Archive for February, 2012

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Having just made my connecting flight in the very nick of time, this flight was uneventful, quite peaceful in fact.

I arrived at my final destination for that day, which was Miami.

After the helter-skelter rushing about earlier, this time I took my usual leisurely stroll from the arrivals gate to the baggage collection area.

As always, people were pushing and jostling and running past me in a frantic dash to get into a queue somewhere. I’ve experienced that phenomenon a lot. There are three main categories of these retards, 1. the inexperienced travelers, 2. the bloody idiots, and, frequently, 3. guys with suits and briefcases trying to look as if they’re so important the world can’t wait an extra five minutes for their arrival.  I think the mentality of all these poor fools is, the faster they run the quicker their bags arrive. It’s moron logic, it’s always been that way, and I’m sure it always will.

Eventually cool dude me sauntered up to the baggage collection area, having had a pit-stop to change my oil and check my tires so to speak, and sure enough all the runners and jostlers were still standing there waiting for their bags.

A satisfactory smile appeared on my face, only dimmed by having to fork out $5 for a trolley (Miami Airport/rip-off city or what!).

However, it was only another brief moment of triumph.

Whistles and bells eventually started sounding signifying that the luggage was on its way, and sure enough in a few moments bags started appearing and people started doing themselves injuries trying to haul them off the conveyor belt. (Why do the smallest women always need the biggest and heaviest luggage?)

All of them seemed to be doing well, except for me, of course. I stood there waiting for my luggage to appear, but it didn’t, and slowly the number of bags on the conveyor dwindled to just a few, with mine nowhere to be seen.

I strolled round the conveyor, just to double check that no one had mistakenly lifted my bags off the conveyor and then not bothered to put them back on again. That happens a lot too, people are so selfish and self-absorbed these days.

But I wasn’t too concerned. On the flight here I had come to terms with the fact that, whilst I had made valiant efforts to get the connecting flight, the baggage handlers didn’t have the same commitment and anyway when I thought about it, there hadn’t been time to get my bags off the other flight let alone sort them and transfer them the mile or so to the Miami flight.

So there I was, carry on bag only, and with an empty trolley. A trolley that I had to pay $5 for, did I tell you that?

I made my way to the airline baggage office to plead my case – or lack of cases as it turned out.

There were a couple of desks and officials standing behind them.

The one I needed was occupied by a couple from Brazil who had lost a case and were flying on soon to San Paulo or somewhere. The woman claimed to understand a little English, but unfortunately the guy behind the desk must have chosen all the words she didn’t understand because he was getting nowhere fast.

“What colour is your suitcase?” he asked.

A reasonable question I thought.

“A blue one,” she told him.

“Very good, madam” he replied, sure he was making progress.

“Was it a blue one like this?” he then inquired, pointing to a dark blue suitcase on a large card full of colour pictures of cases of all shapes and sizes.

“No,” she informed him. “It was one like this,” and she immediately pointed to a picture of a big red one!

To be fair, the man behind the desk took it in his stride.

He tried another time. He pointed to one like the red one the lady had indicated, only in blue as she had first said.

“Like this?” he asked hopefully.

“No, no, no,” she replied this time. “Assim, assim,” she went on, which I assumed meant something like “like this”, and pointed this time to a green bag sitting on the office floor that didn’t resemble any of the others.

I heard a few muffled snorts and wheezes, that I discovered was me trying hard to suppress guffaws of laughter. So rather than upset anybody any further I turned my attention to the other desk, hoping the guy there would help.

I should have known better. It was the Luftwaffa.

I inquired about my luggage and handed him my luggage tags. He looked down at them momentarily, then back up at me with disgust and contempt written all over his face. “Vee do not deal vis ziss,” he said and dismissed me from his humourless life.

I tried to take back my luggage tags with the same disdain, I don’t know whether I managed it or not. That’s my second run in with Lufthansa, on neither occasion did I enjoy the experience. They really need to work on their people skills.

So I was back in the other queue again. Not much of a queue really. Still just me and the Brazil nuts in front of me. The airline guy was still struggling, although he seemed to have progressed as far as having identified a suitcase of the correct type and colour. I assumed so anyhow.

