Fly United … Not!

Being a traveller and having flown to around 50 countries and flown many times, I can appreciate the frustration of some of the arrogant things some airlines do. I’ve had luggage go missing. When I was living in the UK, the guy that used to deliver lost luggage when it finally turned up used to telephone me and let me know when he was arriving so I could have the kettle boiled when he arrived for a cup of tea. Yes, he had come to my place many times. Then there was the tale of my luggage here, when Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo and Talking About Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo. Fortunately the airlines have buckled to their responsibility with me – or perhaps I have just been lucky by avoiding American Airlines.

Dave Carroll has not been so lucky.

In a blog post called United Breaks Guitars Carroll explains his trials and tribulations with United Airlines. Reading this post is a wonderful example of customer non-service and buck passing. What’s best, however, is the music.

Dave Carroll is a musician and when he finally folded in his struggle with United, he promised to write three songs. The second song is in preparation now, but the first song and video is available for viewing on YouTube – really worth watching. Enjoy it.

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Airport Oxymorons

Whilst waiting for a flight at the KLIA LCCT I did hear one of the great airport oxymorons:

This is a final call for passengers on flight XY123 to Bangkok, please go to gate 3 now.

This was then followed 10 minutes later by:

Again, this is a final call for passengers on flight XY123 to Bangkok, please go to gate 3 now.

Yep – and you guessed it, 5 minutes later we hear:

Once again, this is a final call for passengers on flight XY123 to Bangkok, please go to gate 3 now.

This “final call” happened a total of 6 times – only one of them was really final 😆

Travel Terms

I travelled through Malaysia quickly recently on Air Asia – a low-cost airline. I learned a new term. It was LCCT. The LCCT is attached to KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) and means Low Cost Carriers Terminal. So, what does LCCT really mean? It means a big tin shed with rudimentary air-conditioning and the impossibility of hearing any announcements clearly due to echo.

LCCT, a new term for travellers.

Airport Security? Cods!

I’ve been travelling. I left Saudi Arabia on Sunday night and flew to Dubai, Bangkok, Sydney, then back to Bangkok and now I am sitting in Dubai prior to flying back to Saudi Arabia. So, that is five days, two airlines and four airports, twice over. The flights were Emirates (VERY nice airline) from Saudi Arabia to Dubai to Bangkok (and back) and British Airways (VERY old airline) from Bangkok to Sydney and back.

So, what’s the beef with security I hear you say? Simply that is is not consistent and, to be honest, in the many places you would expect it to be good, its not. Lets take a simple example – the personal body screening/search.

Walk into Jeddah International Airport and you have to have all your bags X-rayed, including carry-on bags. Then you can check in. After check in, then you get to have your carry-on bags X-rayed again and you get a personal screening as well (“please empty your pockets and walk through here”). I passed whilst wearing my shoes and my belt. First and most obvious thing, as the Middle East is a hotbed of terrorism (if we are to believe the politicians in the UK, US and Australia) why not do the body search when the person is entering the airport and save the extra search? Anyway, I’m not on the O&M committee at the airport so we’ll leave that.

Fly to Dubai – the instruments served with the meal are all metal – knife, fork and spoon. Arrive Dubai and go through another search (shoes and belt on, pockets empty – passed). Catch flight to Bangkok. Metal implements for eating with are again supplied. Arrive Bangkok and inside the airport I buy a toothbrush and toothpaste pack – the pack is in a clear plastic bag but it is a different bag to the one that airport security wants so the toothpaste has to be taken out of one plastic bag and put into another plastic bag. All items X-Rayed again (but this time laptop must be taken from its bag and X-Rayed separately). Shoes and belt left on and passed screening.

Head to the gate to board the flight. There is another security search there where the staff, equipped with latex gloves, check everything that is in the bag again. Hel-lo – it’s all just been X-Rayed and searched just 50 metres away. I must be honest here too – to a Thai security type person I am not a threatening character – goofy grin and more fulsome figure plus big hairy ears means the Thai security folks see me as a gentle person so the extra check is the security person saying “laptop in the bag?” and then letting me go without really looking at anything. Anyway, it is a requirement for flights into Australia because, basically, the Australian government does not believe that security officials can do a security check using technology, so must have more of the same officials doing the check again without technology. Anyone see anything stupid here?

