(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Comedy of Errors

When I was in college I took a class on theater, cinema and society. One of the things we studied was the comedy. Not comedy as is understood by the popular modern definition tied mostly to humor but by the academic and more traditional definition. In very simplistic terms, a comedy contains variations on the elements of surprise, conflict, repetitiveness and the effect of opposite expectations. Our trip to the US was a comedy in the classic sense containing all of the above elements – particularly the last one.

We boarded our plane in Amsterdam and the comedy of errors began. We taxied out and proceeded to stay on the tarmac for the next 6 1/2 hours (without leaving the plane). They closed the airport while they were de-icing our wings but then couldn't get us off the plane since all the gates were occupied by airplanes and the ice on the tarmac was preventing the tow vehicles from being able to pull any of them away from their respective gates. Even the movable stairs were unable to come retrieve us due to the ice. So we sat. Fortunately they turned on the entertainment system and even served us a meal as we could see the terminal off in the distance.

 When they were finally able to move the movable stairs, we were able to disembark and get into the terminal. What awaited us was pandemonium. The airport of full of thousands of desperate and angry people. Moreover we received no information so we didn't know where to proceed to deal with what came next. The transit/information desk had a queue that was over a kilometer long. Hotels were all booked. KLM staff were providing mixed, confused and errant information. We were told there was no possibility of being put on another plane until the next day - at the earliest. We were basically hosed with no indication as to when we'd get away. Long story short, we ended up joining the thousands who had plopped themselves on the cold floor someplace and settled in for the night. We had no pillow or blanket so we just made do with what we could find. About 4am I got up to walk around a bit. It was a surreal scene, I have to say. Thousands of bodies strewn about the airport. There was a bizarre stillness in a building I'd only known in hustle and bustle.

Our plan now was to get in line at the gate of any plane heading to North America. I jotted down the morning's flights on my unused boarding pass from the day before and we headed to the gate of the first one. Detroit. Not a bad option if we could pull it off. In addition to the thousands held hostage by the airport, thousands of people were unable to arrive in Amsterdam due to the closure so we knew we had a chance. Within an hour or so of queuing up, they canceled the flight. Our bad luck continued. On to the next gate. Detroit as well. After another hour or so, news came forward it was delayed. On to the next gate. Minneapolis. This time our luck held and the agents eventually arrived to do the security screening. It was looking promising. In the meantime the line behind us was now the length of a football field and as we neared the front I felt as though we were on the Titanic fighting for a spot on the insufficient life rafts. It made me wonder how I'd be in a life or death situation. Get the hell out of my way, women and children, we need to get to the US for the holidays! Hopefully I'd be different but all I knew at this point was that I was in no mood to let anyone sneak in front of us to grab one of these precious seats heading out across the ocean. We'd already traveled from Bujumbura, to Kigali, to Nairobi prior to arriving in Amsterdam and after a night on a cold, carpetless floor, I wanted to get the hell out of there.

Once we obtained the boarding passes, I refrained from performing a touchdown-like celebration and calmly walked towards the bar code reader. Humbled by the experience on the plane the previous day when more than one announcement of our imminent departure (accompanied by cheers) was subsequently thwarted by follow-up announcements telling us that we were doomed. There was no guarantee until we were safely landing on American soil, or ice as was the case in Minneapolis.

  The plane was very late taking off of course due to all of the passenger re-bookings but we were in no mood to complain. Much to our relief, we finally arrived in chilly Minnesota. It was hard not to laugh at the scene of 20+ inches of snow and a perfectly functioning airport after the pathetic 3 inches in Amsterdam (with no wind) that had created all of the chaos the day before. Both KLM and Schiphol Airport got caught with their trousers around their ankles. Normally very professional companies, my hope is that there will be some lessons learned. Possibly not given that the blame seems to be so diffused amongst all the entities involved.

We made our way through immigration and were not surprised to see that our bags did not make the trip. Alas, the comedy of errors continued.

  We were left with only one night in Minneapolis before our scheduled flight to Louisville. As suspected, they still didn't arrive despite assurances that they would.

We arrived in Louisville and have now spent two nights at Priya's parents. While it's nice to be settled with the holidays now underway, we have now been 5 1/2 days without our bags. Each day brings new assurances by earnest and sincere-sounding airline employees of their continued existence and imminent arrival. But they don't appear.

Surprise, conflict, repetitiveness and the effect of opposite expectations. It was a comedy and clearly not very funny.

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