14 August 2006

M's most excellent airport adventure

If anyone can avoid air travel at the moment, do so.

Leaving DXB is worse than leaving the US, and I have that on authority from an American colleague who flew into Berlin, Germany today from Boston’s Logan Airport.

I flew out of Dubai early Sunday morning. Given that I was flying to Germany, I thought that I would escape the madness around what was happening in the UK.


11:45pm: At the first x-ray machine before check-in, I was called aside to unpack my computer, and told to unclip the battery and pack both it and the computer power cord into my small trolley as it had to be checked-in.

First issue: I do not check in any luggage. When we did this for the first time back in March, we lost our bags for 6 days. But I went with the flow.

12:10am: To the Lufthansa check-in area.

A Lufthansa representative, standing between me and the counter, zeroed in on me, asking where I was travelling to.
“To Germany.”
“Do you have a computer with you?”
At which stage he became very authoritative and lost his smile.
“You must check-in the battery and the power cable.” (Would it be very wrong for me to say that I almost heard the German commandant in this Indian man’s voice?)
“But I don’t have any check-in luggage.”
“Well, you have to check your trolley – you cannot take the computer battery and cable onboard. You will be turned away at the next x-ray and told to come back here.”
“OK – can you guarantee that this time you will not lose my suitcase? The last time you took it away from me, I was without luggage for 6 days.”
“Madam,” (God, I hate it when they call me this!), “it is totally out of our control – it is the new regulations.”

With that, he turned on his heel and walked away.

Now, I know that writing this down, it loses something – my emotion and his. For me, it was a heated exchange, as I usually am pretty cool – I normally leave the confrontation to J as she’s so good at it!

12:20am: To the counter. The nice smiling check-in lady got a scowl in return and to her credit, kept her cool. My nemesis Lufthansa agent returned, making sure that the check-in clerk knew that I had a computer and that my bag had to be checked in. She just looked at him and told him that she was taking care of it – no need to press the issue. My respect for her grew!

12:30am: With boarding passes for DXB-FRA and FRA-TXL in hand, I was off to immigration – a process made easier by my precious little e-Card which allows me to bypass the often horrendous immigration queues, only to allow me to queue earlier in the horrendously long Customs’ x-ray queues. Finally making it through, I’m called aside again. They’re interested in my Masafi water bottle.

The friendly Customs’ agent asks me to drink the water. After resisting the urge to drink, pretend to choke and fall to the floor clutching my throat, I do what she asks and am waved through – able to take my water – bonus!

1:15am: We board on time at 1:15am for a 1:45am departure. At 2am, the captain announces that because there is only 1 operational runway open at DXB (the other is being re-sealed), there is a backlog of 15 planes in front of us and we have another 20 mins at the gate before we can push back.

3:00am: We’re finally rumbling down the runway, taking off to the east before u-turning to head out across the gulf and onto Europe.
Thankfully, I sleep through most of the flight, and waken about 40mins before we’re due to land.

7:10am (German time): If we had departed on time, in Frankfurt I would have had about an hour to clear German immigration and get to my Berlin connection. We didn’t - and I don’t. Although some time has been made up, we still arrive 40mins late at the B section of Terminal 1 and my Berlin plane is due to leave the A section of the same terminal at 7:35am.

Now, if you’re still reading and you know Frankfurt airport, you’ll know that this means running for the immigration counters, usually queuing behind the Turkish and Armenian passengers who arrived 10 mins before you and who are now all being viewed as terrorist suspects in the eyes of German immigration. Then, once you successfully get through this, it’s downstairs to queue for the x-rays, a mad dash for the elevators, a frantic race through the 500m tunnel underneath the tarmac between B and A sections, and up in another elevator before arriving at the gate, puffing and sweating like a marathon runner.

Our plane arrives at the gate. Instead of taking us off on the airbridge, we are mysteriously walked down onto the tarmac and shuffled onto buses which then drive us to the terminal. By now, I’ve given up making sense of anything, and resigned to catching a later flight to Berlin.

