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Ernie's House of Whoopass! December 06, 2010
December 06, 2010

I Am An Angry and Vengeful God.

Merriam-Webster defines thank you as "a polite expression of one's gratitude."

Keep that in mind because today we're going to take a look under the hood of that well oiled beast that is LBEH. And in all honesty, this is a post I was hesitant about making simply because I don't want to give anyone the impression that the folks we're buying tickets for are anything less than what they are: very deserving and very appreciative. Quite often I receive emails from military personnel who aren't requesting tickets, but just want to drop me a line and say, "Thank you, we really appreciate what you guys are doing for us folks in uniform." And for the people who do receive tickets? Their appreciation ranges from very simple, "Wow, thank you so much," to hysterical crying phone calls, to thank you cards written in Grandma's shaky handwriting. Not that Kat, Bibi, or I do this for the ego stroking that comes with a heartfelt thank you, but a kind word goes a long way in this world, yes? So by the time LBEH winds down around the first of the year, we've had more thank you's than you can shake the proverbial stick at.

But.

Every once in awhile. Every once in a blue moon. Someone forgets the cardinal rule. Someone forgets that polite expression of one's gratitude. Generally it happens about once a year, and given we did over a hundred tickets last year, I'd say that's a pretty good batting average. We'll receive an acknowledgement back that reads a very bland, "TICKET RECEIVED" instead of, "TICKET RECEIVED, AND THANK YOU." Normally when someone does this, I'll fire them off an email reading simply "YOU'RE WELCOME" and that's enough to snap people out of it and remind people of their manners. I don't think these occasional instances are indicative of someone greedy or impolite, but perhaps the byproduct of this whole interaction unfolding online. Sometimes we forget there's a real person on the other side of that keyboard and we lose sight of that person-to-person communication. So again, my gentle reminder is usually more than enough to remind said person that Kat and Bibi put a lot of hours into this project so perhaps a few kinds words of appreciation are in order. I can't say this enough, situations like this are by far the exception.

But.

Every once in great while. Every once in a really, really blue moon. Someone doesn't get the hint. Someone decides they want to be the exception to the exception. Such an event occurred this past weekend, and I'd like to tell you about it. Not because I want to paint this individual in a bad light, but because I want to reassure you, Mr. Donor, that we go to great lengths to make sure the money you send into LBEH goes to people who deserve it and who appreciate what we're doing. To set the stage, Airman John Doe is stationed at Kadena AFB, in Okinawa, Japan, and wanted to fly home to spend the holidays with his family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His initial application doesn't include some of the information we need, so after playing email tag a few times, we get the correct dates and some updated contact information so we can proceed. His leave dates were 22 December to 5 January, but he didn't want to spend all that time home, he wanted to come back to Okinawa on January 3rd... you know, to give a few days to recuperate and get back into the swing of things. Not an uncommon request, so no problem. We'll do our best as long as airfares don't give us a problem. Which they did, in this case. To fly Airman Doe out on January 2nd arriving back to Okinawa on January 3rd was almost $2,900, while getting him back a day earlier on the 2nd was only $1,800. I know it sounds crazy, but anyone who's ever tried booking airfare around the holidays knows there's a lot of fluctuation on pricing. Book a flight one day and it's x-amount of dollars; book it the next day and it can be half that or twice as much. It's kind of a crap shoot with the only firm rule being the close you are to a major holiday, the more volatile the prices. Now, since we can't justify spending the additional funds for one extra day, we book his return flight to arrive back in Okinawa on the 2nd, so we can then use that $1,100 we saved, to buy two of three domestic flights for some other folks trying to come home. Remember we're crossing international date lines, so calendar wise it's one full day's travel. So we mail Airman Doe his $1,800 itinerary all paid for, and instead of a polite expression of one's gratitude, this is the reply we get:

[from Airman Doe to Kat] The date for me coming back is supposed to be [leaving] January 2nd.. So I will arrive on island the 3rd... Is there any way to change that or not?

