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December 2, 2003 03:41 AM

Broken: Thrifty rental, O'Hare

Pete Maher has written this mini-opus on his recent customer experience with Thrifty Rent-A-Car at O'Hare airport in Chicago.

Take it away, Pete.

My Experience with Thrifty Car Rental: A Customer Tragedy in Four Acts.

by Pete Maher


I am glad he hath so much youth and vigor left, of which he hath not been thrifty. --Swift.

Scene I - O'Hare Airport on a cold, wet November morning.

Enter: The Customer.

After de-boarding my flight, I head immediately for the rental car counter.

No one is there.

Just a sign telling me to take the bus to the Thrifty car rental location.

I step outside, just in time for the parade -- Hertz, Hertz, Budget, National [SIGH], Hertz, Budget [SIGH], Avis, Hertz, Hertz [DEEP SIGH], Avis...Thrifty [RELIEF].

Scene II - The Bus.

Enter: The Bus Driver.

One, two, three steps onto the bus.

I sit.

The Bus Driver grunts, "blue chip!"

Confused, I pause... mutter, "uhhh.. Thrifty?"

The driver scowls.

We continue on to the next terminal.

Enter: The Goth Rocker.

At the next terminal, an outwardly pleasant gentleman -- who just happens to be heavily pierced and mascara'd -- boards the bus.

Again, the driver grunts, "blue chip!"

(At this precise moment, I notice a sign above the windshield that reads something like, "Please inform driver if you are a Blue Chip Member." Ahh, a customer loyalty program... I resist breaking into a loud cackle and regain my composure.)

The man tosses a blank stare at the driver. Awkward silence for all ensues.

The driver repeats [loudly], "Blue Chip!!"

The customer finally chirps, "car... rental.. car?"

Wrong answer, man.. Wrong answer.


When what's lost has been found, what's to come has already been? --Dylan

Scene I - The Car Rental Place.

Enter: The Harvesters of Sorrow.

I finally arrive at the car rental place.

Short line, several people behind the counter.

We do our dealings.

She hands me the car keys, directs me to "Spot 5 in the first row" [gestures].

No description of make, model, or color. Just "Spot 5 in the first row".

I walk in the direction of the first row. Find it with ease.

Find Spot 5, no problem. Well, slight problem.. No car.

Look around. Spot 4, car. Spot 6, car. Spot 1, car..


Just then, a guy in a Thrifty shirt happens to walk by.

"Excuse me," I say.

I explain to him that my car seems to have disappeared; I show him my paperwork.

He yanks the paperwork out of my hand, looks around, and quietly rattles off a six-digit number. He splish-splashes his way through the parking lot, trying to match paperwork to dashboard. Now it's raining harder than it has all morning.

After five minutes or so, the man returns with my paperwork, which is now wet and ink-stained. No, "wet and ink-stained" doesn't begin to describe the state of my paperwork. It's barely holding its form at this point. It bleeds ink. Picture the way Pat Benatar's make-up might have looked in 1982 after playing a 3-hour concert... in New Orleans... in August. That is how my paperwork looks.

I return to the rental counter and explain to the four people behind the counter that my Thrifty car is nowhere to be found. The closest employee -- who has been slouched over the counter since I arrived and whose chin is seemingly glued to his right palm, and whose right elbow is seemingly glued to the countertop -- lazily motions toward Spot 4, and says, "that's the one."

"Not according to the guy who works in the parking lot," I fire back.

Scene II - The Car.

Eventually, we find the car.

I toss my laptop bag into the backseat and climb in. No... Please tell me this isn't happening. It appears as though Phillip Morris himself was the last person to rent this car. I look skyward and give thanks that the car is not equipped with a smoke alarm. At least it has wheels and a CD Pla-, err.. at least it has wheels.

An hour-and-a-half later, I'm almost to my client site on the South Side of Chicago. The rain is starting to become a problem.

The final stretch of road leading to my destination has nearly 2 feet of standing water on it. There's no turning back at this point. I hug the center of the road and white-knuckle my way to higher ground.


After high floods come low ebbs. --Dutch Proverb

Scene I - Parking Lot at the Client Site, After My Meetings Have Ended.

Enter: Polite Lady.

"Sir.. Excuse me, sir?"

"Yes," I say.

"I just spoke with a few of our couriers.. They say the road out is completely flooded. The water is waist high."

