A few months ago I booked my train ticket for my return trip from the mountains. We all travelled down together in the car but I needed to be back by Friday and they were coming back on Saturday. I decided to take a night train because I'd taken one once before, back when I was a student, and it wasn't the worst experience of my life, so I figured, why not?
Just before my 26th birthday, my company bought me a 12-25 discount card because I take the train every week for work -- twice a month to Paris, and twice a month to Lyon. The advantage is that I can use it any time, not just for professional trips. I found a good rate online for a ticket from Megeve(Sallanches) to Paris(Austerlitz) and then Paris(Nord) to Lille. When you book online with the SNCF sometimes you get a few euros off, and then in addition to those two discounts, I also had a 20% off code. My ticket came to 65€, which is a damn good price for such a long trip, and in first class! I was so stoked.
Because we have a history of losing things just before trips, I decided to put my reservation number in my phone and withdraw my ticket the day of the trip. When the big day came and I showed up at the station to get my train, I learned that there is no ticket distributor at the train station in Sallanches, and because it was a night train leaving at 8:30, there also wasn't anybody working the ticket window.
After a brief moment of panic, the station manager assured me that all of the controllers aboard the trains were aware of the situation and could find my reservation for me. Then he showed me where this was indicated on all of the information screens in the station. Alright, I thought, this will be okay. I just need to get on the train and find the controller.
Normally when a train leaves the station, the controllers wait on the platform until just before the train leaves. There was nobody on the platform though. The train started to leave. I walked the length of the train twice looking for them and found nobody. Finally, I resigned myself to wait for them in my little room, on my bunk, patiently.
An hour and a half later there was a little knock on the door. In walks a toad-faced woman, asking for my ticket.
I got off my bunk and started to open the email with my ticket confirmation and proof of payment, explaining that Sallanches doesn't have a ticket machine but of course she already knew that... right?
Wrong. Well. She refused to believe it. Another controller arrived a moment later and accused me of having cancelled my ticket just before I got on the train in order to get a free ride. The woman accused me of wanting to waste everybody's time and asked why I didn't just go to the next train station down the line, a few villages away, Cluze? To which I replied, um, what and where and huh?
I kept trying to plead my case in a logical and calm manner when the woman snapped at me. "Oh just shut it!" she said. "You people are all the same", all the while using the informal "tu" with me as if I were some kind of child and not an adult travelling alone.
I asked the controller what the punishment was for SNCF's incompetence and was told that I would have to re-purchase my place -- a full price, first class ticket, coming to a whopping 166€, when I'd already paid 65€... ouch. (Later on I learned that what other people do is get off the train at the next stop and risk missing the train to go withdraw their tickets.. stupid me, right?)
What I found most frustrating about this situation was that before taking the train, I inquired as to what I should do and I followed the process required. I paid for the second ticket knowing that I would be able to fight this with their after sales services, but all the while frustrated because I was treated lowlier than an animal. I was called a liar and a thief and told to shut up whenever I attempted to defend myself. It was really scandalous and abusive. Even after I had paid, they continued to throw insults at me outright laugh about how much I was made to pay. "Of course it's expensive," the man said. "What did you expect? Oh yeah, a free ride. Ha!" -- I was disgusted.
On the stretch from Paris to Lille I actually managed to get my original ticket and presented it to the controller once on board. I also took advantage of his time to ask him what he thought of the situation. He was so upset for me that rather than fining me for not having my 12-25 card, he let me go. After he finished controlling, he came back to find me and whispered to me that I really needed to send a letter because what they did wasn't normal at all and that I was fully in my right.
I haven't had the time this week to challenge this situation in front of an actual SNCF agent, but it's first on my list for Friday or Saturday. I hope that justice will prevail and that my unnecessary ticket will be reimbursed. We'll see... in the mean time, I'm going to Paris tomorrow and i'm crossing my fingers for a completely uneventful, boring trip.
To be continued!