Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Great Goan Transit Debacle

So I just got back from a 4 day conference in town of Goa in southern India.  The conference had all the things you would expect from a conference: buffet meals, beach front hotel, power point presentations…  Not really the stuff of great blog postings.  Even the photos shown here are just a couple shots of the hotel grounds taken before dinner one night. 

I could talk a little bit about the country itself, as this is my third journey there, but I am reminded of that “if you have nothing nice to say…” thing.  It is not that I had problems with individual people – on the whole I find Indians to be assholes at the same rate as the rest of the population (roughly 10 percent – double if you are in an airport).  It is as if the very essence of the country conspires to make my time there as difficult as possible in some kind of karmic retribution for an unspeakable sin.  Seriously, I have been in 74 countries now (just tacked another one on yesterday but we will come to that).  In Mauritania, I wore a burqa and children still threw rocks at me.  In Congo, I lay in a delirious sweat pool with malaria while listening to soldiers firing their AK47s.  I got robbed in East Timor and had a gun held to my head in Nicaragua.  India still ranks dead last as 74 out of 74.  I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that I reflected on this as I watched a mechanic try to liberate my luggage from the overhead compartment using a screwdriver after my 10 hours in the Mumbai airport with missed connections and delayed flights.  All in my first 11 hours in the country. 

Now, in between my complaining about flights, I will admit that getting up at dawn to jog barefoot on the Goan white sand beach before jumping into the Indian Ocean does have a certain amount of charm.  That, however, is all I am willing to concede. 

But I survived.  On Tuesday afternoon I boarded my flight to Kuwait to make the connection to Washington and back to the US for Christmas.  Alas, United Airlines had other plans.  Or no plans.  In response to the blizzard, it posted a photocopied sign at its Kuwait City counter saying the flight had been canceled come back tomorrow.  And sent its entire staff home.  (I know this because I found my way into the personnel section to bang on their locked office door.)  So my colleague and I (who has a similar level of tolerance for bullshit – actually once almost getting arrested for her response to a security guard in the Qatar airport’s suggestion the she was fixing her hair too erotically in the transit lounge) found ourselves in an increasing mass of Blackwater type guys heading home for Christmas (there were about 4 women on this flight), facing down a clearly nervous airport security guard.   At one point a slightly cross eyed redneck loudly suggested the problem was that United didn’t have any staff on the ground in Kuwait – relying completely on local hired help.  To which I responded, perhaps a little louder than I meant to – that I *hated* contractors.  (At least we got a good laugh out of it.)  Soon after my colleague and I gave up and went to the Crowne Plaza – deciding to let the World Bank corporate travel department fight it out with United Airlines as to who would be responsible for the bill.

And so I am home again.  On Thursday evening, but I eventually made it.  And want to wish everyone a happy holiday and the best for the new year.*

*The above does not apply to the management or shareholders in United Airlines, which despite my ever dwindling standards for customer service, seems unfailingly to surprise me with new levels of incompetence.


Anonymous said...

Wow, it seams like you don't have a lot of respect for these people or places you are supposedly helping as a humanitarian. Maybe a multinational corporation would be a better fit for you.

Kristen Himelein said...

On the contrary, I do. Most of them - roughly in the same proportion as the people and places that I find at home. And what says that people in humanitarian organizations are less judgmental than multinationals? You find good and bad in both.

Avjeet said...

Its unfortunate to hear about your perspective on India - but I understand and will not try to defend. Anyway, would still be eager to hear the 'not so nice things' when we meet. Glad to know you managed to be back home on time. have a great new year and see you soon.

Gar said...

sorry to hear you had such a rough time after the *AWESOME* flight you had from DC to Kuwait...I heard you had some scintillating conversation with one of those much hated contractors...hahaha

I truly hope your next trip has better results, although I am sure you are more used to disappointments in travelling that the rest of us are!

TD said...

Airlines SUCK. Period. But you accept the possibility that your flight will be delayed or even canceled when you purchase a ticket. Local staff are not to blame and no one should not take out our frustration on them. They are so far removed from the airline's corporate headquarters.

I do understand the airport frustration. However, the blizzard in DC was *really* bad and did halt air traffic all over the country. I believe that the folks at the airport were just following orders regarding the canceled flights, it wasn't "bullshit." What could they possibly have done otherwise? Do you really think that finding your way to their offices and banging on the door would have done anything? Or yelling at a security guard? LOL! In my eyes that behavior just perpetuates negative stereotypes of Americans traveling abroad.

Kristen Himelein said...

I can't believe this half page rant against the airlines has generated more comment traffic than any other post. But. For the record TD I completely disagree with you. It is most certainly the problem of the local staff. Like it or not, they are the public face of the company for which they work. Getting yelled at by customers is sort of the point of customer service jobs. I certainly take endless shit from government officials in developing countries for things other divisions of the Bank have done, or things that were done by the Bank long before I was even born. That's the way it is and I accept it. And as far as the negative stereotypes of Americans abroad, let me assure you that it was a good night for negative images the world over. And, as my Arabic ain't what it used to be, the vast majority of the yelling was done by Kuwaiti and other Middle Easterns. Yet again proving my thesis of the universality of mankind. Perhaps at the lowest common denominator, but so it goes.