7:20am: Here’s where a small miracle and a window of opportunity opens up – I’ve beaten the Turks and Armenians to Immigration! In fact, it’s looking better than I’ve ever seen it - there's no queue at all! I’m through – racing for the x-ray machines…

7:25am: …where I get to queue behind the most frustrating person on this planet. He first forgets to take his computer out of his bag. Next, there’s his leather belt with the huge metal buckle – 1st beep. Next is the cellphone – 2nd beep. Oh – coins in his pocket – 3rd beep. I’m managing to keep my cool – I’m only screaming on the inside.

My turn. By now, my computer (sans battery and power cable) is out of my pack; my solid gold bracelets are off my arm; my cellphone out of my pocket. I throw it all in the bin and walk through the detector, pushing aside the doofus in front of me to collect my things, because he’s still standing there gazing gazelle-like at his stuff on the conveyor belt.

X-ray lady asks me if my computer is mine. Upon confirmation, she asks me to accompany her for a “special extra examination” of my computer. Another guy wipes over my computer with a piece of paper, feeds the paper into a machine and pronounces my computer to be free of explosive matter. Thank God, I’ve been really worried for some time now that my computer was thinking about being the next Little Boy.

7:35am: Upon reflection, it was a miracle that I had got to where I was in such little time, but now I'm aware that this is the time that my plane is due to leave, and I still have the tunnel to negotiate.

The elevators are all down, so I take the stairs. Down 3 storeys and 6 flights of stairs and I’m running through the tunnel – ignoring the moving travelators which are blocked by a stationary group made up of half the population of China, all blinking myopically at the mad white female running past them.

The elevator god is finally on my side at the other end. Because I’ve run past the majority of my fellow tunnel travellers, there’s only 5 of us in the elevator before the doors close to whisk us up to the departure gates. 2 Americans are gasping beside me, praying that they get their flight. Asking them where they’re going brings me the next stroke of luck – they’re on the same flight as me, and as they’ve had the chance to check the gate number, there’s been a gate change to the one that I have on my boarding card.

7:40am: The elevator doors open – it’s like a scene out of The Amazing Race as we sprint for the finish line at Gate 15. By now, the signs have been turned off and we have to yell at the counter staff to ask them if it’s the Berlin flight – yes, yes – go, go, go!

We’re onboard, and the door closes behind us - we get told that they were waiting for us. My elation lasts until 10 seconds after I sit down. I made the plane in 20 mins – a miracle for sure, but now the reality is that there’s no way that my bag also made it.

8:45am: We’re on the ground at Tegel in Berlin. While waiting to disembark, over the PA I’m asked to contact the cabin crew at the front of the plane.

Nope – my bag didn’t make it - but at least they know where it is this time. I must report to Lufthansa Lost & Found to report it. It will arrive on a later flight but they need my address and contact details.

9:00am: We’re familiar with Tegel’s Lost & Found office – we spent a few hours there back in March. J has now joined me as she was already in Berlin and has come to the airport to collect me. She gives the address details for delivery of my case, and we’re told that it should be delivered by 3pm.

3:20pm: A phone call to tell us to expect the case between 2pm and 7pm!

7:00pm: Still no case and we want to go out for dinner. J calls the Lufthansa number. Now, you’d think that it would be a free number, but no, we have to pay for the privilege of phoning Lufthansa to ask after the welfare of my missing bag. €10 later and J is talking to a woman who has no access to the Lufthansa computers, can give us no details and is no help at all. I hope that she's well-paid to take all the abuse that must be thrown at her.

7:45pm: A small white van pulls up with an equally small white man inside, who gets out to pull a small green trolley bag up the path to our door – my case has arrived!

8:00pm: We’re at the Indian restaurant, tucking into very delicious chicken vindaloo, lamb korma and butter chicken, with big glasses of cold beer.

As for my American colleague flying into Berlin from Boston: he had no problems. His intact computer was allowed onboard and security was a breeze.

J travelled to London for the day today. She reports that Heathrow looks like tent city, with tents outside the terminals to house people whose flights have been cancelled or aren’t scheduled to leave in the next few hours. Negotiating the guards with machine guns is also good sport!


Shannon said...

OMG. That's some serious nightmarish travel! And they think the terrorists don't have a leg up. Hmmm...

curiosity said...

I can believe this happened, and they probably singled you out as you originated from the Middle East! Happened to me two years ago..talk about paranoia!!

Taunted said...

