... from the desk of Roger Sullivan

Monday, April 30, 2007

Well and truly ...

It's been a while since my last post. And I know that there has been more than enough happening to provoke a comment or two. However I thought it most ironic - at least for me - that one of the last posts I submitted was on positive international relations. Yesterday, I was witness to the worst.
Let me start by saying that I'm getting home approximately twenty four hours later than expected due to Aer Lingus "mechanical problems." As one of my Irish traveling companions, who understood the Dutch radio conversations between the gate agent ground staff said, "In purely technical terms, our plane is well and truly done for."
Friday day began by my not having slept well at all. For some reason, on the night before a week-on-the-road-ending homeward leg, I don't sleep well. In this case, it may be attributed to the Belgian chocolates consumed just before midnight. The high-octane confectioner's caffeine was given an additional boost through my system by a combination of adrenalin and fast-walking to retrieve a wayward wallet (more on that later), as well as an eventful week with the Liberty Alliance.
Nevertheless, I arrived at Brussels airport with good time to spare, knowing that I would have an hour and a half nap time on the plane between Brussels and Dublin. And then another six hours nap time between Dublin and Boston. No problem! I'll be well and truly rested before arriving home. And, to top it, I'll have the four hour layover in Dublin to buy the necessary peace offerings after having been on the road (once more) for a week during which various difficult situations needed to be handled by my ever-understanding and rise-to-the-occasion spouse.
The initial delay of a few minutes before boarding grew into tens of minutes, which grew into an hour, during which I continue to think, "No problem. I can make a quick swing through duty free. All I need is a 30 minute connection. I really don't care if the bag makes it so long at I do."
Well, to quote my Irish queuing friend, "We were well and truly done for!"
The hour turned into two. The two turned into four. In the mean time, a couple American colleagues and I left the secure departure gate area to try to scour up alternate routing. The British Airways agent said, "What is going on in Boston this week? There's not one seat available to Boston through any European gateway city!" [Note to self: Find out what is going on in Boston this week!"] Without success, we made our way back through security and customs to slink back to our places in queue for the (now five hour delayed) Aer Lingus flight to Dublin. My motto when in travel difficulties of any kind, "Forward motion is King!"
(By now, I know that a few of my reading colleagues are muttering, "So you got delayed. Big deal! Get to the point, already!")
OK, here goes.
When we arrived in Dublin, two hours past my thirty minute duty-free shopping window, the "... Boston and Chicago connecting passengers ..." were directed to the Aer Lingus transfer agent. When we arrived there, we found a comely, lovely, patient, Irish lass manning (personing?) the transfer desk near baggage claim #2. I am well and truly sorry that I neglected to get her name. However it was between 15:00 and 16:00 local time. (This provided for the follow-up email to Aer Lingus Management.)
When the American contingent arrived, flush-faced, weary, and brusquely at her post, she was already being accosted by another traveler with some sort of issue that I couldn't for the life of me understand. It had something to do with hunger and thirst issues, multi-hour delays, 5.5 Euro food vouchers, and demanding that he was " ... General Manager of [his] company … and wanted to speak with someone from Aer Lingus of equivalent stature!" (Good luck with that, buddy, now just please step aside so rational people can get help.) She patiently asked if he would pause for a moment so that she could ask a question or two and then arranged for a supervisor to speak with him.
I introduced myself as having been on the delayed Brussels-to-Dublin Aer Lingus 631 flight. What happened next was well and truly amazing. She said, "Oh, yes. I have your names right here ... 'Sullivan, Meyer, Cummings (the reader will note that name - a name that will live in infamy ...), etc. etc. etc. Here are the arrangements that we've made' ..." She then went on to indicate the airport hotel accommodations, dinner and breakfast vouchers, transport to and from the hotel, plus (miracle of miracles!) that our checked bags were being off-loaded and would be delivered shortly to belt #2, plus the rebooking on the next Aer Lingus flight available on Saturday morning.
I was well and truly pleased. I had had visions (aromas?) of having to spend the night at the hotel without a change of clothes, toilet kit, or access to my spare novel in the suitcase, having finished Patterson's latest during the delay.
By now, we are all waiting for bags to arrive. It was taking a few minutes during which the point of the story will be told. The first trolley was wheeled out containing all the bags save one (mine). During this time, Miss Transfer Desk had made the extraordinary effort to come out from behind the protecting counter to make sure that were all set. You’d never see a U.S. carrier agent do that! I started to inquire about any bags (like mine) in the back room, when Mr. Cummings decided that moment was the proper time to tell Miss Transfer Desk exactly what he thought of Aer Lingus efforts to this point. Moreover, his need to vent was more important than anyone else's concern. Mr. Cummings started by dropping the "F-Bomb" right off - a sure way to endear one's self to any customer service representative. It went downhill from there as his little temper tantrum continued. She patiently and stoically listed to him. Politely replied, "I understand." And remained passive to his rude accosting.
In the mean time, the baggage handler had left looking for my bag so I went up to her after Mr. Cummings had left for the shuttle bus to say, "On behalf of Americans everywhere, I apologize for that." She replied, "No worries, I'm used to it."
I was well and truly stunned and speechless. What a sad thing that she feels that way. We have a lot of work to do, My Fellow Americans.
We need to leave a place happier because we've been there rather than the place feeling happier that we've left.
So, here's the story behind the story ... Ten years ago, my wife and I visited Europe when my daughter was studying in Rotterdam. We went to a bar in Brussels' Grand Place. When we returned to the hotel, she discovered that she had left her purse (with cash, credit cards, and passport) under the table in the bar. On Thursday last, several of my Liberty colleagues happened to go to the same bar for a 'last night beer.' From where I was sitting, I could see the hotel where my wife and I stayed ten years ago. I told my wife's story over the drink. It got a couple chuckles. We left for our hotel and got about a half block away, when one of my colleagues realized that he had left his wallet (with cash, credit cards, and passport) on the table (no, I am not making this up!). We raced back and, sure enough the bar tender pulled the wallet out of the same drawer as my wife's purse ten years previous. In both cases, not a cent was missing, not a credit card out of place, and the passport was in its slot.
In both cases, the one thing that stuck in my mind after the fact was that the bar tender looked at me so strangely when I profusely thanked him. My panic and relief was completely counterbalanced by his sense of calm and normalcy.
My week was a lesson in contrasts. I’ve been well and truly humbled. How was yours?


  • Roger - I bet it was nice to get home after all that... though the weekend may have seemed cruelly short! It's worth bearing in mind that, by nature, it's the Cummings' of this world (of whatever nationality) who tend to get noticed, while the vast majority of American tourists are quite and incredibly well-mannered.

    The key thing is - the more Americans there are who travel beyond their own frontiers, the better.

    By Blogger Robin, at 8:18 AM  

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