We were locked in. No way to get out. The stubborn lock would not budge. We were on floor 4 1/2 by US standards. Jumping out of the window was out of the question. Scream for help – would anyone hear? Despite many phone calls and promises, no one came to our assistance.
One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Frustration turned to panic. During our incarceration, Bob tried numerous times to unlock the door. He was angry. I was a nervous wreck…
I had booked an Airbnb apartment in Paris for two nights between our trips to the US and China. On the Airbnb site this “lovely flat in the Marais” looked gorgeous: bright, roomy, gleaming. At 319 euro for two nights, it was more than we usually spend. But, we would be tired after the all-night flight from the US. We wanted to see more of the Marais. And, although this was a new listing with only two reviews, they were basically positive.
When Angela, our greeter, met us at the door to the building and led us up a narrow, shabby, dirty staircase, I was crestfallen. Could that beautiful apartment be in this rundown building?
There was no elevator. We were loaded down with clothing for five weeks and different climates. Bob made several trips up and down the 4 ½ flights, struggling to get the suitcases up the narrow passages while Angela struggled with the lock. Perhaps I have the wrong apartment; she lamented, and then went up and down to try other doors. No luck. She made several phone calls – I assume to an agent who managed the apartment. Owner Franck had told me he would not be in Paris when we arrived.
This must be it, she said at the first door she had tried, and asked Bob to try. He wiggled the key back and forth many times. He pushed and pulled, but the lock would not give. More phone calls. More tries. Forty-five minutes had gone by, and we were still standing in this dismal hallway. We were exhausted and had longed to relax, take a short nap and then a fun walk. Bob tried the uncooperative lock one more time. Success. We were in.
Angela was elated. We were not. We surveyed the surroundings. Photoshop obviously works wonders. Instead of a bright and spacious apartment, the “lovely flat” was dark, crammed, depressing. The furniture was the same as in the photos, but not much else.
Before Angela left, Bob went outside to test the door. It opened. However, we insisted that someone, preferably a locksmith, come to verify that the lock was in working order. We needed to be sure that when we went out, we could get back in and not end up stranded on that dreadful staircase. She made a call and assured us that someone would show up in 20 minutes to check the lock.
We felt it best to wait before settling in and taking that nap. “We better make sure we can get out,” Bob announced at one point. OMG! Sacre Bleu! The door would not open. We were imprisoned. This can’t be true. But, it was. (Keep reading. It gets worse before better.)
I called Airbnb. There were many options: press 1,.2, 3. I tried all, but always got a recorded message and was put on hold. The relaxing Paris afternoon we had anticipated had become a frantic nightmare.
Since I had no luck with the regular channels, I tried the English language assistance option. Someone answered: A man in Ireland. Hope at last. I told the sorry story. He said he could help and asked various questions about our reservation: address, birth dates…and then the last four digits of the credit card used to make the booking. We have several credit cards. I gave him the numbers of the cards we had with us. No match. I must have used the French card to book. I explained that we did not have that card with us. He was adamant. Without those numbers, he could do nothing for us.
I was incredulous. This was too much. No more hope. Would we ever escape? I blew up. I cried. I used nasty language. He hung up.
Now what? Call the police? The fire department? I went to the window, hoping to find a fire escape, although I doubt I would have had the skill to navigate it. Nothing there. So, back to the French Airbnb number and alas, after a wait, I reached Emeline, a real person who was sympathetic, patient, understanding. She said she would arrange for someone to help us get out, that we did not have to stay in the apartment, that she would email me listings of other Airbnb apartments that had availability, and that we would be reimbursed for the sum we had paid for the apartment, as well as the taxi fare to our new accommodation.
We were making progress. Surely someone would come to break the lock and rescue us soon. I was getting claustrophobic. I needed to escape –soon.
While I looked over the listings, Bob continued trying to open the door. He is usually very patient (not like me), but he was losing it. He was infuriated. Our nerves were frazzled. I looked around, hoping to find a bottle of something potent and alcoholic left behind by a previous guest. We needed it desperately, but not even a tea bag to be found.
It was close to 5 p.m. We had arrived at the apartment at 1:15 pm, and we were still prisoners in this “lovely flat,” still waiting for a savior to come and free us.
Bob tried the door yet again. Eureka! He had the magic touch. It moved. It opened. We were free. We fled.
I had booked an apartment in Montmarte chez Sacha and Sydney which appeared beautiful, and cost just 233 euro for two nights, 86 euro less than Franck’s place. Although we had already given Airbnb 319 euro, we had to pay for the new booking. With too much luggage, we trekked to the corner café, got a taxi and set off to the new flat which was even better than the photos: huge, light, inviting. This time I had picked a winner.