He was now trying to tell the woman that her suitcase would be sent on the next available flight and she could pick it up at the Varig airline office in her home town in Brazil the following day.

It was simple enough, but her little English was very little indeed, and she just looked at him with a blank expression, as if he’d just tried to explain the fundamentals of quantum physics.

I kind of expected him to start with that weird non language that many people try with foreigners when they are stuck. You know the kind of thing, “Pickie uppy casey manana….”

But to his credit he didn’t. Instead he persevered. It took a while but he eventually printed it all out in Portuguese, gave it to her and off she and her even more confused husband went.

Now it was my turn.

“This will be an easier one for you,” I confidently said, quickly explaining the lateness of the first flight and that there was probably not time to transfer the luggage.

Sure enough he had already been informed and all I had to do was identify my bags. For the black one I pointed to a black one on his card, and so on. I felt ever so smug. Then he gave me the paperwork and assured me that the bags would be delivered to my hotel later that night or first thing the following morning.

He was a nice guy, very patient and polite. I thanked him and folded up my papers and started to leave.

I have some Scots blood pulsing through my veins and just then it kicked in to play. Thank goodness!!!

“Hang on a minute,” I said. “I paid $5 for this here trolley gizmo and, through no fault of mine, I’ve no bags to put on it! You’re going to have to refund my money.”

He sympathised profusely. “I understand what you’re saying,” he replied. “But unfortunately I have no authority to issue a refund for that, it’s the airport that charges for the trolleys not us.”

I told him that may be so, but it was really unsatisfactory.

In truth I didn’t really care that much, but this had become a matter of principle, and I wasn’t for backing down. No, Sireee! Never!!

But then he said something else that shook my principles to the core.

“I can’t give you the $5,” he repeated, “but did you have to pay anything for your second bag?”

I told him, yes. They had charged me $70 for the second bag at embarkation airport, which is their standard charge for additional bags on transatlantic flights.

“Ah, ok,” he said. “What I can do is void the charge for the additional bag. I have the authority to do that.”

The bastard had outsmarted me and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

There was nothing for it but to throw my principles to one side, forget about my $5 and take the $70 refund.

But I had held out for a few seconds. You can’t take that away from me.

And I did put my carry on bag on the trolley and wheeled it about the airport for a while until thought I had got my $5′s worth, which, coincidentally, was when I got to the hotel shuttle pick-up point.

That good old Scots blood again, you don’t forget!

 

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Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.

 

 

It is said that when men make plans, God laughs.

On this trip my plans included a 3 hour stopover window at my first port of call in the United States. Plenty of time to change planes and have something to eat. As I said in a previous post, I’m not a fan of airline food and with the early start and all the airport hassle, I like to wait and have a decent meal when I arrive at my destination.

Plenty of time?

Well there would have been if everything had been on time.

Apparently on the first trans-Atlantic part of my journey we had been fighting fairly strong headwinds most of the flight so we arrived in the US with less than 30 minutes to grab the connecting flight instead of 3 hours.

Thankfully Immigration and Customs had been taken care of before departure, otherwise there wouldn’t have been even the slightest chance of making my connection.

Of course, the day we were late was the day they’d parked my first plane about a mile away from the departure gate for the connection, and the gate was almost closing already.

I could have chilled out and just deliberately missed the connection and taken the next flight, I’ve had to do that before, but it arrived very late at my final destination and I thought I would rather get to my hotel as early as possible – it had been a very long day already.

I spoke to an official looking person, (a person in a uniform), explaining that I had to get to gate C31 within the next 10 minutes. I had come in at gate A2, I think. She just laughed. There was no chance.

Then I spotted an electric cart. It didn’t have a driver and for a moment I considered hijacking it, but just then the driver did saunter up and I explained my plight.

“Don’t know if we can make it, it’s a long, long way, but we’ll sure as hell give it a go. I can take you part of the way.” It’s wonderful what a few bucks can do!

So off we set, as fast as the cart would go, which, when you’re in a hurry doesn’t seem that fast. But we were moving and it was a lot quicker than walking.

