Friday, August 31, 2007

Grounded Again

This week the feds announced that they have started letting contracts for modernizing the air traffic control system, the first major upgrade since the 1960’s, but it will be 5 years or so before we start to move air traffic control into the satellite age.

The US is not alone in having air travel snafus. Here I am waiting for my train to leave the airport in Paris. Now we had not planned on taking the train. DG got the bright idea that flying would be faster, so he booked airline tickets from Amsterdam to Paris and Paris to Rennes down on the Normandy Britney coast of France. The flight from Amsterdam to Paris was delayed about 40 minutes, leaving a 30 minute mad dash to change terminals and planes in Paris. We made it to the gate in record time just as the line was forming to board. Very good. We stood for about 15 minutes and they announced a slight delay. About 30 minutes later they announced that the flight crew had boarded the aircraft and we would be ready to board momentarily. About 15 minutes later they put us on the bus that would take us all out to the plane. Then they made an announcement entirely in French that I could not hear over the screaming 2 year old and everyone started getting off the bus. Now it was about 65 degrees and raining outside, so the terminal was shut up like a thermos bottle with the heat turned up to about 85. After an hour or so the apparent need for improved marketing of deodorant in Europe appeared. Another half an hour or so and they cancelled the flight for technical reasons.

At this point it was fun to watch the French mob scene. Several people argued with the gate attendants that they couldn’t cancel the flight. Then they argued that the airline had to find us another airline. Then the mob finally won an argument that if they were going to keep us there they had to bring us food and drink (20 minutes later a cart arrived laden with sandwiches and soft drinks; god bless the French.) About an hour later they announced that they had figured out how to accommodate all of us and that we needed to go to baggage claim 12 and pick up our luggage and meet them at check-in 14.

The mob stood around and stared in disbelief. I verified 12 and 14 and stared for the door, just then a woman in a wheelchair stood-up (she can stand?) and bellowed in French that even I could understand that this was just a plot to get rid of us, and the moment we were out of sight the gate crew would disappear and leave us stranded (I still am surprised that I was able to understand that much French, an hour earlier a 2 year old had left me in the dust with his reply to me syaing to him in French, my name is TR and what is your name? That is the last time I tangle with French 2 year old.)

After a minute, I and about half of the mob headed for the baggage claim through a back door that bypassed the security check-point (held open by one of the friendly airline employees.) We went back and forth several times and I finally abandoned the mob, found the baggage claim and 30 seconds later had my bag and was on my way to check-in 14.

I am headed down the way and there is check-in 10, 11 and 12 and a wall. Oh god, maybe she was right! Where is check-in 14? I fumble around for a couple of minutes and finally ask the guy manning the metal detector and x-ray machine at a security check point. It took a minute to explain what I needed in my limited French and his even more limited English. While we are doing this a woman walked up the check point, held up her ticket and passport for no one to see, walked through setting off the metal detector and went on to catch her flight. He looked up, shrugged and ignored her; he was trying to help me (who says the French are rude.) When he finally figured out where I needed to go (down one floor) he unlocked a back door so that I could take the short-cut down (think I bypassed another security check point.)

I was first in line and yes Air France had a solution, they would put me on a train that left 6 ½ hours after the plane was scheduled to leave and get me close to my destination at 9:25 at night, instead of 2:30 in the afternoon. Away we go, the train was on time and it was only a $24 taxi ride from the train station to the aiport to pick up my rental car. I called and naturally the rental car desk in the train station closed 25 minutes before the train arrived.

Fun little car to drive. It reminded me of a French Plumbers van.

Next time I’ll take the train. Penguins just aren’t meant to fly.


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