A few days later I checked our credit card details online. We had been given a refund of 3 euro. I was furious, but by this time we were in Hong Kong. I sent an email to Airbnb and learned that to obtain a refund, I needed to proceed with the resolution process and was entitled to a maximum of 275 euro, not the 319 we had paid. Why the 3 euro? A mini reward for all our suffering and a lost afternoon? That remains a mystery
First step for a refund is to fill out an on-line form stating your grievance which is sent to the owner. I did, confident that he would surely grant the refund in these circumstances. Wrong. He refused.
’You insulted me and Angela instead of letting us one hour to manage this issue with the door – which is not a big issue…. It just happened to be a bit difficult to open and needed a bit of oil, nothing I could expect and nothing to be that aggressive… People are not your servants. A host is not your slave Leah, and I will refuse any refund as you were aggressive and made a scandal when there was no real reason to act as you did. You didn’t have to cancel this booking, especially not the way you did …”
One hour? We waited three hours. One should carry a can of oil if booking an Airbnb apartment? No real reason to be upset? It’s acceptable to be locked out — and then locked in– a rental apartment? Cancel the booking? Emeline had done that for us.
I sent Airbnb a response, stating that I did not accept Frank’s decision and explained that I would follow up upon our return, asking them not to close the case.
After returning from China, I filled out yet another form requesting that Airbnb review both sides of the story and make the final decision. I kept receiving computer generated responses which indicated no one had ever read my response. I was getting more than fed up with Airbnb. Back to the phone. (I want a decent hourly wage for all the time I spent on hold listening to Airbnb background music.)
I was patient, and fortunately, eventually, I reached Ellie, an Airbnb case manager. She was understanding, sympathetic – and did not demand the last four digits of the credit card. She checked into the case. Despite my instructions to wait for my rebuttal, Airbnb had closed the case. I had to go back to square one and begin the lengthy process all over.
The entire story would not fit in the space allotted on the Airbnb online form. Ellie said to send her an email with the details and she would forward it. But, it had to go back to Franck first. Again he refused and asked me to stop harassing him. What planet was he on? Did he realize how much harassment his defective lock had caused us?
When you speak to an Airbnb rep/case manager, the person is not permitted to give his or her last name, nor a direct number to reach him/her, not even a personal email address. You have to reply to the general Airbnb email address. I did, but added: “Attention Ellie” to the subject line. My messages did reach her. She responded, but said she could offer no further help and sent our case on to someone else.
That someone was Danny in Dublin. Like Ellie and Emeline, a decent human who was understanding — and extremely apologetic. He called our tragedy an episode of “miscommunication that had gotten out of hand.” Is there such a thing as Irish understatement? Whatever, he assured me that we would get a full refund, 319 euro, plus the taxi fare. Thank you, Danny. We did.
Meanwhile I had gone back to the Airbnb site and noted that the price for “the lovely flat in the Marais” had been slashed, from about 159 euro per night to 60 euro per night. I asked Danny about this. He explained that Airbnb does not inspect properties listed and hosts can set rental prices as they desire. Why did Franck drastically drop the price? Perhaps because he was not getting bookings, he surmised. Hmm..I suspect there is more to it.
Airbnb lesson learned: Be wary of booking a new listing. Look for listings with lots of positive reviews. Just in case, take a can of oil.
This was our second Airbnb experience. Two years ago we booked an apartment in Paris’ 16th district. It was exactly as described and ideal for us. Hostess Nathalie met us, greeted us, had a welcome gift for us, and provided all sorts of helpful information on the area – shops, restaurants, public transportation.
We expected much the same with the booking in the Marais. Franck, it appears, has more than one apartment listed with Airbnb. The same with Sacha and Sydney, hosts at the second apartment whom we never met.
According to an article in The Guardian, the number of Airbnb hosts “has doubled in the last year with revenue up 60%.” Investors, perhaps like Franck and Sacha and Sydney, are buying up properties to rent through Airbnb. “ With that growth has come an ecosystem of support companies, typically property management firms that submit the advert for the property onto the website and then may manage guests arriving and leaving, dropping off and collecting keys, for example,” states the article.
So, don’t always expect personal contact with the owner which was originally one of the drawing cards of Airbnb.
We have not given up on Airbnb. I just booked an apartment in Ventimiglia, Italy, which has numerous glowing reviews, plus lots of kudos for the owners who are on the scene. Nonetheless, Bob insists we not forget to take a can of oil.
China followed Paris, where, sadly more misadventure awaited. Yet another crash, but far worse than the one in India I wrote about in a previous post, “Adventure — and a CRASH –in Kashmir.”
Details on China in a coming post. Don’t miss it. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.
I am on the mend, but slightly handicapped (broken collar bone). No new recipes until I can get back in the kitchen and cook with two hands —soon I hope.