She points me to another exit and gives me directions to the interstate.

Scene II - Back in the Car.

I glance at my watch.

Looks like my meetings ended sooner than expected. Ooh, I might even make an earlier flight home. Getting close now.

Ok, where do I exit?

There it is: "Rental Car Returns, Next Exit"

[miniature logos of Hertz, Budget, Avis, National -- but no Thrifty]...

It's now or never... I better- It's too late.. I missed the exit.

It must be up ahead. Why wouldn't the Thrifty logo be on that sign?

"Welcome to O'Hare International." "Long-term parking... Short-term parking... Arrivals stay right."

It's got to be here somewhere? Where are you,


"Departures ahead." "Terminal 1." "Terminal 2." "Airport exit - City."

I exit the complex, just in time for some traffic. Forget that earlier flight.

After more driving, I see a sign for Car Rental Return.

Same exit sign as the one on the way in, except this one has the Thrifty logo added to the end of the list. Deep breath.

Two redlight-lined miles later, I see the Thrifty place approaching me on the left.

Unfortunately, this is one of those roads you find in congested areas around airports that has an island separating the lanes of traffic.

It's elevated about four inches higher than the rest of the road, but it might as well be four feet high -- I'm crossing it, and I'm returning this car if it kills me.

I sneak up onto the elevated divider, wait for my chance... It's Frogger-time.

I punch the accelerator and swerve across the road into the Thrifty parking lot. I pull into the designated return area, get out, and silently vow never to rent from Thrifty again.

Scene II - The Car Rental Place.

Enter: The People from Act II, Scene I.

I walk to the counter and hand the man my now-crunchy paperwork and keys.

I say to the guy, "you know.. When you're coming from I-294, there's no sign for Thrifty... There's a sign with all the other rental car companies, but not Thrifty."

He mutters, "you should have followed our directions." "Your directions," I ask?

He reaches down behind the counter and pulls out a Bazooka gum wrapper-sized sheet of paper with a faded set of directions on it.

"No one gave me these," I say.

He replies, "Yeah we did. We put them in the envelope with your rental contract."

I dig my way through the paperwork, hurriedly trying to prove my nemesis wrong.

Sure enough, I find the directions.

"Guess I should have somehow known that, huh... You know, no customer is ever going to know you've given him directions unless you tell him so."

He shrugs his shoulders and walks away. I steam.


The end crowneth the work. --Elizabeth I

Scene I - The Bus.

Enter: A Different Bus Driver.

I step onto the bus that's supposed to take me back to the airport terminal.

The driver asks me which airline I'm flying.

I reply, "US Airways."

We quickly arrive at the first terminal. People get off. No word from the driver.

I ask him, "is this the exit for US Airways?" He hesitates for a moment and says, "Yes, it is."

I exit the bus.

Scene II - The Ticketing Area.

Enter: The Information Lady.

"Excuse me.. Can you please tell me where I can find the ticket counter for US Airways?"

"Yes, sir. That would be in the Next Terminal [points off in the distance]... You just need to go out this door, turn right, and walk until you reach the next terminal.."

"But it's raining and the Thrifty guy told me-.. OK, thanks."

I step back outside and walk in the rain until I reach my destination.


You should have read the directions. Your fault.

Posted by: Information Lady at December 2, 2003 09:49 AM

I agree with the previous comment...looks like customer error to me. With a side order of excessive whining.

Posted by: Jason at December 6, 2003 11:08 AM

yeah. if anything is broken at all, its the lack of thought AND the length of this whole thing!

Posted by: never mind that at December 10, 2003 04:15 PM

I agree with the complaint and the reasoned and humorous manner of exposition. Those who dissent have obviously never traveled for work.

When one is tired and frustrated, with one's mind on much more important things, one wants the expected service in exchange for the good money you have no choice but to pay.

Imaging paying $45 to use a toilet, and being told later it was your fault you didn't you didn't read the instructions to the toilet paper.

Posted by: Mark at December 11, 2003 02:53 AM

Sounds like "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" with rain in place of snow. At least you didn't have to catch a ride with Del Griffith.

Posted by: Rick at December 11, 2003 08:52 PM

"Rental Car Return. Exit here." Sounds pretty self-explanatory to me. It didn't say "Hertz Only."

Regarding airport terminal... It is the traveler's responsibility to know where he is flying from. And I do fly for work regularly.

But, this isn't anything that hasn't been commented on already...