For some reason in airports there is very little or no protocol for walking from A to B. Some people walk down the right side, others the left, and quite a number wander down the middle of the road oblivious to everything.

When you are on foot it’s noticeable too. If you choose to go with the flow and, for example, walk on the right hand side you progress well, for while. Until, that is, all of a sudden all the traffic seems to be coming from the opposite direction, towards you, and you find yourself like a motorist going up a one way street the wrong way.

I’ve never figured out who gives the signal to change sides, or how it is done, but it happens – always. Maybe there’s something like a dog whistle, audible only to the illogical and disorganised? Or maybe it’s something in the genes, you know, the thing that makes large flocks of birds or shoals of fish all turn in the same direction all at the same time. If you know the secret, do tell.

So there I was on the cart, hanging on to it with one hand and to my bag with the other, at the same time kicking out vigorously at stupid pedestrians who had to walk in the middle of the road, and wouldn’t get out of the way. I have to say too that I was swearing like the proverbial trooper.

Elegant it was not!

But with a quick change of vehicles and drivers on the way, I actually made it to the gate – red faced no doubt, and with literally seconds to spare!

But I had battled adversity and this time I had won!

At least I thought I had.

It was another one of those fleeting moments of triumph.

As I sat in my seat (an aisle one this time) waiting for takeoff, I wondered about my luggage.

Oh, no! My luggage….

 

 

 

Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.

I always buy my airline tickets online. And I usually try to stick with the same airlines, if their prices are anywhere near to being competitive. I invariably sign up for their mileage award programs, so while their prices are ok they have my loyalty as a customer.

On this occasion I was flying to the US from the UK. A fairly long flight, so I wanted to be as comfortable as possible, as far as you can flying coach these days.

I had reserved an aisle seat, as I always do. Easy for trips to the loo if necessary or just for a walk during the flight to break the monotony. Also with an isle seat you don’t have to annoy anyone else.

Did I say I reserved an aisle seat?

Yes I did. I did it as part of the internet booking process when I bought my ticket. It’s usually a good enough system.

Usually!

When I was reserving my seat I first looked at the the airplane seating configuration. It was a Boeing 767 and had an ‘ab-cde-fg’, 2 aisle configuration. I was in seat ‘e’.

It was perfect.

Right up until they decided to change the airplane at the last moment, without my permission, to one with an ‘abc-def’ single aisle configuration.

That’s the dangers with automated systems with no sensible humans to oversee them. I was still in seat ‘e’, right enough, but seat ‘e’ was now a middle seat in the right side of the plane.

Could I change? I did ask, but it was a waste of time. The person at the ticketing desk could read what on the computer screen, but could do little else. The flight was full so that was that. Nothing could be done.

I was angry. And disappointed. And horrified that with the way my luck was going, I would end up between two 6 foot 7 inch big hairy sweaty blokes on either side of me. I’m no minnow myself and I don’t make a good sandwich filler, especially of that kind. I’d seen this kind of thing many times in movies and now it seemed I was about to star in my own.

With trepidation I got on the plane, stored my carry on bag in the overhead compartment and sat down in the seat ‘e’. I was by myself in that row. Maybe no one else would show up? It was only a fleeting moment of hope. First of all seat ‘f’ arrived and I got up to let him into his seat. He was a young guy, early twenties probably, and had that thin studenty look. He was ok, he wouldn’t take up too much room.

Just so long as he wasn’t a ‘bouncer’, you know one of those hellishly irritating people who feel that they have to keep adjusting their seat every ten seconds, or who think that bouncing back and forwards will maybe make the plane a bit bigger. Not only do they never manage to get comfortable themselves, but they make the journey unpleasant for everyone around them.

Nothing more happened for a while except for other people getting on the plane and taking their seats, but nowhere near me. Once again I found myself thinking maybe seat ‘d’ will be vacant and how great that would be.