Board the flight and have plastic utensils styled in a tasteful imitation silver colour supplied for the in-flight meals. Understand that it is hard plastic and if snapped is more dangerous than a metal bread and butter knife. Oh well on to Sydney.

OK – bummed around in Oz for two days getting a visa approved (no security check at the Saudi Embassy in Canberra – but no visitors for the last six days either). Head back to the airport to fly back and get to the security check. Send laptop through separately, belt and shoes left on and pass screening. Walk past a security gentleman who asks “excuse me sir we are performing random tests on passengers, would you mind coming here for some checking please?”

You answer “yes I mind because it is not random – I’ve been selected before and I watched you stand there and let about 30 other people go past”. In any case, it seems that when you answer a question honestly the security guys get all uppity and hurt and seem disappointed when they can’t find anything. Surely the sniffing for explosives could be done as the bags are being X-rayed – then everything would be checked – not just the bags of us rotund Middle Eastern looking gentlemen!

Anyway, I don’t have a choice so I stand there whilst he checks to see if my bag has been in contact with explosives. It hasn’t so I am allowed to pass.

Arrive in Bangkok after using the nice grey plastic knives and forks. Head off to the Emirates flight and after a single search (laptop out of bag, shoes and belt on) I board the aircraft. Metal utensils for the meal. Arrive in Dubai where the security check there this time is “shoes and belts off please”. So, laptop, still in bag, is X-rayed along with my shoes and belt – everything passes the check.

Now, the only other security check I have to go through is the compulsory X-Ray of everything by the customs guys in Jeddah looking to see if you are smuggling pornography because these guys have not heard of technology, the Internet or peer-to-peer file swapping. They seem to think that pornography smugglers are going to be so stupid as to have a DVD in their bag with the title “Debbie Does Dallas – Master Copy” written on the outside of it. They will examine the DVD’s attached to the cover of the PC User and APC magazines I have been reading on the flight, however, and will interrogate me about their content before letting me go through with them.

So, what does all this tell me? Basically no one really has any idea about airport security. I should add that in Bangkok I watched as the staff servicing the aircraft went through very thorough checking. There are about 20 or so cleaners for a 747-400. Before they enter the aircraft they are frisked by security officers and when they exit with their plastic bags full of garbage, they are frisked again. The security officers then go through and check every bag of rubbish to make sure things have not been hidden there. This does not happen in Sydney.

So, where is the best airport security? Without a doubt, I think the Bangkok security is better than either Middle East or Sydney – if for no other reason that they have thought it through and that I can be checked without getting half undressed. In Sydney there is only that one check – although arrogantly the Australian authorities (or is it Qantas and British Airways?) require a second meaningless check on passengers boarding flights from overseas with an arrival destination of an Australian city.

I am all for security at airports and on aircraft – I would just like to see some consistency and some efficiency.

Lunch At Dubai International Airport

I was travelling from Bangkok to Jeddah via Dubai. I had a 10-hour transit in Dubai. Killing some time at the airport I was walking around. It was then I discovered that the Safar Restaurant on the Departure Level provides free meals for Emirates Airlines transit passengers whose transit period is 4 hours or longer.

No one had mentioned this to me.

Flying Emirates and having a 10-hour transit, I therefore had lunch. Not great but not so bad either.

Sydney Airport Shop Pricing

I wanted to buy a lock for my baggage and I also wanted to buy some vegemite for my friends. What a hoot.

The Lock I purchased from the bookshop/newsagent before you go through to immigration. It cost me $21.95. So, wasn’t I happy when I went to the Chemist and saw the exact same lock there for $18.75. Exactly the same. Identical. Sigh.

Still, I noted that at the newsagent they were selling 115 gram jars of Vegemite for $3.50. I thought “I’ll wait until I get into the duty free area”, so I did.

I went into the Souvenir World Shop and there was the 115 gram jars of Vegemite for sale at $3.95 each. Argh! Does Duty Free mean GST Free? Why is it dearer in the Duty Free area than in the regular area out the front?

