so glad the situation had been resolved. Praised her to airbnb.

That reminds me, I have to write an email to the Clarence praising their front desk guy. 10-years-of-drinking-the-kool-aid somm here can have has day completely changed by just a little bit of good attitude and good service.

Determined-to-be-a-bad-day: 0. Jerry and Laura: 1.


  1. Megan Lewis Oh my gosh, you handled that much better than I would have... of course, I have a cat allergy that's manageable when around a small # of cats in an otherwise clean house. The situation you describe I would have been sitting on the curb crying and popping antihistamines. Glad you and Laura had a happy ending!

  2. You are a saint of patience. Oh wow. I'm glad you finally got some sleep.

  3. I don't know how you didn't flip at her, or the airline. Wow, you did amazing.

  4. I think you've been amazing, patient and considerate to all paths you've crossed. Enjoy your trip while we're all jealous you've got to do it.

  5. Oh, my. This sounds like my former landlord who rented me the basement apartment in his house. He thought he could come in any time he wanted and got mad when I said I liked my privacy. He then liked to pound on the wall to the stairwell that led to the apartment.

  6. Crazy cat lady be crazy.
    Way to keep it cool.