Thursday, August 07, 2008

Friday 13 June: Portland, Oregon - Slowing

We landed in Portland International Airport, which is one of the best organised airports I've seen in the US. It helps that it's not so big. The thing I am still not used to is the American system whereby all of the shops are before you go through security. Therefore after you have checked in, you still mingle with thieves, drug smugglers and terrorists for a long time before you get on the flight. But I guess I'm used to security-conscious Europe rather than the commercially-minded US.

One thing I did touch upon was the problem we were having with NWA, the Network With Additional Costs. When we came to check in online, we were allocated seats. Two people who booked tickets together paid for in the same payment were allocated seats at two different ends of the plane. Why would any company do that? There is a 100% chance we would want to sit together in those situations. The reason is, NWA wanted to grab more money from us. It allowed us to change these seats, but most of the available seats were only available at a 50 dollar upgrade charge. So basically, they stick you in unacceptable seats and charge you to sit somewhere reasonable. We picked the last two free seats together that weren't charged for (right up near the back of the plane) because we didn't want to give these crooks any more money. We should have remembered their 1988 hit, "F**k tha Passengas."

On top of that the site wouldn't let us fully check in after we selected seats because we'd booked via KLM. It suggested trying then booking airline's site. We tried KLM's website told us "why not check in online at" Believe me, baby, we tried.

I am currently trying to complain but because of the fact we booked through KLM, they can't seem to find details. Criminal AND badly organised. Sounds like a bad combination.

We had a lot of time before the flight. I ate a huge mushroom burger while Cath napped. For some reason Americans think there is nothing better than putting a pickled gherkin in a bun otherwise filled with good things. They must either like them or think that it is good to do some penance with something that is otherwise enjoyable. Maybe they think it will help them get into heaven. Not with gherkin-breath, you won't.

Going through security, it was shown that my ticket had a random "S" on it. This random letter is added to the card based on criteria unknown and means extra security check required. It meant that I had to go through the "puffer." This is a glass box the size of a small elevator that blows air at you in order to dislodge particles. It then sniffs the air for whatever they are looking for: pesticides, drugs or explosives. Then a chatty woman swabbed my new bag and put the swabs into a machine. It was my new laptop bag and she swabbed pockets I hadn't even known were there. If the machine was calibrated for "new bag smell" alarms would have gone off all over the building. But whatever they were looking for, I didn't have any. They funny thing is, this extra security took me outside of the normal queue and I was all done before Catherine with her standard security was through. Evidently potential terrorists get fast-tracked onto the plane. The Americans have never really understood security. But I guess it protects the airport itself more.

We still had plenty of time and so nabbed some coffee and used the airport's power to laptoptify. Portland is a fun, small airport and huge jumbo planes have to line up with tiny little things that are barely bigger than the cockpit of the former.

Our flight was full and our seats at the back were not bad in that they had a little more room as there were only three of them instead of the four earlier on in the plane as it was starting to taper in there. And we weren't right at the back where the seats don't go back. However the flight was popular with people with children who I still insist should have a class of their own.

The safety instructions were given via a video with what seemed to be real aircrew carefully picked to be completely across the board racially. There was a Dutch translation after every explanation, but it was done quickly and only covered some of the topics. For example none of the first class apparatus was explained suggesting the cost-conscious Dutch don't travel first class.

Soon after take off we were offered a last glimpse of the magnificent Mount St. Helens, sitting there, biding its time.

It was a long ten-hour flight which Cath cleverly slept through. She part-fasted whilst I ate everything that came my way and completely failed to sleep whatsoever. My method was actually the more successful at getting back on the new time zone but only because I have the more flexible body clock that sorts itself out pretty quickly at the expense of being a zombie for the first few days back. I even managed to do a short improv gig the afternoon I arrived. I have no idea how it went, but I certainly wasn't in my head, which is a good thing.

It was nice to visit new places in the US. San Francisco and Portland I could definitely do again. In fact I suspect I could live in both places, and not many cities in the US make me feel like that.

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