Thursday, February 12, 2009

SO much fun, brought to you by the Indian government and Lufthansa

I just finished a scathing letter to Lufthansa Service Management. Recaro reclining seats are nice, and look fancy, they don't always work. Form over substance. Seat 26D, my lucky seat, reclined 1/2 way and stopped, at 330am, just minutes after wheels-up flight. The head flight steward, an apologetic British chap with perfect German, apologized profusely. I moved to the middle seat, 26E, only to find it reclined fully, and would no longer sit up. Lufthansa 747s have 115V outlets, that work from time to time, Perfect for draining a laptop battery, when you THINK it is plugged in, and it's slowwwwly discharging. Then, over the Black Sea, over the Crimea, again over the Carpathian Mountains they TURN ON all the overhead lights. No reason, just fun to wake up the passengers. 2 minutes later, they turn them off again. Three different times, within an hour. That's probably when my laptop's 115V power supply was being toggled off. The British steward said "everything is going wrong, 2 passengers in 1st class cannot turn off their lights, and a woman in business class's movies won't work, and now these 2 seats...." as he knelt with a flash light, wrestling the seat without any results. Upon landing, I was semi-reclined (and the plane did not crash! it's SO essential to have your seat all the up you know!)

Ok, so the flight mechanically was not a good one. Not all old 747s are created equal, I understand. My flight TO Bangalore was trouble free, can't win them all, mechanically. I get that. But why does it take 45 minutes to get a refill on a cup of tea? Why when pancakes are served, is there no syrup, jam, or honey? And when you ask for honey, it takes so long to get to you, that the pancakes are now ambient temperature. The crew was either under-staffed, incompetent, or at least extremely disorganized.

Upon exiting the warm 747 at the permanently-under-construction-Frankfurt-Airport, the British chap again profusely apologized as the bleary eyed, poorly rested passengers inched down a mobile stair case to walk across frozen, ice covered asphalt, and get into a large transfer bus. This was the kind of ice that most US work places fear so much that they spread copious amounts of salt everywhere so that people don't slip and fall. The really thin, really slick and smooth, black ice... yeah, it covered the asphalt all around the transfer bus. Not a grain of eco-unfriendly salt or FOD-causing sand to be seen anywhere. Of course, coming from Bangalore, and being forced to check my carry on - because OMG, it was 2KGs over the 8KG limit!!!! - I was dressed for 32C India weather, not -1C weather. Brilliant display of complete ineptness for a country that prides itself on process, discipline, method, and excellent quality.

My letter to Lufthansa won't get any results. Some nice German Customer Service Manager will email me, and again apologize, in perfect English, but it's not like they are going to upgrade my United Airlines "Mileage Plus" account to Gold or Platinum or something, or give me a free upgrade somewhere. It was cathartic to write it though.

Getting out of India, seriously, was a gauntlet I hope I never have to do again. My corporate AMEX card (AMEX bought GE Capital's consumer credit card business, and forced all corporate card holders to dispose of their Mastercards and take up AMEXs that don't work at most goods and service providers) wouldn't work at the hotel, or at the car-hire service I'd used for the previous 12 days. I did find a no-limit ATM that dispensed enough Rupees to pay $400 (20K Rupees) for the car driver, but the hotel bill was over 100K Rupees. Front desk had the gall to ask for another card, which I told them I did not have, and they could run a copy of my AMEX on a photocopier, or call AMEX right then and there... I wasn't going to put $2k of company expenses on my personal card, and then fight all the international fees and BS.

So I get to the airport, and 2 camo'ed and masked commandos with AKMs over their shoulders, and what looks like a 12.7mm (50 cal) machine gun with a third commando & sandbags behind them, screen all the cars. Fun! Getting into the departure door there's a guy with a Chinese made sub-machine gun, and an officer, checking "tickets" - it's an e-ticket, f*ck head; Get with the program - before allowing entry. Then, just prior to getting into the Lufthansa counter line, there's another another guy (no visible weapon this time) within sight of the door. At the counter, I get stripped of my carry on that has gifts and things that are not dirty laundry in it, and head up with my boarding pass to immigration.

Another green uniformed play solider has to check your passport and boarding pass BEFORE you get to the rubber-stamping immigration guy. Then, the standard STAMP STAMP STAMP, and they hand you back your passport (that's the fifth person who "needed" to see it). 10 feet behind the stamper, is another guy - another airport bureaucrat, no uniform, pre-middle aged, who has to check that stamper just did his job. # 6. Then, mens, and women segregated security lines... 20 feet away... # 7 gets to check # 6's work. Stripped of dignity and metal-less, I am wanded by grumpy old man. His wand doesn't make noise, so he turns up the sensitivity after the first pass. This American asshole must have SOME metal on him - the 2 little titanium vas deferens clips I got 10 years ago when I decided reproducing again is not something I want to do, actually set off his wand now, through my trousers. He glares at me... ? And then pats me down... wtf?

So 8 people have checked my passport, I think I'm done. Nope. A uniformed Lufthansa person has to see if you are in the right line.. ok.. German organization... BUT THEN, the bull shit luggage tags that security STAMPED in the x-ray line, have to be checked by more submachine gun wielding army personnel, AT the gate, pre-jet way. WTF. The gate agent scans my boarding pass - she doesn't count, that's her job, and the only way they know I am on the plane, so she doesn't get included in the count. 8 was not enough, and 9 isn't either, because JUST BEFORE setting foot in the 747, asshole # 10 has to look at your boarding pass, at the very end of the jetway. #10 is a fat, middle aged, no-uniform wearing type of bureaucrat, probably looking for Pakistanis to hassle. 10 f*cking times, my passport, or boarding pass had to be checked.

10? Really? Are the Governmental Indians that corrupt, or that incompetent, or that paranoid? or all three? I'd seen enough fire power to take over a Baghdad police station. Welcome to "Incredible India" - as the BBC advert sang praises all week. An incredible hassle, one which I hope I never have to do again at any Indian airport. Getting out of China just took paying a $50 exit tax, and one person checking your passport. 2 max. Not 10.

Now, 2 more hours here in Frankfurt, eating huge semi-tasteless bananas, drinking Spanish wine, with a well stocked liquor counter... and it's off to IAD's inane security screening and immigration in DC. Happy Happy! Joy Joy!

I'm not working tomorrow. This has been enough fun for the week.

Sorry to have vented. I feel much better now.

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