Been it, seen it done it. With Frankfurt it really is a pain - whatever you do don't turn up drunk or there's NO WAY you'll make it.

They do recommend a decent hotel tho!

I'm doing Dubai-Munich-Belkgrade on Monday.

Wish me luck, and yes, the e-gate card is the best thing ever here!

halfmanhalfbeer said...

M & J, have a wonderful time in Berlin, it is a fabulous city.

Your journey sounds like fun! I think I might stay on the ground for a while until all of this has calmed down a wee bit.


Desert Lady said...

Sounds like a right Fiasco.

The worst baggage loss i've ever experienced was my brothers pushchair. We pushed it right to the plane steps, got on board, did our trip, disembarked, and hey presto, no pushchair on arrival. Believe it or not, we received a phone call from DXB aiport 3 YEARS LATER!! by which time he was about 5 or 6!

Jin said...

OMG, you poor sod! Enjoy your trip to Berlin tho & just think about all the fun you'll have coming back......hehehehe

Tainted Female said...

’ Thank God, I’ve been really worried for some time now that my computer was thinking about being the next Little Boy.’


’ 7:40am: The elevator doors open – it’s like a scene out of The Amazing Race as we sprint for the finish line at Gate 15. By now, the signs have been turned off and we have to yell at the counter staff to ask them if it’s the Berlin flight – yes, yes – go, go, go!’

My God! It’s a scene from just about EVERY Hollywood movie that included an airport in it, ever made!

Jeeez… all in all, I feel guilty for the entertainment I got outta reading this! I’d never have been able to keep my temper. Image how many passengers are losing it all together? I’m sure you must have seen a few!

I’m sorry. May your trip back be much, MUCH less dramatic!

Paresh said...

Wow. I still can't get over the counter fairy who talked DOWN to you. What the heck is it with customer service with Indians in that part of the world? Fools.

Well I hope your trip back is eventless and a little more enjoyable.


nzm said...

shannon: this is the amusing thing, and also quite tragic. This chaos is all for nothing so far - I doubt that all these guys who have been arrested will ever be charged with anything related to trying to blow up planes.

curiosity: I'd be even more paranoid if I thought that, but it wasn't just me experiencing it, it was everyone. And I got more grief at Dubai Airport than anywhere else!

taunted: lol! There is no way that I would ever want to do any airport after drinking too much - this sounds like a story that you should tell!

hmhb: J has a house in Berlin so we're here quite often. Berlin is a lovely city.

desert lady: 3 years? That's hilarious!

jin: the fun doesn't have to begin upon leaving Berlin - today we all got fired from our jobs! The fun is just beginning!

tainted: glad to be the entertainment - I felt better just writing it down!

paresh: regardless of their ethnicity, you'll always get officious people who, when they perceive that they have 1oz of authority, will make sure that they use it! If I had been in control of my temper, I could use my Lufthansa member status to lay a complaint about him, but I'm as much at fault as he is - I lost my cool, something which I'm not proud about. But a person employed into a position such as he is in should know better when it comes to handling irate customers - the last thing that he should have done was to argue back at me.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

J went to London the same day I left London at heathrow! Fabulous! Yes tents everywhere...

I love the Amazing Race! I know it has nothing to do with anything but just had to say that.

Well what can I say, atleast you had water in your bottle and not baby milk...

Well I am surprised my Heathrow experience was so "pleasent"...

Desert Dweller said...

Don't get me started on air travel. What are we paying such high fares for?..........to be treated in such a way by airline and airport staff? I expect top quality service for what I pay. I hate it that airlines have such a hold over us once that ticket is issued. Yes you can do this, no you can't do that, but if you do this it will cost you this....aaahhh. If I never have to set food in an airport/aeroplane I'd be a happy person. But that's not to be....

Dubai Sunshine said...

Sounds like a fun trip you had there M!

Enjoy Berlin!

A world of Symphony said...

The way you've documented this whole episode, you ought to be a script writer. LOL.

Keep it cool.

When you decide to write a book about this one, reserve a signed edition for me please, yes?

Have a beer for me & wish us luck on our forthcoming trips to Poland & Ukraine and then to Dublin, Galway before returning back to Dubai.

Mise said...

