by Len Lear
It would literally take an entire page of this newspaper to list all of the accomplishments, honors and awards given to Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 81, founder of The Shalom Center in Mt. Airy, not to mention the 22 books he has written over the last 52 years on the issues of world peace, violence, racial injustice, climate change, Judaism and interfaith cooperation.
The multi-faceted Waskow grew up in Baltimore and earned a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate in U.S. history (1963) from the University of Wisconsin. In 1983 he founded and still directs The Shalom Center, “a prophetic voice in Jewish, multi-religious and American life that brings Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, healing the earth, and celebrating community.” He edits and writes for its weekly online Shalom Report.
In 1996, Waskow was named by the United Nations a “Wisdom Keeper” among 40 religious and intellectual leaders who met in connection with the Habitat II conference in Istanbul. In 2001, he was presented with the Abraham Joshua Herschel Award by the Jewish Peace Fellowship. In 2005, he was named by the Forward, the leading Jewish weekly in America, one of the “Forward Fifty” as a leader of the Jewish community. In 2007, he was named by Newsweek one of the 50 most influential American rabbis, and was presented with awards and honors by groups as diverse as the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement of Philadelphia and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation. Since 1969, Waskow has been “one of the leading creators of theory, practice and institutions for the movement for Jewish renewal.”
But when it comes to dealing with a huge corporate bureaucracy, Rabbi Waskow is just as likely as anyone else to run into a stone wall of insensitivity and callousness. For example, in November of 2013, Waskow and his partner, Phyllis Berman, booked a flight through Expedia.com on US Airways to Tel Aviv, Israel. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond his control, Rabbi Waskow had to cancel the trip through Expedia.
After he canceled, he received an email stating that he and Berman had a $2,775 credit (the exact cost of the two round-trip tickets to Tel Aviv) that could be used through Nov. 18, 2014. More than two months before Nov. 18, Waskow called Expedia, as directed by the email notice, in order to schedule a trip the Mt. Airy duo planned to take from Feb. 12 to 18, 2015.
The agent proceeded to start the arrangements, but eventually Waskow was told the process could not be completed because US Airways requires that the travel on a replacement trip must BEGIN no later than one year from the original booking on Nov. 18, 2013.
According to Waskow, however, “After a great deal of discussion, we pointed out that Expedia’s own explicit requirements were for BOOKING (our emphasis) travel by Nov. 18, not for beginning travel by then, and that if Expedia was bound by US Airways’ rules, it should have notified us of this fact. We talked with a supervisor and then with Expedia’s customer relations department and also with US Airways. Again, we got nowhere.”
When I asked Waskow last week how many times he called Expedia and US Airways in trying to secure a fair resolution, he said, “At least 20 phone calls. Probably more!”
Frustrated that he was faced with getting absolutely nothing for his $2,775 except aggravation, Waskow contacted Christopher Elliott, who writes a syndicated newspaper column, “Travel Troubleshooter,” that appears in dozens of newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer. Elliott, who is also an ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine, is usually able to solve almost any consumer travel problem because his “squeaky wheel” makes noise all over the country.
On Sept. 3 of this year Waskow contacted Elliott, who did take up his case. In his column that appeared in newspapers on Nov. 9, Elliott wrote that many airlines do require travel one year from the original date of the booking when there is a cancellation, but that the policy does differ from airline to airline. “Expedia should have given you accurate information about your flight credit … Good thing you had Expedia’s original promise in writing. That should have been enough to get Expedia to fix this. But a series of appeals got you nowhere.”
Elliott contacted Expedia on behalf of Waskow and Berman, and according to the ombudsman, Expedia “found that indeed, after you cancelled, an email was sent to you that ‘inaccurately’ stated that you would need to contact Expedia by Nov. 18, 2014, in order to use your flight credit of $2,775” (which Waskow did).
Since Expedia finally did admit they were at fault, thanks to Elliott’s intervention, the columnist wrote, “Expedia said it would extend the validity time for your credit so that you can travel as you requested.”
However, the trip that Waskow and Berman have scheduled for next February will cost $1,940, and since they paid $2,775 for the original tickets, they still leaves $835 that the Mt. Airy couple will get nothing for.
When asked last week how he feels about losing the $835, he replied, “We absolutely don’t like it — but that is US Airway’s fault, not Expedia’s. Not to mention that we had to pay USAir $600 out of pocket for the privilege of changing our flights. And nowhere near the last minute — months in advance. We’re sure they filled the seats, besides gobbling up a total of $1435 for no service. Sheer highway robbery!”
Ed. note: Normal journalistic procedure in a story like this is to call the company that is accused of unfair practices to get their side of the story, but since Waskow already called at least 20 times with no results, that should suffice … The Shalom Center, 6711 Lincoln Drive, can be reached at 215-844-8494, theshalomcenter.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.