Well okay, perhaps not the response we were expecting, but maybe I'm the only person whose mom used to say, "Beggars can't be choosers." Anyway, Kat replies with the following:

[from Kat to Airman Doe] It was another $1100 to depart on January 2nd.....

Now I would imagine at this point, the next reply would be something to effect of, "Oh, wow I understand. Thanks you for taking the time to respond so quickly, and thank you for my ticket." Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, Airman Doe decides to push the issue:

[from Airman Doe to Kat] Is there anything you can do to my ticket to change the dates. I thought we spoke about it when I mentioned I need to leave the 2nd to be back on Island the 3rd... I'm taking leave until the 5th.. So its fine if thats why the dates got changed?

At this point I get the first whiff of a sense of arrogance and self-entitlement. I "need" to leave on the 2nd. We're not flying him home a day late, we're just flying him home a day early. Hey, best we can do kid, them's the breaks. And the fact that a simple thank you is still markedly absent in his correspondence, is really busting my balls. I decide to fire my first warning shot across the bow. And hint: I only fire one warning shot.

[from Ernie to Airman Doe] Or, instead of you saying 'thank you', we could just cancel the ticket?

[from Airman Doe to Ernie] Ernie, I do appreciate everything that this organization is doing for the troops. I was just asking questions on if anything can be changed considering I didn't get notfified that my dates got changed thats all.

[meanwhile, from Airman Doe to Kat] That can't be..... on orbitz.com tickets are 2140 roughly to leave on the 2nd.

Now I'm getting genuinely pissed. Airman Doe understands the concept that it will cost us significantly more money to extends his stay for one more day, and that's money we could use to buy someone else's ticket, he just doesn't give a fuck. "Can you change my ticket?" "It will cost a lot of money." "Whatever, so can you do it?" As I said before, airfares fluctuate by the day, so if this guy is checking for himself it's like he doesn't believe us. Like we woke up that morning and said, "Wow are we going to pull a fast one on Airman Doe. Instead of buying him a free airline ticket for thirteen days home, we're only going to buy him one for twelve. Boy this is going to be awesome!" And again, that simple thank you is nowhere to be seen. At this point, I give Kat the green light to do something that we've only done one other time before.... in a similar situation about three or four years ago. I tell Kat than if she wants to cancel the ticket and move on to someone else, go for it. We've only got a limited amount of time to do this, mind you. Twenty-four hours after you book a flight, it's non-refundable and we were on hours twenty-three.

[from Kat to Airman Doe] When I ticketed this yesterday, it was running 2900 on the 2nd. On the application, you were asked "what is the latest time you can arrive back" and you CHOSE to type in 1/1/2011 at 1:00am. Which means you would have had to leave the US on 12/30 to make that deadline with 3.5 hours to spare. I saw that your leave date was until the 5th, and wondered if maybe you meant to put a different day, so that's why I asked you. You clarified what you wanted (to be back by the 3rd), and I ticketed you with a fare comparable to what we tend to spend on tickets from international tickets with dates that best matched landing before January 3rd. This is a charity. It's run by just 3 people who try to do what they can do cuz we've all been there. I have about 45 minutes left on the 24 hour cancellation window for this ticket.....if you'd like, I can cancel it and you can buy your own ticket for $2140 on orbitz right now?

Unsatisfied with the answers he was getting from Kat, Airman Doe decides to try an end-around and starts emailing Bibi, seeing if she will change his flight.

[from Airman Doe to Bibi] I just recieved the ticket but the dates are wrong.....

[from Bibi to Airman Doe] Crap. What dates did she ticket you for? You're application says 12/22/10 - 01/05/11 for leave dates, and due to the time change and how long the flights are, she normally would ticket you for sometime between 12/22/10 - 01/02/11? Please let me know right away. I'm trying to get ahold of her so we can see what we can do.

