Email is great when it works but a big pain when it doesn’t

When I checked my email on February 27, a strange thing happened. There was nothing new. Not even the junk mail that greets me every morning. Oh well, thought I, just a glitch, I should log on fresh and get things synced up. It can occasionally happen that, due to an update or some such, accounts get disconnected from their saved password and need to be re-linked. Sadly, no such luck. It didn’t work and I was stuck. To make matters worse, though I couldn’t access my email (“That Microsoft account doesn’t exist” I am told), the non-existent account continued (and continues) to receive mail. Senders are not aware that I can’t read what they sent or even know they sent something.

This was no ordinary email account. I set it up in 1996, shortly after Hotmail was founded and it has been with me ever since. There were a few rough years — insecure and spam infested — but that was fixed and I dutifully changed the account to when it became available in 2012, keeping as an alias. I enabled all the security features — two-factor authentication and such — and even paid for Office 365 so I could be sure of no advertising or data harvesting.

It was used for everything and it *had* never let me down. So I was a bit distressed but years of IT experience told me to wait a day and see if it resolved itself. Next day nothing so I searched the web and, with considerable effort, found a way to contact Microsoft support for paid O365 accounts. Great, thought I. They will have this fixed in no time. Many hours later, after talking with MS reps all over the world, having them remotely root around on my computers, repeatedly answering the same questions, getting assigned multiple case numbers and getting nowhere, they decided I should set up an alternate email account and wait for a reply from “higher level support.” An email eventually arrived at my new address thanking me for my patience and asking me to wait for their reply. Yesterday, after waiting about three weeks, I finally heard back. Here’s what they had to say:

Hi, This is Ramie with Microsoft account Support.

Thank you for patiently waiting for our responses. We have heard words from our Higher-level of support and I will be more than happy to relay their message and recommendations for you.

We were informed of your Higher-level of support that our engineers are already aware of the bug/ issue and already working for a fixed on our end. Unfortunately there is no time frame when this issue will be resolve and we apologize for the inconvenience that this issue has caused you.

Your patience and understanding is deeply appreciated. Thank you for contacting Microsoft account Support and if we can help in some other way, please let us know.

Best regards, Ramie

Needless to say, I’m not feeling much patience or understanding and, as there is no other way they can help me, it appears I should just give up and start the painful process of changing all my various accounts to a new email address. I’m on the verge of doing the unthinkable and switching to Google G Suite with a gmail account using my WordPress domain. For C$60/year I can get a nice personal email and maybe that’s what I’ll do.

There are a few travel lessons in all of this. When you’re on the road, there’s a lot of dependance on email and, if it fails for any reason, you’re in trouble. Airline tickets, airbnb & hotel reservations and much more could suddenly become unavailable. If you forget a password and are relying on email to re-set it, that won’t work either. It would be a very big problem so I think I’ll adopt a belt & suspenders strategy for my next trip and copy all important correspondence to a second email account on a second email system. At the very least, be sure you have any alternate verification methods set up whenever available.

It’s all good while it works but can come crashing down mighty fast and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ll be erased just like that. 

Finally some good news. After about a month, Microsoft contacted me to say they had restored my email account. Hurray! It’s worth noting that they helped me with this only because it was a paid Office 365 account. Otherwise I would have been out of luck. The same is true, I expect, with Gmail accounts. So, if you want to get help when there’s a problem I strongly suggest converting any free email accounts into paid accounts. It’s worth the $60/yr.

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