A complete nightmare ... and I heard on Irish radio today that countless numbers of people have had laptops, digital cameras, iPods and mobile phones stolen from checked baggage ...the only upside for you is that you're going to Berlin ...I hear it's a great city. Enjoy! :-D

Mise said...

'the fun doesn't have to begin upon leaving Berlin - today we all got fired from our jobs!'

I just read this...really??? What happened?

halfmanhalfbeer said...

Nzm: job, fired, ?? WTF?? Tell all.


Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

An amazing race and believable. Thanks for taking the time to share it with readers.
Nothing exciting happens in Fiji at airports except after the '87 coup a guy wanted to take over a NZ plane and someone clocked him with a bottle, I think it was. And the little planes to Labasa - I remember we had to weigh in and everyone was looking as the scale climbed up and up!

Jassim said...

After resisting the urge to drink, pretend to choke and fall to the floor clutching my throat

Kodak moment! I wish u done this!

But with all the due respect, I think the airport ppl are working under too much stress and you was just one of thousands they had o deal with that day, so they cant always be nice :-)

A world of Symphony said...

WTF about job, fired? What's going on? Do tell please, soon, if you could!

nzm said...

SS: Phil Keoghan who invented and hosts the Amazing Race is a kiwi!

jassim: Yeah I agree with the airport people, but that is their job, and a whole lot of their training should be based upon handling the public. But as I wrote in an above comment, I wasn't proud of my behaviour either!

And if I had done that after drinking the water, I think that I'd still be in Sharjah prison right now! :-)

Wendy: I remember that guy being knocked out with a bottle, as well as being weighed for the flights.

All: thanks for the queries re the job situation. Will tell more when we know more, but essentially, the board has stripped J of her CEO title. If it was performance based, it would be fine, but it's not and we're dealing here with emotional pitiful people who don't think logically, and have done this for ulterior motives and not for the good of the company.

A world of Symphony said...

I know what you mean about 'ulterior motivies & not for the good of the company'. Meanwhile, you guys take care and let us know more about this fiasco when you settle down. Cheers :-)

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

NZM, believe me, I know he is! lol

trailingspouse said...

Was laughing and nodding my head as I read this, as I think we have all at some time made a mad dash through an airport, although the current security restrictions definitely ratchet it up a notch. Great writing!

Paresh said...

NZM - I concur, anyone in a position to serve customers better must attempt to do so. Pitiful that customer service nowadays comes at the price of your lungs being screamed to holy hell...

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Craziness is catching. Yesterday a Fiji plane bound for Sydney was in a pickle after a message from Philippines prior to landing. - 'There is a bomb on board!' Plane arrived, passengers shunted away and a thorough search took place. Nothing found. A beat-up of a story in the news, but that's the stupidity of what can happen. Hoaxes and scaring people. It's all about psychology - making people afraid of their own shoelaces.

Mise said...

Hope the job situation works out ok ...and I definitely understand the 'ulterior motives' bit..

Pandabonium said...

That was a nice thing about owning an airplane in Hawaii. I could just go to it, load it, do the preflight check and go. If fact, even though took three times as long to fly from Maui to Honolulu as the airlines, my total "door to door" time was actually less.

It's nuts these days, but not new. As the great American journalist H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) wrote: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and thus clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Now days, the ones that aren't imaginary are made to order by governments.

nzm said...

pandabonium: I absolutely agree with your comments on keeping the populace alarmed, and the additional comments re false flag terror which you've made in this post on your blog.

There are now rumours that laptops will no longer be allowed on board - they'll have to be checked in. I think that they're trying to discourage people from travelling to save on oil costs!

super invisible girl said...

wow..i travelled a few days after the heathrow mess too and the whole journey was aweful, they took away my novel..i mean, they cant allow some reading material on a 10 hr journey?And I was reading richard bach, not "how to make a bomb in 10 simple steps".
made me chk in my laptop too...and then promptly lost my luggage.

Keefieboy said...

I absolutely hate airports now - never was that keen before. And if the powers that be think that what they are doing will make one iota of difference, they really need their heads examined.

Really sorry to hear about the job thing.

Taunted said...

No problems now take your phones/laptops/psps/gameboys and all charges on as hand luggage.

Oh and I had a tub of hairgel in my hand luggage too. Nothing happened!