This morning, or afternoon, or evening….whatever my body thinks it is, I’m sitting in SeaTac airport drafting up a few more notes. In total, I’ll have spent over 47.5 hours playing the Airport Odyssey between Anchorage and Phenom Penh. Right now I’m up to 38 or so…. Today I’m returning home after 3+ months traveling through Euro and Cambodia.
Flying on the Cheap extracts its price
When your a cheap bastard, or just of modest means, flying internationally can be an unfortunate and very painful experience, even when everything goes as planned. The ‘economy seats’ are smaller, the available leg room shrank and the empty seats that allowed one to stretch out evaporated. The only people who fly in style anymore are the pilots, the cats in cargo in their comfy cages, and those with the means to fly First or Business class.
The ‘cattle cart’ seats in back are not really designed for human use for more than a couple of hours. When flying over 5, they’re very, very uncomfortable. After flying for over 9, it’s a body numbing experience. When there are several legs that extend the misery into a 36 hour flying day, it can be an total out-the-body experience! The only relief when flying internationally is that the flight attendants don’t charge your cash card for every meal or drink. On these long trips I find that the number of drinks you consume is directly proportional to the relief of your disillusioned and dismayed minds. But then, an isle seat close to one of the crowded bathrooms is essential.
The Cambodian airport experience was pleasant, even in the sweltering heat. When we all ‘bum-rushed’ the check-in counter (online check-in was not possible) it was unique experience. The airline workers lined up in front of their booths. On cue, they gave us a ceremonial bow and greetings and then promptly sat behind their computers and opened for business. That was pretty cool. Throughout the airport, each of the security and customs positions were manned by professionally looking, semi-military uniformed attendants with all their ribbons and badges and awards proudly displayed. Contractors or civilian employees evaporated from the scene. They were all courteous, efficient, government workers effectively processing travelers through the system.
Then there was Narita in Tokyo. I counted 13 immaculately attired, uniformed attendants dedicated to operate our one boarding gate. There were several behind the desk, several more behind them (must have been the leadership team), a couple of security guys manning the roped off areas and then four security helpers with tour-guide like signs lining up each of us travelers in our little boarding groups. There wasn’t a single tourist/traveler out of line when it came time to board. They were very efficient and extremely courteous but as we still boarded late, so perhaps, in spite of their attentiveness and vigor, they were not super effective.
Then, I arrived in the US. The polarized experience was palatable. Although passport control is now virtually automated, as long as you’re a ‘cookie cutter’ traveler with no unique issues, one can zip through fairly well. But then, one confronts with trying to recover your bag, pass through customs, recheck the bag and re-enter TSA’s security screening maze. It’s pure maddening and one begins to appreciate the efficiencies of our Asian brothers dedicated to service and effectiveness. Somehow they figured it out.
Our bags arrived late (over 35 minutes), then the carousel loader broke down. The attendants reacted like this was a normal event. Finally after forty-five minutes one could jump in the next line to hand over the customs forms while the officers imperiously and impersonally looked down their noses at you only to dismiss you to the next step.
50 steps later one gets to dump their ‘checked through’ bags on the next carousel while sloppy airport workers provide ‘encouraging’ comments to hurry you along (as if getting the hell out of there wasn’t foremost on everybody’s minds). Then, the best part. Having to go back through the TSA mismanaged security, even though we had all just exited a secured airplane and secured baggage area.
The jokes about TSA efficiency and effectiveness are too well known even to attempt to take a shot at topping them. Yes, they’re all ‘Great Americans’ dedicating their working hours to ensuring our security. But, needless to say, the experience lived down to all expectations. All the overweight, disheveled employees were very helpful and smiled a lot, but the entire process was ridiculously inefficient and insufficient for the massive numbers of travelers attempting to negotiate their way through this last bottleneck.
Even after all these years of perfecting the business of processing travelers through our major airports, we still haven’t gotten it right. I can only imagine how many poor travelers missed connecting flights because the major airports are constantly challenged with the basics like: keeping the baggage carousals functional; figuring out that one or two barely functional TSA screening lines is insufficient for 3 large (scheduled) aircraft loads of travelers, much less doing so efficiently and effectively with passengers who just walked off a secured aircraft, through a secured hallway. We’re doomed as a nation If this is the best we can do.
This is perhaps a good example of why most Americans don’t want our government controlling anything other than the basic minimum of public activities.
Your not in Kansas anymore, Toto!
My first stop (after the bathroom) was to find a cup-o-joe to help wake up. When I looked at the bill, I had to correct the young lady and show her that the marque listed the price as .25 cents cheaper (you see, I am a cheap bastard). She promptly corrected me by reminding me that the extra charge was for taxes. Oh yeah! I had forgotten that we don’t add local taxes to the listed price, as does the rest of the modern world. ‘Toto, I guess I am back in Kansas’
Regarding our ‘Year in Vorarlberg’ plans. Clearly the details have changed, I’ll not get to spend the entire year there; but Ursula will. Presently she’s ‘vadeling’ down the mountain pistes on new skis and enjoying the experience as planned. I’m a bit envious, so when I get home, I think I’ll bust-out the snow machine from storage and do my own slaloming in the deep snow behind the lake.
I’ve abbreviated my travels to Asia, while waiting out my Schengen Zone banishment. I need to address some recently developed, unexpected challenges on the home front. So, if resolution comes swiftly and smoothly, perhaps I’ll head back to journey throughout Asia until I can get back into Austria. If not, I’ll spend the remaining three months in Alaska, then head back. Other than having to leave Vorarlberg, it’s a win-win scenario.
A note of appreciation to those who continue to follow these postings, in-spite of my awkward word usage, grammatical and spelling errors. These entries were all written in-situ, usually after an exhausting day of activities. My fear of posting them in their initial, ‘immature’ state (and exposing me as semi-illiterate) is overcome by the knowledge that if I don’t post them as soon as I draft them, I’ll never post them because they’re not ‘ready for prime-time’. Now that they’re on-line, exposed to all, I’m obligated, to go back and edit them into a more palatable and digestible morsel of thoughts and reflections. You loyal readers have sturdy imaginations and possess an enduring patience – thanks!
Interesting Links (as this blog caps off two adventures, there’s more links
- Interested in the Returning Home ‘ Blog?, Link here to our Year in Vorarlberg Series
- Interested in our Cambodia Travel Blog, Link Here
- See our ‘Best of Photos’ from this a adventure and from the Rhein’s Lands
- See our ‘Best of Photos’ from Cambodia and Angkor Park.
- Angkor Park theme T-shirt designed by the ‘Cottage’? check out this link
- Care to comment on the Blog or Adventure? Jot down your comments in the form below – thanks