Still, the Newsagent/Bookshop in the Duty Free area was selling the same locks as I had already bought for $21.95, same price as outside.

Does Duty Free only apply to booze, fags and digital cameras?

I guess next time better I do all my shopping at Woolworth’s or Coles and not worry about the airpoirt.

So, tourists to Australia, best to buy your goods before the airport and leave the airport only for the purchase of booze and cigarettes.

Talking about Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo

For those of you who were interested, the bags did not turn up to the Hotel. At 9:00 pm, after a Pizza from Ronnie’s New York Pizza in Sukhumvit Soi 4, I went to the airport. My bag had still not been seen.

At the airport I asked a Thai Airways type person where Thai Airways handled lost baggage. She said “G Floor”. I went to the lift and checked – there was no “G” Floor. So I found another Thai Airways person and asked them. They said “on the arrivals floor under G Section here”. I went there.

I located the Lost Baggage office and stormed in, really, annoyed by now about my baggage. I let the staff there have it with a full description of how long I had been without my baggage and finishing with a comment about how unhappy I was.

The Thai Staff in that office said “er, we are domestic lost baggage – you need to talk to International”.

“Where is that?” I asked.

“In the secure area” they noted.

At this point they told me to wait and then they telephoned the International Lost Baggage Office. A guy from that office met me and accompanied me into the secure area. We spent a happy 45 minutes searching through hundreds of lost bags until someone said “flight from Sydney?” Upon answering yes, he took us to the back corner of this office and lifted a bag down from the shelves … my bag.

So, about 10 pm on the night I was flying out I was reunited finally with my bag. I had flown Bangkok to Sydney (then driven to Canberra and back) then returned to Bangkok.

My bag had travelled Bangkok to Frankfurt to Vienna to Kuala Lumpur to Sydney and then on to Bangkok.

Pity I could not get the frequent flyer miles for my bag.

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Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo
Sunday night, Bangkok, nice new airport called Suvarnabhumi (still haven’t got my tongue around that one yet) and Thai Airlines (who had recently moved their head of Baggage Services to a desk with no responsibility). Thomo was flying from Bangkok to Sydney on the flight that left 18:15 from the airport. Thomo arrived in Sydney Monday morning but his bags did now.

 

So, finally, an email from the Bag Lady in Sydney to tell me that my bag will be arriving Sydney soon and she will instruct for it to go on the flight to Bangkok tonight means I may have my bag tomorrow – before I fly out again.

Thomo …. Not a happy passenger!

Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo

Sunday night, Bangkok, nice new airport called Suvarnabhumi (still haven’t got my tongue around that one yet) and Thai Airlines (who had recently moved their head of Baggage Services to a desk with no responsibility). Thomo was flying from Bangkok to Sydney on the flight that left 18:15 from the airport. Thomo arrived in Sydney Monday morning but his bags did not.

Filled in the report with the ground staff. This is not Thai staff but is outsourced to the Menzies Company in Australia – they also handle Emirates baggage, amongst others – more on that later. I then picked up the hire car and drove to Canberra after being promised that I would be contacted later that day with news of my bag.

Got up Tuesday morning and as I had not heard from Thai Airlines, I telephoned the contact numbers given me. The Thai staff member who looks after this was on sick leave so I called Menzies. After much enquiring they noted that they believed my bag had been located in Frankfurt and could I tell them what brand it was.

“Polo, I think” said Thomo.

“Yes, we believe that the bag is Polo” said the Menzies staff. We will have the bag sent to Sydney.

“OK” says Thomo, but please remember I am in Canberra so telephone me about delivery. Also note that I am likely to fly out of the country again tomorrow afternoon or Thursday.

“Oh, OK. It will take 30 hours for the bag to get back from Frankfurt” says the ever helpful Menzies.

“But that means it will arrive in Australia after I have left” says Thomo.

“Well, we will have it come anyway” says Menzies.

At this point I went out to do the business I had come to Canberra for. Later that day, I called Thai again and spoke to the Sales Supervisor who was on holidays. She was sympathetic and helpful and promised to do what she could. Later that day I confirmed my flight out on Wednesday.