[from Airman Doe to Bibi] I asked if it was possible to change the date to fly out on the 2nd.. So i'd get back here on the 3rd... but appreantly it got blown up to me almost losing my tickets.. I guess the it would have costed an extra 1100 to fly out on the second.. which doesn't make sense considering tickets roundtrip are like 2129 on orbitz... I haven't herd anything back yet on if the dates could be changed or not.. I didn't want to come off as a selfish person for asking if my dates could be changed. But I guess I did and I did not want that.. If you could please help out .. I would like to know if I still have my ticket and if the date got changed or not... Thank you for all you do...

Ernie interject: Ahhh, there it is. Eleven emails into it, and he decides to start playing nice. And just for the record, saying "I'm not trying to come off as selfish but..." does not absolve you from actually being selfish. If anything, it only sets the stage.

[from Bibi to Airman Doe] Wait, I'm confused.... Have you spoken with Kat or Ernie? Who did you speak to about the date change, and was it before or after we bought the ticket? Also, are the CURRENT ticket dates still good for your authorized leave (meaning, regardless of your personal preference, you'll still get back on time?)?...and finally, 2129 IS a lot more than what we bought your ticket for. Please respond ASAP. Still trying to reach Kat.

[from Airman Doe to Bibi] They've both emailed me. I spoke to Kat about the date change. . She emailed me a day or to after you did asking about my dates... I said I wanted to fly out of the states on the 2nd.. So i could be back in Japan on the 3rd.... This was before the tickets were purchase and then didn't hear anything back.. Then today I recieved my ticket.. with me leaving on the 1st instead of the 2nd.... I know 2129 is still alot for a ticket .. but It was just an estimate that fly out a day later was not an extra 1100 as Kat stated... I just thought that I would of had a ticket leaving japan on the 22nd... and then flying out of the states on the 2nd .... Sorry for any confusion and inconvience..

[from Bibi to Airman Doe] But do these dates still get you back in time before your authorized leave ends? Something to keep in mind that the cost of tickets fluctuates day to day, so buying a ticket is almost like playing the lottery. We have to watch the prices closely to do our best to get the cheapest ticket possible. I happened to call UA immediately after your first email day and see what the price to change the ticket would be. That was going to be around $800. Granted, that's not $1000, but close enough. Let's also take into account the price you were saying you saw the ticket for on Orbitz...that's still a difference of $329. Now, this may not sound like much to you, but this is a non-profit with an all volunteer staff. We don't even have an advertising budget, because every last cent we have goes towards buying tickets to help men and women like you get home when you can't afford to do so on your own. $329 could buy one or two more tickets for some of our applicants! Do you want to be the person to say, "Hey, sorry, we can't afford to send you home this season, because we are taking a more expensive flight for another applicant than what we have to,"? For a group like us, that IS a lot of money.

[from Airman Doe to Bibi] I'm not trying to cause trouble and be greedy about it at all.. I understand that every cent you recieve goes towards sending people home.. I've donated to LBEH to help other people out. I was wrong in thinking that my dates would be set. I understand that you go with the best price rate for around the dates I gave.. Like I said in the last email I just thought I would of flown out the 2nd not the 1st, and was seeing if it would be possible to have that changed. So Im taking that it can't be changed?

[from Bibi to Airman Doe] > Do these tickets get you back to your base before your leave time ends? If so, we aren't changing the ticket. You can feel free to pay the fee for the date change yourself if you like. If this ticket will NOT get you home before your leave ends, we'll have to see what Kat and Ernie say.

[from Airman Doe to Bibi] Its gets me home in time...