Hope can be a very irritating human trait, because it invariably sets you up for a disappointment. And sure enough my disappointment was slowly walking down the aisle towards seat ‘d’. It could have been a lot worse. It was a girl, about the same age as the guy in seat ‘f’. In a machievellian moment I thought about introducing the two of them and offering to allow them to sit together, but they’d taken my bow and arrows off me at the security check so the Cupid thing was out.

After all that, it turned that there was about enough room, just, so I settled down for a sleepy flight to the States, only disturbed by a bit of turbulence a couple of times and by dinner which unusually I decided to try, buy as usual didn’t like and sent most of it back.

The question asked on airlines by the stewards and stewardesses, or whatever they’re called these days, “Would you like beef, chicken or pasta?” really needs to be replaced with, “Would like brown splodge, white splodge or yellow splodge with tomato sauce.”

End rant – get on with story….

I wasn’t too worried about missing the airline meal because I had about a 3 hours stopover before my connecting flight, so plenty of time to change planes and have a bite to eat as well.

Hmmm, did I say plenty of time?

Oh, dear!

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Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.

Before the country went broke, they opened a new terminal at Dublin Airport last year, cunningly named ‘Terminal 2′ (the first one was called ‘Terminal 6′, no it wasn’t, just joking, it was ‘Terminal 1′).

Last year when I arrived in Ireland I arrived at T2 but never departed through it before.

It’s all very nice and new and all that, BUT (at least when I was there) there were no signs telling you where to go. (This may be a deliberate government conspiracy to try to curtail the numbers of their people emigrating again now that the country is a busted flush).

So just in case you ever need to use it, here’s the story.

You arrive at departures (as you usually do at airports when you want to go somewhere, which hardly anyone apart from me seems to find the least bit odd).

Then, if you have 3 suitcases (like me) or more, you try to find a trolley. Then you go to the airline desk and dump your checked bags and get a boarding pass.

Not too bad so far.

Then you dump your trolley.

And then the fun starts.

You look for a sign for departures.

There ain’t none.

After a while you talk to other equally bewildered travelers and eventually the temptation to take the escalator to the next level becomes overwhelming.

But when you get to level two, you might as well still be on level one. Not only are there are no signs for departures, but there isn’t even a sign to let you know you are on level two, not one.

More bewilderment.

Level two is actually the ‘arrivals’ level, but nobody tells you that.

People look hopefully into other people’s faces in the vain notion that maybe a map will magically materialise or that some poor soul has come through all this before and knows what to do. But no. The intrepid travelers who know what they’re doing have blazed ahead a long time ago, and their trail of breadcrumbs have been obliterated by the wee man sweeping the floor.

So after another pause, in the expectation perhaps that some men will come along and put up a new sign, the adventurous explorer instinct kicks in again, and, consequences be damned, you find another escalator and valiantly head for level three!

Yes, you guessed it, no signs, you might as well be on level two or back on level one again.

But although nothing, or no one tells you, actually this turns out to be the right place.

This is the departure level – except you find out later you don’t actually depart from here, they just call it that for fun.

But for a moment you are happy.

Then a bloke with a uniform was spotted, expectant smiles break out on faces everywhere, and the poor soul is assailed by frustrated travelers.

Fearing for his life, he cracks almost immediately and divulges that we have to go along to the right and we will eventually find security. Which we all did, shoes off, laptops out, all the usual caper.

Then when you have that done, you go to the departure terminal and wait for the flight to be called.

Don’t be stupid!

Then you realise that nothing more is happening on level three, and now, getting to know the system, you find another escalator and you start the journey back down earthwards again.

Eventually, if you’re US bound like me, you make it to US Immigration and Customs, having first of all sat down somewhere to fill out the necessary forms.

But first, you have to go through security???

Security!!!

“But I’ve just spent the best part of an hour trying to find security and then getting processed through it,” I say incredulously to the guy at the conveyor belt contraption that takes your stuff through the x-ray machine! (I’m actually saying, “For f*** sake get this place organised”, but thankfully that bit never makes it to my gob. (For me that takes a LOT of will power).

But the security man tells you that this is the airline’s security check, which is different in that it is the same as the other security, just done by different people – you’re now about to enter US territory, so the yanks like to stamp their own brand on things as always.

