Friday, April 03, 2009

Travel 25/3/09 (1) – Amsterdam

It has not been unknown for me to help KLM out with training their support staff to deal with angry customers, so it actually felt weird to call them several times in one day as a genuinely irritated customer. I was sorely temped to get really angry just to see if they'd learnt everything. But in the end I was too nice to get anything more than miffed.

I was calling because my names appeared to have been stuck together and wanted to check that this was okay. The girl said that because the US authorities were such sticklers for accuracy (even though highly organised terrorists are far more likely to get things like that right than the average Joa) it was best to get it changed.
• Plus side: they could easily have this done for me.
• Minus side: a change like this (adding a space as far as I was aware) takes several hours.
• Extra Minus side: we could not check in online until it was done.

So we waited. Some time shortly before 4pm, a new e-ticket was issued.
• Plus side: a change had been made
• Minus side: It was even odder than before, with the Mr put in an odd place.
• Plus side: the (or another) girl confirmed this would be okay,
• Minus side: we now could not check in.

Although our ticket said "this is an e-ticket," and the My Tickets area listed it as an e-ticket, when we tried to check in online it gave us an error message, "This ain't no e-ticket, motherf***er." Or something to that effect. The (or another) girl tried to help, but clearly something had got messed up during the change. Computer records are annoyingly like vinyl, very easily damaged. The airline support fall-back was soon the only option – check in at the airport.

So with only 4½ hours sleep under our lids, we arrived at the airport at 7:30, dreading being given the worst seats on the plane. (The worst seats are usually those right at the back where they do not recline but the ones in front of you recline fully. Although once on an internal flight in China I and a colleague were allocated seats that didn't exist as they had been taken out to make the exit.) As things turned out, we had fine seats and check-in was relatively smooth except I couldn't be checked in onto our connecting flight; we had to do that once we arrived at our stopover.

As we waited in the long line for stuffy security staff to ask about our stuff, we watched the silent TV screens. It's intriguing to see what they show to people in airports. Most airports show you rolling news channels, but sometimes Schiphol likes to be different. Today they were showing curling.

Curling is possibly the world's worst sport. Yet somehow strangely compelling – like an incomprehensible foreign ritual. But as a sport it is, as I believe president Obama would put it, retarded.

Before you complain:
"Retarded, adj: Physics. Designating parameters of an electromagnetic field which allow for the finite speed of wave propagation, so that the potential due to a distant source is expressed in terms of the state of the source at some time in the past" (New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).

If you don't know, curling is a kind of bowls meets lavatory cleaning on ice. One person bowls a large, solid blob along an ice strip towards a painted target. After this two enthusiastic moppers take over and clean the path (in front of) of the ball with brushes. As Newton's 4th law of Subthermal Dynamics states:
"The cleanliness of the ice is in direct proportion to the maximum speed attainable by an object travelling along that ice." (Old Longer Cambridge English Dictionary)

My main problem with it is that in other sports, the ball is what you use to play; in curling, the sweepers speed along preparing the way for the ball. They are the ball's bitches. The skill involved is the skill of being able to sweep really fast whilst skating. I agree not an easy skill, but at the same time not a useful, elegant, empowering, practical, cool, or indeed desirable skill. Participation has the result of making yourself less important than a large, solid blob of who-knows-what. It's a hard sport to play and keep any form of self respect.

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