Monday, October 3, 2011

Home Again

The taxi we ordered to take us from Rip-Off Manor to the airport turned out to be a brand-new Mercedes E-Class sedan driven by a liveried female driver.  Unnerved, I thought to ask if the E29 fare told me by the Hotel,  was correct.  The driver blinked and said “I have E26.”  I said “I’ll get my bags.”

She wafted us to Schiphol Airport in mere minutes, making us suspect that perhaps the previous taxi had ripped us off.  Another lesson learned: at foreign airports, line up at the official taxi dispatcher, don’t let someone lead you to a taxi, no matter how friendly and genuine looking he may be.  Taxi companies contracted to airports have fixed rates for most trips that are very reasonable and they don’t want any unhappy customers complaining to the Airport Authority.  Gypsy cabs don’t care.

Airports seem to have taken a lesson from Walt Disney; as long as you keep the suckers moving, they’ll think progress is being made.  Like Disney, they now put thousands of passengers into enormous, single-file, serpentine lines that lead to a multiple agent setup, instead of having multiple lines, one for each agent.  This almost guarantees that you will shuffle continuously forward and the illusion of progress will be maintained.  It’s no faster than the old way but it seems so.  Nonetheless, it is rather disheartening to be led to the end of one of these gigantic lines as the minutes tick away towards your flight’s departure time.  There’ll be another one at Security too.  And when you arrive home, another one at Passport Control.  They’re all the rage in Crowd Control.

In passing, don’t fly with overweight bags.  I don’t know whether it’s just Air France or Schiphol (none of the other airports raised the issue), but you may be charged, like we were E25 per kilo of overage.  If one of your bags is 3 kilos over the 20-kilo limit, it’ll cost you E75.  That's over $100C.  Your options at that point are to repack all your bags on the floor of the terminal to redistribute the weight while an angry crowd waits behind you, throw away 3 kilos worth of something, or pay.  What with souvenir collection and all, this problem is most likely to occur on the way home, so be prepared.

That ordeal survived, we dragged dispiritedly through yet another expensive "Duty Free" zone, found a bun-and-coffee joint and breakfasted before boarding Air France to Paris.  At De Gaulle we arranged for a wheelchair for Reggie to be transported from our arrival gate/terminal to our departure gate/terminal.  A good thing too.  There’s some doubt in my mind that we could have found our way without a guide or GPS.  It was a considerable distance and there was only one-hour between flights.

There’d been some sort of technical glitch and our plane was changed to what seemed a very old 747 so our reserved bulkhead seats disappeared and we were stuck in sardine-class.  After about ¼ of the 430 passengers crowded into the lounge had climbed on, boarding was halted.  We sat for 15 minutes until the copilot came on the intercom and explained that there had been a fuel leak under the plane’s wing so they were halting boarding for safety reasons.  Those of us who were already aboard were told to stay put.  Say what? 

Two hours went by before the fire trucks had removed the fuel spill from the tarmac and the maintenance team had confirmed that the leak had simply come from an overflow pipe and had been caused by the sun’s expansion of the fuel.  The tanks had been filled to the max for the long, extremely full flight.  Okaaaay, I guess.  In the event, the flight was excitement-free, the food was of course great and the free wine flowed.  The only annoyance being the usual boneheaded passengers who don’t realize that by expanding their space and reclining their seats, they are reducing my space, already insufficient for my full-sized frame.  Peasants.

Each flight brings new travel revelations.  One flight insisted that all passengers make sure their window shades were open for landing (?).  This one, after leaving all the lights on while we tried to sleep during the 8-hour transatlantic flight, turned them off for the 30 minutes prior to landing when we were pretty well guaranteed to be awake.

Our friend met us at Trudeau and took us to his place where our freshly-washed car awaited and we struggled off home, arriving at 11PM local, 24 hours after we’d gotten up.   

There's no place like home!

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