So I start to talk to this bloke while others are in the queue to go through.

He starts off by saying “Good morning young man.”

I’m now a bit tired and can’t make up my mind whether he’s being polite or taking the piss, so I blush modestly and enquire if he normally wears glasses and has perhaps forgotten them this morning.

He laughs and says rather seriously, “We have to stick together.” (He’s about my age and folically challenged, so I know what he means and agree wholeheartedly.)

So I start to take off my watch.

“It’s ok,” he says.

Then I go for my shoes.

“Never worry about that,” says he with a small dismissive sweep of his hand.

Then my jacket?

“Naw,” he says shaking his head.

Then in a last ditch effort to be searched for some damn thing I confess to having a laptop in my bag and start to open it up.

“Aw gowann ahead,” he says.

And I bid him farewell and walk uneventfully through the detector thingy, (is it even switched on???) not sure whether I am fortunate, :o)  or just not important, :o( .

It’s actually a strange phenomenon. I’d never come across it before. And it’s highly dangerous.

We all complain regularly and bitterly about the way we are processed through security at airports, most of it, it has to be said, completely ineffective and unnecessary. Yet when we are excluded from herd we somehow feel a bit let down. Psychological conditioning at its most deadly perhaps!

Anyway, back at the airport.

On the bright side, US Immigration and Customs at Dublin Airport is, as always (in my experience anyway) fairly efficient and friendly  -  unlike quite a number of US airports where they make you feel as welcome as comedian Billy Connolly’s proverbial ‘fart in a space suit’.

So that part was ok.

Then with all my approvals in place, I make my way to the departure gate.

Was the rest of the journey uneventful?

Oh no!

Please!

There’s more to come, if you’re interested. .

Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.

An example of what we’re up against. This one happened a while ago with Western Union. It was a very simple thing – just send some money, which is the business Western Union is in – isn’t it?

Easy??

The proceedings went something like this:

Western Union, Part 1 (the telephone call):

HER @ WU: “Hello,”

ME: “Hello, I’d like to send some money to Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.”  (I was in the UK at the time)

HER @ WU: “How much would you like to send?”

ME: “I need to send £12,000.”

HER @ WU: “Oh, that’s quite a lot of cash to carry around.”

ME: “Yes, it is. I can get a cashier’s check from the bank, that’s as good as cash.” (silly me!)

HER @ WU: “No we have to have cash.”

ME: I thought, ‘Then why make the pointless point in the first place’, but I said, “OK, I’ll bring the cash. Is there anything else you need?”

HER @ WU: “We would need some form of photographic ID, a passport or driver’s license.”

ME: “OK, anything else?”

HER @ WU: “A phone or electricity bill with your name and address on it.”

ME: “OK, I can do that too. Is that it?”

HER @ WU: “Something showing who the money is going to.”

ME: “OK, is that it this time?”

And that was it.

I went to my bank, withdrew the cash, checked the exchange rate it was 1.53, so the £12,000 was more than enough for the $17,500 and the Western Union fee.

All was ready to go.

Or so I thought.

Western Union, Part 2 (the office):

ME: “Hello, I need to transfer £12,000 to Las Vegas etc., etc.”

HER: “Oh yes, you phoned us about that.”

ME: “Yes, that’s right. Now I’ve brought the money and I’m ready to send it.”

HER: “You have to fill in this form.”

So I filled in the form.

ME: “How much will the transfer cost?”

HER: She looked at her computer screen, “The transfer will cost £465 = US$711.45.”

ME: “OK. Just confirm with me that we are sending US$17,500?”

HER: “I’ll have to phone headquarters to find out.”

ME: “But this is a bureau de change, that’s what you do here, you must know the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar?”

HER: “I have to phone Western Union to get their rate.”

ME: “But it won’t be that much different.” (I was so innocent in those days)

So she phoned Western Union headquarters and their rate was 1.43, not 1.53 that the rest of the world uses.

Western Union were screwing me out of another US$1153.50. But I was in a hurry to get the money transferred so I said that was ok too.

HER: “Do you have some ID.”

So I handed over my passport

HER: “Have you a utility bill with your name and address?”