Wednesday (er, yesterday as it seems), I checked in at Sydney Airport with my Woolworth’s Shopping bag, laptop and camera, and spoke to the Thai Ground Staff at the airport (not the Menzies staff). They checked my bag and said “yes, we have found it, it is currently in Vienna and is due to go on a flight to Sydney via Kuala Lumpur”.

To be fair to Thai, she did notice, at this point, that I was not going to be in Australia and so she said she would try and have “the bag pulled from the bin in Kuala Lumpur”. I asked her for a contact number for baggage lost and found in Bangkok, Thai’s home port, but she did not have that so she gave me the general reservation number instead.

I arrived in Bangkok.

Thursday morning I got up, had breakfast. I received a phone call from the Thai Bag Lady in Sydney (who has been most helpful) and she gave me the number for the baggage lost and found at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Unfortunately I copied the number down wrongly and so I rang the Thai reservations number in Bangkok. The nice person there, simply identified as agent 3176 (yes, that was what the telephone system identified her as), gave me the number of the baggage lost and found at the new airport.

I telephoned that number but no one there spoke English. They did give me another telephone number which was never answered. I checked the Thai Airways website and they have a press release there called “THAI Sets Up Call Center on Lost Baggage” which notes that “Passengers who have not yet received their baggage may contact THAI’s Baggage Service Department at Tel. 0 2130-0057-58, 0 2130-0060, 24-hours a day.” Of course, no one speaks English there. The web address so you can check is http://www.thaiairways.com/About_Thai/Newsroom/Press_Release/Press_Year_2006/press0906_274.htm

So, finally, an email from the Bag Lady in Sydney to tell me that my bag will be arriving Sydney soon and she will instruct for it to go on the flight to Bangkok tonight means I may have my bag tomorrow – before I fly out again.

Thomo …. Not a happy passenger!

You’ve Never Really Travelled Until You’ve Travelled With An Ironing Board

’tis true. How boring international travel can be. Lots of waiting around. The same old boring things – taxis, check in counters, Duty Free Shops that are all the same no matter which country you are in and just waiting, waiting, waiting.

Liven up that next trip. Travel with an ironing board. I did!

It started in Beijing. Whilst shopping for some things, an ironing board found it’s way into our shopping trolley. Not being one to refuse the unexplained when it happens, we paid for the ironing board and took it back to the hotel.

Well, that was the plan. Getting into the taxi was fun though as the ironing board was about 4 cms longer than the taxi was wide so some angled pushing and shoving managed to get it into the taxi and the door closed with no breakages.

Then arriving at the hotel “would sir care for assistance in getting that to sir’s room?”

“Nope. I’ll manage” says sir 🙂

Walk through lobby of five star hotel with ironing board under the arm all the time smiling at the Japanese guests the Chinese staff are fussing over. The Japanese guests laugh.

Up to the room, park the ironing board.

A couple of days pass and it is time to travel so I call the Bell Hop to come collect the bags from the room … and the ironing board. He smiles and scratches his head wondering how he’ll get it on the trolley as it is 10 cm longer than the trolley. He balances it.

Down to the lobby, check out and catch a taxi. Again, the ironing board is 3 cms too wide for the taxi. Squeeze it all in to two taxis and drive to the airport. Walk through the security checks with the ironing board and check in.

“That’ll need to be checked into the oversize items check in counter sir”.

“Oh, you mean this, my ‘board’? OK, I am planning on surfing the Steppe with it”.

“Very good sir”.

Check the ironing board into the oversize items counter and go through to the aircraft.

Arrive at Ulaanbaatar (at the newly renamed Chinggis Khaan Airport) and get to the baggage collection area. Baggage handler carries out the ironing board by hand.

Collect the board and push it along with the other bags out to the car. Board fits the back of this car … it is a bigger car. Board is home now and and happy.

And Whilst Nattering About Airline Security

Is Australia the only country where those who check the X-Ray images on hand luggage cannot tell a laptop with its battery in from the X-Ray image? Is Australia the only place where the laptop has to be removed from the laptop bag for X-Ray?