Posted by: Joe Macdonald at December 13, 2003 02:37 PM

I think the president of Thrifty posted the above critical comments.

Bravo on shining the harsh light of truth on poor customer service!!

Posted by: Joe Blow at December 14, 2003 09:33 AM

Having just used Thrifty from O'Hare I can just comment that the instructions on getting the car back are good (if you read them) although the raised bump in the road as you've followed the directions don't let you turn left into the lot - we pulled a uturn just further down the road but it is a real shut-your-eyes-and-foot-down-on-gas moment.

Posted by: Andy at December 20, 2003 11:18 AM

The complaint has merit. Thrify has systematically rolled UP the red carpet, making life difficult for customers at every step of the way.

Posted by: ap at February 27, 2004 05:59 PM

"Rental Car Return. Exit here." _is_ broken, if they listed every car company _except_ yours and it _was_ at that exit. Either take off _all_ of the logos, so everyone automatically exits there, or make sure _all_ the logos are there. Even if he _had_ the directions right in front of him -- then he's got to make the choice -- are the directions wrong, or is the sign wrong? Broken, broken, broken.

Posted by: Jim Jim Jimson at March 30, 2004 04:11 PM

Funny piece - really enjoyed it - just another reminder about how aggravating and unpleasant travel can sometimes be, especially when exacerbated by poorly run businesses with less than stellar employees.

Posted by: AJ at March 30, 2004 05:11 PM

I can't believe that someone would try to blame this guy for this debacle.

A brilliant executive I once knew named Jocelyn Bojack once told me that every customer should have only ONE responsibility - payment. Everything else is up to you.

Thrifty's O'Hare operation will be avoided by me like the plague.

Posted by: Rob at April 28, 2004 12:33 PM

I can attest to the non existent customer service..... of Thrifty, for driving right by me at 40 miles per hour at the Miami Airport at 1:00am, to Enterprise for not retooling their locks for security purposes and having all of my Masters course books stolen out of the trunck by someone with a key, And last but not least to Avis for deciding that their DMV system couldn't handle finding my WA state approval, so they called the police to have him come in and run my license..... this too at 1:00am, after waiting an hour in line! I was so pissed, I nearly got arrested! DID SOMONE SAY CUSTOMER SERVICE!!!!!!!!! NON EXISTENT AT THESE COMPANIES!

Posted by: Jules at April 29, 2004 08:21 PM

and obviously, besides complaining about one's own mistake, we've also taken light of how someone dresses. mascara on a man. does that threaten you? is it oh so scary? get real.

Posted by: k at June 28, 2004 03:41 PM

Hey, no matter if it's broken or not, you should publish your article. (I'd buy a copy)

Posted by: Dizoctor at July 17, 2004 05:27 PM

I think it's brilliant.

Posted by: David McQuillen at August 22, 2004 03:43 PM

I totally agree with you and when I read the article, I thought you had written my story for me. I had the exact same experience with Thrifty in O'Hare. That's why I pay more for Hertz.

Posted by: Joshua Ottinger at August 31, 2004 10:17 AM

I think you guys should give this guy a break, It was good.

Posted by: Mike at September 18, 2004 12:54 AM

Dude, there are two things in life. One, know your instructions. Two, if you don't know them, find them, or you're screwed! I can't believe you didn't read what was clearly given to you!

Posted by: Joe Smith at October 7, 2004 11:39 AM

The responses posted are either by people who:

1) Work as lame customer service reps similar to those in the writer's story.

2) Are part of the young, irreverant set who doesn't care much about anyone or anything other than themselves.

When you are in a service business, you had better deliver top flight customer service because your competition will...and pretty soon, you won't have to worry about your competition because you won't be in business.

My experience at Hertz in South Bend, IN was first rate...and I rarely travel/rent an automobile. I received a courtesy upgrade, the rep on the rental was courteous and went out of his way to be appropriately social and the desk was staffed for the return by an equally concerned 5 AM! The car was showroom clean and the included paperwork included everything you might think to ask for...along with what might not even cross your mind. I'd rent from Hertz anytime.

Posted by: Bob at December 4, 2004 02:50 PM

Don't rent from Enterprise, they are downright OBNOXIOUS and don't do what they say they will! Not only did they refuse to go back and pick my husband up after they had missed him at the pickup spot, but the manager was exceedingly rude to me on the phone, put me on hold, and then actually CALLED the garage where my hubby was to tell him they wouldn't send a car again because I had been rude!!! They left my man stranded over 3 hours away from home. I will NEVER call them again.