Remember when you a kid, like 5 years old, and you wanted an ice cream so you asked your mother, but she said no? And rather than accept that no, you moved on to your dad? Yeah that's what this kid was doing. Anyway, Bibi got a hold of Kat and explained that Airman Doe had been trying to get his ticket changed through her. Now as a reminder, this isn't a situation where we're bring him back a day late where he's going to be AWOL. We're not flying him home a day late, we're just flying him home a day early. And I realize that twelve days home isn't as nice as thirteen days home, but surely, twelve days home is better than zero days home, yes? Beggars can't be choosers, yes? Which makes me remember something my dad used to say, "Some people will piss and moan if they get hung with a new rope." And I'd like to point out that Kat is infinitely more patient in these situations than I am, so when you get her to get pissy, that's really saying something.

[from Kat to Airman Doe] I work nights, and so therefore this is the "middle of the night" for me. So, you're going to get my 3am answer. You are coming across as a very ungrateful prick. *I* was kind enough to email you to see if you made a mistake on your application (you did). I didn't have to do that, but I did. I could have sent you home departing the US on 12/30 and it would have matched exactly what you requested. Did you know that I worked on your ticket over the course of 3 days attempting to get a ticket price that wasn't astronomical? Did you know that I was in a hospital surgery waiting room working on your ticket (and others) and came across a huge drop in price and made my friend wait for me to join her in the recovery room so that I could grab your ticket quickly before the price jumped again???? (And hence why you didn't get the ticket via email right away...because I was tied up with my friend helping her recover). If you would like to change your ticket, have at it. Call the airline, call orbitz, call whoever and pay the difference and fly whenever you want. Since it's "not that much", I'm sure you won't mind covering it. Personally, I am so insulted that you went to Bibi after our emails this morning, whining about 1 day, and insinuating that I lied about the prices that I was seeing yesterday. I was just shy of calling and cancelling your flights and letting you just start over on your own, but....since I do this in the spirit of the holidays, I am going to just pretend this all didn't happen and wish you the happiest of vacations and give you some advice: In the future, when you request help, and you receive help to the tune of $1800 AND time with your family, that you say "thank you very much" and enjoy it.

At this point, I talk to Kat and unfortunately we're past the 24 hour mark so we can't cancel the ticket. if the price were only $300-$400, maybe I could let it slide. But not $1,800. I can't take that slap in the face. So as I said, I am an angry and vengeful god and if there's one perk to booking 100+ airplane tickets each year, it's that we've got some pull with Orbitz & Travelocity. So as the, ahem "President and CEO or Let's Bring Em Home, Incorporated" I called up Orbitz and explained the situation to a wonderful woman named Heather. I explained to her who we are and what we do, and she seemed thrilled to help. And then I explained the situation surrounding Airman Doe and her voice darkened. I inquired as to the possibility of getting his ticket cancelled even though we were past the 24 hour mark, and wouldn't you know it, somehow we were eligible for a 'courtesy cancellation.' Huh. I thanked her again and send the following email to Airman Doe. As you might imagine, it was quite difficult to not include any fuck's or asshole's, but I managed:

[from Ernie to Airman Doe] Well, Kat is more forgiving than I am. I just called Orbitz and cancelled your ticket. I've also refunded the donation you made on December 1st. The running between mommy and daddy stops with me. Best of luck in your future endeavours. And yes if I were you I'd heed Kat's advice: when you request help, and you receive help to the tune of $1800 AND time with your family, that you say "thank you very much" and enjoy it.

And that is how I ruined someone's Christmas.

So let this be a lesson to all you little boys and girls out there. Whether it be something so simple as a waiter giving you an extra napkin, or some anonymous charity giving you a plane ticket; don't let common courtesy die. Because it will come back to bite you in the ass. I know a certain someone will be reminded of that lesson -- in between forks of instant mashed potatoes, jarred gravy, and canned cranberry sauce, of course. I took no joy in kicking this guy in the balls, but I'm sure as fuck not going to go out of my way to help someone with such a hurray-for-me-and-fuck-the-next-guy attitude. On the plus side, we now have $1,800 more that can be reallocated to someone more deserving.

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