Thursday, May 12, 2011

More travel funnies…

More travel funnies…
Torrey Orton
May 11, 2011

We're off to my 50th boarding school reunion, a family reunion and a France reunion for a month, with various interludes and postludes along the way. I start with preludes.

 "No record of reservation…"
Travel funnies started before the travel this time with the news by email that our reservation for the reunion had never been received by the Heritage Hotel…a discovery thanks to a query from classmates about the state of our accommodation and such since the school had no record of them (not that they should have since I'd never sent them and no one had asked for them!). I was rabid about the news, driven by the fact I was awake at 3am to receive it and had dopily turned on the email.

I fired off a note of complaint to the school's event manager with my reservation number and date of approval (Feb 10, '11). …. And somewhat later set off for a morning's therapy at 7am by train and tram, whence another unfunny chapter opened unexpectedly, disappointingly and totally unnecessarily.

Back to the trams…where months ago I noticed that I often entertained myself with pre-work exercise in segments marked out by the train/tram route on the way there. There was a theoretical hitch at that time: that I occasionally almost got it wrong - "The almost is the lurking awareness that I could still mess up, or be messed up, by misjudgement plus fate" I noted at the time. Wait or walk, I wondered again this morning.

Well, this time, already angered by the accommodation screw up a few hours earlier, I walked and waited in vain. Arriving at one tram stop, I had five minutes to go to the next scheduled tram and was caught midway by an early arrival passing me by, stopping at the next stop and waiting for two minutes for its schedule to catch up with it, and then moving off just as I caught up with it!! This sequence was repeated two more times as my pre-work walk turned into a 40 minute, 3 kilometre quickstep to the clinic, arriving 12 minutes late. Fortunately, the expected client was s serial lateness offender and bore the wait well (forewarned by SMS of course). Still, I was smoking, but only wisps showed.

 (The accommodation bungle was recovered three days later, or so I was promised by email.)

 LA International Airport…incoming
There's a song which celebrates the West Coast entry to the US. Well, it was an undeserving entry this time. Apart from an eventual 1 hour wait in an incoherent and disorderly queuing system, we got a standing room only wait in the plane on arrival due to congestion in the entry hall. We were told there were a thousand just-arriveds standing in our way. I should have known we were really in for trouble when I sighted a sign saying something like: With our 140 years of customer service we know paying attention to customer needs counts! I read this as a line from the mouth of LA Tourism thinking they really have reached heights of self mockery. A few metres further up the passage I saw the words were an HSBC bank self-promotion, but then…

Joining their last members (maybe 500 folks or so) 15 minutes later, we started our passage in a hall with no toilets other than a pastel sign promising renovations of the previously available offerings were well under way…and this after 13 hours in the air.

The entry hall was itself quite new, with numbered ranks of passport control stations spread in a 150 meter array before us. Trouble was, they were less than half staffed, though they were armed with a terrific set of terrorist detection tools – both iris cameras and handprint capture machines. There was not even a hand-lettered sign telling us which line was for foreigners and which for returning natives, though there was a quite well-designed one for diplomatic and special business travellers, of course.

 LA …outgoing
A day later we got the AA treatment (no, not that AA; the American Airlines AA) on the way to our next stage. The boarding routine was a marvel of self-contradiction which seemed to work. There were stringent carryon bag limits clearly posted around the departure halls with explicit threats that oversized ones would be thrown into the hold (delicately by their experienced staff waiting hopefully below the plane to receive renegade bags from watchful cabin staff).

The warnings were enough to make me slightly antsy about the somewhat oversized backpack I was carrying. No need to worry. Others were carrying material for a beach party. Due to my abiding never-be-late phobia, we had arrived early and due to Jane's possessing a higher grade of Frequent Flyer, we boarded in the first rush scoring empty overheads for the effort. What came next was a scramble by the masses to grab space which was close to the unconscious meaning of unseemly…not quite pushing old ladies out of the way but an outbreak felt imminent.

Coaching from the sidelines was the chief speaker for the cabin staff - running through the outsized bag routine as a request for civil compliance rather than an order. She backed up the civility theme by encouraging the scramblers to "help each other" with the short, weak and maybe old as worthy targets for help (if they couldn't lift their overweight bags, couldn't get them to fit the compartments (quite a few), or just couldn't find space, though passing the weight and size reg's). After 20 minutes wrestling bags, jockeying for position and "helping" the place was cleared for take-off. Lots of bags disappeared under seats in front, to the point of leaving little foot space, but then whose fault was that.

Was I seeing another instance of a self-regulating system at work?? The last I remember was the response to the US Airways flight #5149 which crashed without loss of anything material but itself in the Hudson River in January '09 (just where we were heading!). Cameras monitoring the area of the crash (by chance) caught ferries and other boats turning to save passengers before formal rescue could have been organised. Local players had chosen to disregard their SOP's, city, state and federal regulations with probable risk to their licenses and captain's bars to do the obviously right thing. Perhaps an example of "giving forward", as my niece described an effort of hers to make a difference in some family matter. More another time.

Fly well, fly high.   

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