Posted by: Mmmmmgood at February 25, 2005 06:30 PM

Counter Enterprise experience:

I had a very positive experience with Enterprise the one time I've rented a car.

1) Very courteous staff, at odd hours.

2) Was given free upgrade (presumably due to lack of vehicles of the sort I'd reserved)

3) The under-25 surcharge was kindly waived, though I was only 21 or 22 at the time.

4) The shuttle drivers were at worst quiet, at best courteous and conversational.

All-around good experience for me.

Posted by: Brian at March 17, 2005 02:48 PM

Nice piece of work...


Posted by: no one at March 28, 2005 07:23 PM

Man, you people are MEAN!

I feel for you, Pete. Your experience must be where they got the idea for those commercials where the people in the car rental place are all rude and unhelpful.

Better luck next time!

Posted by: LMV at March 30, 2005 02:38 PM

Relax, what is you complaint exactly, that you are tightly strung, have no ability for politeness or are intimidated by hourly employees...which one is it...I fly into and out of OHare every two week, am a Thrifty regular at Ohare as the costs is what we are all after 30.00 per day...what do you expect for 30/day red carpet, bright yellow coporate jerks or regular people trying to grind out another day...

Thrifty OHare is one of the best, the get you in and get you out fast and since you cannot seem to think for yourself...the isalnd is meant to be driven you stop at merge and yield siogns to...what can you expect from some pompass pozer writter anyway...

Have a Nice Day

Posted by: Ignatius at April 1, 2005 10:42 AM

i totally agree with no one.

Posted by: Bob at April 16, 2005 06:27 PM

Whoodathunk midwesterners'd get such a bad reputation?

Truth isn't that it's just those rude, wierd Californians...

Ah, America!

Mike of CA

Posted by: mike at April 27, 2005 03:49 AM

I enjoyed this immensely..particularly the format in which it was written.. :-)

Posted by: Stephanie at September 14, 2005 06:05 PM

Funny story, I can relate. Thrifty is the low-cost provider for this service. Pump your own gas, read your map, and be happy.

Posted by: Chris at December 4, 2005 09:49 PM

First of all, for those who are complaining about the length then don't read it!! I always find it ridiculous that someone can complain about voluntarily reading. You knew the gist of what he was saying at the continued.

I am the type to read all things given me so I can understand the idea that you should have looked at your papers. However that does not excuse the sign being incorrect, them not knowing where your car was initially, it reeking of smoke, and the bus driver telling you the wrong place.

Posted by: Chandra at February 1, 2006 06:41 PM

Thanks for the warning! Now I will never rent from Thrifty - ever!

Also, I thought that the format you wrote this in made the story even better. (To those of you out there who thought that this story/play was too long, well, it's like "Chandra" said: Don't complain about the length of the story after you you voluntarily read it!)

Posted by: This isn't a fake name at March 21, 2006 11:47 PM

Geeze ... what's up with some of you?? The guy tried to give you the whole experience, not just the "Oh, I'm So Pissed!" part.

I found it brilliant and the descriptions of the customer service reps painted a picture that's all too familiar to me. Some of you said "Oh, I travel all the time, blah, blah, blah." Good for you! Maybe you're used to crappy service or maybe you don't feel you deserve any better ...if that's the case then let the customer reps save their crap for you.

Posted by: Broken_inOhio at March 31, 2006 11:24 PM

I just rented from Thrifty and had the worst rental car experience ever. I walked into their off-airport facility at about 12:30am and was greeted by a woman who seemed very displeased to be bothered by an actual customer.

She told me the kind of car I reserved wasn't available, which had happened before with Thrifty, so I asked if I rent a 300M. She told me those weren't rented to Illinois residents.

I tried to explain to her that I've moved to Dallas, and hadn't had the chance to have my license updated, but she had on interest. In fact, she grew angrier with me for questioning their ridiculous policy.

The guy who drove the bus told me they don't rent the Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300 to Illinois residents because they don't always get returned. Since the cars are insured, that really shouldn't matter.

Regardless, I thought it was illegal to discriminate against someone based on where they live.

I don't care how cheap Thrifty is, I will never rent from them again.

Posted by: Mike at May 12, 2006 08:39 PM

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