Room 412 – Deactivated key card




“My key isn’t working. I think it’s been deactivated.”

This is a common phrase heard by front desk agents around the globe from aggravated hotel guests.

There are several reasons a guest’s keycard will unexpectedly quit working. The quality and age of the card is the first component. Plastic key cards were invented to be disposable and eventually wear out. Technology such as cell phones or tablets can also erase a guest’s key card, but as technology advances, this becomes less likely. Finally, is the human element: Some key cars stop working because they were merely programmed incorrectly.

The guest in front of me at the desk was wearing a shirt and tie, and I assumed he was one of our many guests attending a convention being held nearby. He had casually tossed his key onto the cool granite desktop, which I picked up asking for the guest’s room number.

“412,” came the answer. “Sawyer is the name.”

I typed “412” in my system and confirmed the name matched the room number. After a quick check of the guest’s ID and a few clicks of the mouse, I slid the key into the machine and heard a chime accompanied by a green light indicating his card was reset.

“Here you go,” I said, handing back his card. “Good as new. You’re all set.”

Mr. Sawyer must have been in a hurry because he quickly turned and headed towards the elevator without a word.

About five minutes later, Mr. Sawyer returned to the desk and once again tossed his room key onto the desk.

“It’s still not working,” he said. I could tell his demeanor had slipped a few points to irritation. He wasn’t quite at the angry mark, but it was certainly headed that direction.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I instinctively replied. “Let me make that key again for you and get you on your way.”

“Please,” Mr. Sawyer responded. “I’m supposed to meet someone right now,” he added, looking at his phone.

I pulled two fresh keys out of the compartment from which they were stored. I clicked my way through the system on my monitor and slid the two brand new keys into the machine. The familiar chime and green light meant the keys were good to go.

“Here you go,” I said once again, handing the guest the keys. “I made you two in case one of them has a problem.”

“Are you saying there’s going to be a problem?” Mr. Sawyer asked, looking up from his phone.

“No, sir,” I said. “These should both work just fine.”

“They better,” he said coldly. Clearly annoyed, he yanked the keys from my hand and once again disappeared towards the elevator.

Once Mr. Sawyer was out of sight, I let the smile slip from my lips and my mind filled with reflection. I understood his frustration with a malfunctioning hotel room key, but it wasn’t fair to take it out on the staff. Technology can be both blessing and curse; when it works, it makes life convenient and enjoyable, but when it fails, it can be troublesome and unpleasant. Though the issue with Mr. Sawyer’s key was irritating, in the grand scheme of things, it was a minor inconvenience. However, he couldn’t see it as such.

About five more minutes later, Mr. Sawyer approached the desk for a third time. This time, he slammed the two keys onto the granite countertop.

“I don’t know what kind of stunt you think you’re pulling,” he said to me at a volume which was growing louder with each word, “But THESE aren’t working either!”

His demeanor had definitely climbed to the “angry” mark now. He glared at me, anticipating my response.

“Oh, Mr. Sawyer, I’m so sorry”, I started when he suddenly cut me off.

“Will you make me a key that actually WORKS?!” he bellowed. “And do it NOW!”

His face was red, and veins bulged in his neck. Without saying a word, I immediately made two new keys while he continued to rake me across the coals.

“I am now ten minutes late for a meeting that could be worth more than your life. I don’t know if you think you’re being FUNNY, but I don’t appreciate this little prank of yours one bit.”

“Sir,” I responded sincerely, “This is no prank.”

“You’re damn right it’s not!” the guest shouted at me. “It’s not funny at all!”

I decided to ignore his rude comment. I had finished making two new keys to his room and picked up my hotel keyring which had a master key on it.

“If you don’t mind,” I said, locking my computer screen, “I’m going to come with you up to your room to make sure you get in. I’ve got the hotel’s master key which will work in case these two keys don’t.”

“Which will probably be the case,” Mr. Sawyer mumbled. “None of the other keys you’ve made me have worked; why should these?”

Following him to the elevator, I pushed the 4th floor button once we were inside.

“I’m really sorry about this,” I offered, only to be cut off again by Mr. Sawyer.

“I don’t want to hear it,” he said, staring at the numbers above the door which were lighting up as the elevator ascended. “I don’t want to hear about technical glitches or deactivating keys. I travel for a living. I’ve heard all the stupid excuses before! This boils down to an incompetent front desk agent who doesn’t know how to do his JOB!”

The elevator stopped as he turned to look directly at me, cocked his head and said, “Right?!”

The doors then opened, and Mr. Sawyer headed out of the elevator’s alcove and turned down the hallway ahead of me. I stood there frozen for a moment stunned at his disrespect before acquiring the strength to follow him to his room.

I was surprised to find him at the first door from the elevator’s alcove. He was grasping the doorknob and reaching out to me.

“Give it here,” he said impatiently. “Give me the key you just made.”

“But sir,” I said.

“JUST GIVE ME THE KEY!” he shouted at me.

I handed him both keys. He slid one in the door, and a red light flashed above the handle.

“SEE?!” He shouted at me. He threw the first key on the floor and then attempted to open the door with the second, which followed suit and responded with a flashing red light. He left the key in the door and looked at me.

“What’d I tell you?” he asked angrily. “They DON’T WORK! Use your master key and let me in. I’M LATE!”

Although I was fully aware that he was treating me atrociously, I also knew that I was about to emerge from this ongoing battle triumphantly.

“I can’t use my master key in that lock,” I calmly said to Mr. Sawyer.

“What? Why not!?” he demanded.

And at last, I pointed out Mr. Sawyer’s grave mistake. “Because this isn’t your room; it’s 421,not 412. You’re trying to use the keys I gave you in the wrong door.”

The look on his face was priceless and worth every amount of abuse which I had taken from Mr. Sawyer. He looked at the room number placard on the wall and then back at me.

“412 is down the hall,” I kindly said with my most hospitable smile, pointing further down the corridor.

With rage, he yanked the key out of 421’s door and stomped down the hall. Once he found room 412, he used the key and opened the door without any issue. He disappeared into his room, slamming the door behind him with enough force to cause the other doors in the hallway to rattle in their fame.

I reached down and picked up the room key he’d thrown on the floor and leisurely returned to the front desk.

About five minutes later Mr. Sawyer passed the desk on his way to his appointment. Trying to keep the mood positive, I cheerfully called out, “Good luck with your meeting Mr. Sawyer.”

He didn’t respond.

I didn’t see him for the remainder of his stay, but I hoped he’d learned the value of treating others with respect. We all have bad days now and then, but it’s never OK to take those frustrations out on others, especially when they’re trying their best to help.

Deven Matthews is a hotelier who has worked in the hotel industry for more than 23 years. A professor of hotel management at the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, Deven enjoys instructing the future managers of Las Vegas hotels. He holds a master’s degree in business management and is fascinated by all things hospitality. When not immersed in hotels, Deven enjoys playing the piano and spending time with his wife and their six children.


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