Monday, August 14, 2006

It Can Happen to You

Last night we arrived at the airport three hours ahead of time as recommended. There was a heavy rain, forcing hundreds of Indians waiting for friends and relatives under the entrance overhang. In Chennai, people must pay money to wait for people inside the airport, so indoors is usually reserved for the stereotypic "driver holding a sign," although there is no shortage of those outdoors either. At any rate, there was a huge bottleneck to get into the airport.

Once inside, we were told we had to wait 45 minutes to actually enter the airport area, since our flight was leaving at 1:45am-- later than two other wide body planes heading further east. After our wait, there was a mess to get to the luggage scanners. In Chennai, they are in the middle of airport-- you actually watch your checked luggage being scanned. They had warnings about no liquids, gels, extra batteries, and who knows what else in carry-on luggage, so I repacked my laptop battery in my checked luggage. The real security hole with this is that they place security tape over your scanned luggage and give it back to you to approach check in. Of course, somebody could have something entirely improper in their jacket or purse, which is NOT scanned at this point. They could then slip it into a pocket of their scanned and sealed luggage, and it would be placed into the hold without further scanning. They use orange "security" tape and they don't "seal" every flap and zipper in a soft side case. I don't like this set up of returning luggage to passengers for check in. After being scanned, we should never see it again.

My boss and I joked around about asking for a business class upgrade. I suggested that we not ask, and offered an explanation that I believed people were more generous under those circumstances (since if you ask, they are responding to your asking, not acting generously of their own volition). While checking in, I was a little concerned when I noticed that we had the wrong rows on our tickets. I was in row 12 and he was in row 11- rather than 54 and 55 respectively. At the point I was about to ask about it, the ticketing agent told us we had been upgraded to business class. We decided this was indeed an auspicious day for travel.

We next endured another hour waiting for immigration control. Most countries don't seem to care who leaves, but not India. Cruelly, they had only one agent working our serpentine line, until reinforcements finally arrived. We headed upstairs, and my boss insisted that we wait in the Lufthansa Business Lounge, since we had tickets. We had to sort out a few issues with that, since we needed invitations that we did not possess to enter the lounge without charge, but we shortly agreed to pay the 300 rupees for the two of us. In other words, it was around $3 each, and we had free beverages and food. We eventually stood up to leave when a flight attendant infomed us that the plane was not boarding, and that she would tell us when it was. We waited another hour, then were whisked to the front of yet another security check-in for our carry-ons and then to the front of the boarding line. We were soon in our seats.

Keep in mind that this is a 9.5 hour flight. Our seats were so huge that I almost needed to undo my seatbelt to reach into the pocket in front of me. Our food was served on linen table clothes, with cloth napkins. We were served in real glassware. Lufthansa has always seemed to have steel "silverware"- so no broken plastic sporks. They had a brief wine list and menu. The seats reclined way, way back (without bothering those behind us). The most cheerful flight attendants worked our section. Even the bathroom was much larger. We were in heaven. I doubt I can ever go back to flying economy class.

I slept much of the night, if you consider they served us dinner at 3am. I also caught glimpses of a terrible Bruce Willis movie, 16 Bocks, although Mos Def was quite good (despite his irritating, affected voice). When we arrived in Frankfurt, we stopped for coffee. Like our flight out, the service was horrible. I believe that the business model is such that airport restaurants expect ZERO return business from customers. While I admire German efficiency in most areas, airport food service is not one of them. After a three hour layover we were on our plane to Norway. On board there was a group of maybe eight Russian men drinking vodka and eating McDonalds that they had carried on. It seemed one was always squeezing by to head towards the bathroom. They were loud, but more amusing than obnoxious. Later, several were smoking in the airport restroom-- something not permitted in Norway (although, I am quite sure it is completely socially acceptable to smoke at church in Germany).

Lise picked me up at the airport. She is showing quite a bit more than when I left-- or maybe it just seems that way. It is great to be home again and to breath fresh air. The pollution in Chennai was so terrible that it made my eyes water and throat burn. India already seems like it was only a dream, or a distant memory. It is such a different world that little of it carries over into life in Norway. After catching up, I took a long shower and washed the remnants of the past week away. All I need to do now is stay awake long enough to watch my Swedish "soap opera."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you sure they are called "sporks?" I always thought they were "foons." Glad to hear that you are back safe and sound!!!