And they got that

HER: “When this amount of money is involved we need a document confirming the destination and the person who should receive the money.”

So I showed them the letter the recipient had faxed to me

HER: “Yes that is ok, but it is supposed to be faxed to head office.”

ME: “But you are Western Union’s representative and you have the document.”

HER: “You have to fax it to headquarters for verification.”

ME: “OK, so your company doesn’t trust you. There’s a fax machine on the desk beside you let’s fax it to them now.”

No that was no good. Far, far too easy!

HER: “You have to fax it.”

ME: “Well let me use your fax machine and I will fax it now.”

HER: “No you have to fax it yourself,  to our head office.”

ME: “What difference does it make where it is faxed from as long as they get it…….OK, OK, I will fax them the document when I get back to the office. Meantime if I leave the money with you will you make sure it is transferred as soon as your headquarters gets the fax.”

HER: “They will have to verify the fax.”

ME: “And how are they going to do that?”

HER: “They will have to send it to London.”

I started to ask why we were faxing it to the wrong place to begin with and why not fax it to London straightaway, but I just said,

ME: “How long is that going to take?”

HER: “They will get it tomorrow.”

ME: “And how long after they get the fax until the money can be sent?”

She obviously didn’t know.

ME: “And the money won’t be transferred until then?”

HER: “No.”

ME: “But the whole point of using Western Union, paying your extortionate charges and exchange rate profiteering, is so that the money arrives today. We have people waiting there for. We promised to have it there today and you led me to believe that the whole process would take less than half an hour?”

HER: “Well there are money laundering regulations and we have to…..blah blah blah.”

ME: “So the money will go tomorrow, after I send a fax detailing the recipient is and what the money is for, to the wrong place, and they then resend it to the right place? Is that definite?”

HER: “Well yes, providing everything is all right.”

ME: “Ok, so you will send the money?”

HER: “Yes, if you get a statement from your bank showing when you withdrew the money.”

ME: “WHAT! You never mentioned that before. Why did you wait until 10 minutes after the banks have closed before you threw that one at us? What happens if I got some of it out of the bank and a couple if hundred pounds out of my wallet?”

HER: “Well, we need a statement from the bank showing the withdrawal.”

ME; “So you won’t send the money until you get that as well and you won’t get that until the banks open in the morning. What you are telling me is you aren’t going to send this money, is that right?”

HER: “We need to have all this documentation because of money laundering…..more blah blah blah.”

I left. It was either that or commit a heinous crime of brutality, that would have done her no good at all and would probably have landed me in jail. I’d been there an hour and a half and the place was closing.

The SABs had triumphed again!

Up to a point. Western Union didn’t get the business. I never went back.

Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.

Thanks for taking the time to look at my new blog.

It’s called FASAB which stands for the   Fight   Against   Stupidity   And   Bureaucracy.

I hope you like the title and the thinking behind it.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised no one has taken the name and the idea before. More and more these days there seems to be a dumbing down of the population in general. Education certainly isn’t what it was in my days of going to school, where we were not only taught the “3 R’s”, but also a bit of practical thinking as well.

These days people seem to have lost the knack of having an in-built degree of “common sense”. They don’t seem to have the ability to think their way through the situations they find themselves in. And they don’t really care about what they do, or who they’re doing it to. What has happened??? IS it just me??? Please tell me it’s not!

And worst of all, the dumbest of the dumb seem to be able to get themselves into jobs and positions where mere mortals, like myself, and possibly you too, find ourselves wasting precious hours of our lives fighting these morons and their unnecessary and stupid rules.

Whilst always trying to make a serious point, I hope to write future blogs on various subjects and in a humorous way where possible. We have to try to keep smiling in the face of the SABs otherwise they win – and if we let that happen the human race is doomed!

Feel free to comment, send examples, links etc., you have come across that illustrate stupidity and bureaucracy, they can be found individually and collectively. But (and I know this will be very difficult at times) try to refrain as much as possible from using profanity. I’d like this blog to be entertaining and educational, not offensive.

Anyway that’s it for the intro speel.

We’ll see how it goes from here!