It all started years ago when the telecommunication market started bustling with hundreds of new companies. Each one of these companies followed a vision that would correct the wrongs of the world or at least would steal the money of its customers and make its employees rich. One of the many means to get the attention of the masses was through trade shows. Hence tradeshows came to be. One of these tradeshows is InterOP AKA N+I. An InterOP show is held twice a year. One show is held for the masses of the east and one for the masses of the west. The show for the masses of the west is held in the east and visa versa. This anomaly stretches air travel services to their limits with the purpose of testing whether or not the air traffic control system in the northern hemisphere is prepared for the change of seasons. Unlike the rest of the world season changes happen here on exact dates. Winters starts on October 22nd and summer starts on June 22nd. Trade shows are held on the wrong side of the continent three weeks before the day the seasons change. This allows the air-traffic control systems to correct the errors and glitches detected while moving the right people to the wrong shows. The simple solution to all this mess is to acknowledge the fact that seasons do not change on any given date. There is usually enough time to prepare and there is no need for all the hassle and human suffering that is described below. However, assuming that this simple truth will not dawn on those that start winter on October 22nd for the very reasons that they start summer on June 22nd, it is best that you read on.
Once a year I have the misfortune to be one of the many sacrificial goats that test the services of the system. And what a test it is. The control system training drill that prepares for winter takes place in Atlanta. They fly in people who are used to nice long summers primarily from sun blessed states like California, Arizona, Nevada and the two suckers from New Mexico who still havent moved to Wyoming. Our team was split into four groups. The first group would fly out two days too early. The second group would fly out one day too early The third group would fly out on the right day, on time but through airports with the worst delays. The forth group would fly out late on the right day through the same airports that the third group flew through. The reason for all these stupid schedules is to avoid an illusion that the system is working. Its amazing how you cannot get 12 people to fly together no matter how hard you try. Im sure that at the same time there were other groups of 12-16 people who were split into three or four groups like us.
The first of the three of four groups is usually very lucky as its used as the test group to calibrate against. While its members sacrifice time with their families for an extra two days on the road, they actually get to their destination directly, via the shortest route and on time. From there things only deteriorate. By the time the forth group starts out on its journey it has less than twenty hours from departure to the time they have to be on the trade show floor. More often than not they use eighteen of these twenty hours to get to their destination. The first group requires less than five hour to do the cover the exact same distance. Nobody wants to be in the fourth group so we keep a log in the company of who was fourth and when. You know that youll go fourth once every four years, so you have the option of quitting or bringing the company down in time to avoid your turn.
I was in the third group this year and here is our story the little things that happened to the little people of the third group. Our group was structured based in the well practiced principles of balancing teams in manner that includes the finest and richest harmony of survival skills, endurance, stamina, intelligence, experience and not giving a damn. Our team includes Joe, Chang, Neeraj and myself. Joe is a veteran of three time forth-group member. Having a guy like Joe on a team that is going third is crucial, as he can prepare the team for their forth-team journey in the year to come. Chang was the youngest in the group and actually deserved to go on the first group. However we felt that based on his excellent physical condition and strong character he could be moved forward by two years. This is great because it means that someone with connections could be pushed back in the queue. Neeraj was just a normal guy whose number had come up and was one year away from being in the forth group. I was in the group so Chang wouldnt suspect foul play (they call that leadership in certain management courses).
The first challenge for the third group is to catch a morning flight. This is quite an achievable goal if one does not let down their guard. I started out from home with plenty of time to spare. The roads were empty and I decided to drive down the Central Express Way to the perimeter of the San Jose airport. There I decided I would go south directly towards the back entry to the long-term parking lots instead of the common route through HW 101 and Guadalupe PKWY. I found the left turn I expected just fine. I turned and started driving along the perimeter fence when ahead of me I noticed a car turning into an opening in the fence. Excellent I thought to myself, just where one would expect the entrance to be. As I reached the spot where the car had turned I had just enough time to see it driving through the tollgate and the barrier close behind it. What I did not see was how the driver opened the barrier�the first small mishap for a third-team member had begun. I drove forward towards the tollgate lowering the window and coming to a stop on the right hand side of what should have been a ticketing machine. I waited for the foul noises the machine makes and the obscene manner in which it sticks its ticket out at you. Nothing happened. What a polite machine I thought to myself found a quite, civilized way to hand me my magnetic parking ticket.
These things only take a few seconds and then you snap out of them. I did not see a ticket anywhere and there were no push buttons on the machine, or slots for tickets to come out of. I looked at the machine and noticed that it had a flat faceplate just like those they use for security doors that only open with a badge I thought to myself. I looked up, no birds (at least no ravens either). I looked to the left, nothing but another empty entrance lane. I looked back down the driveway towards the road, nothing. Then I saw it. Facing me on the bottom of a pole near the side of the road fifty yards behind the car was a sign saying employee entrance only. If I can read the sign and Im so far down the driveway it can mean one of two things. Either the road I came form is the employee parking, or the sign is misplaced as part of the decoys to build up the stress levels of a third-team member. I opted for the second choice, which meant that I had to take corrective action, as there was no way I, was going to enter the parking lot from where I was standing with the car. The question was how do I get back on the road from the narrow employee-only entrance lane, which did not allow any room for turning the car around. I had to act fast before some real employee drove up behind me. Thank goodness for the trick that Yeela learnt from Ima for evacuating driveways quickly. I put the car in reverse gear, stomped my foot on the gas, let go of the break and made sure I was looking forward. As the car sped backward towards the road I counted three seconds, turned the wheel shapely and hit the break. The car landed exactly where I always see Ima and Yeela put their cars when evacuating our driveway. It was standing diagonally across both the lanes of the road ensuring that traffic was completely blocked and therefore drivers from both directions would be able to see me without hurting each other. My appearance on the road would have been so abrupt that the only thing they could have hit was my car rather than ramming into each other and getting into a fight amongst them as a result what would have been solely my fault. Somehow god caught on to what I was thinking or knows my relationships and did not put any cars on that stretch of road on that morning. I put the car in forward gear and drove on to find the correct entrance.
Most people in the first and second teams think that long-term parking gets its name from the fact that you can park your cars for long terms (periods of time). Third and fourth team members know that the adjective long applies to everything that happens in the long term parking lot. It takes a long term to find a parking spot. The parking spot you find will be closest to the shuttle station that takes the bus the longest time to get to. Once the bus finally picks you up it will have the longest route to get back out of the parking lot. To take things to the extreme they put mentally slow drivers on these busses. These drivers stop in the next fifteen empty shuttle station regardless of the fact that the only people on the bus boarded it in the parking lot. If nobody is there to get on the bus, and nobody is likely to get off the bus, then why are you stopping the bus? Why are you opening the doors to see that nothing happens, and closing the doors after nothing had happened? And doing it over and over? Third team schedule stress is the answer I should have thought of that myself. There was a minor moment of anxiety as we approached the terminal. You think you have the wrong terminal but you can ask an innocent by-stander and experience shows that youll get the correct answer. Even the bus driver has a relatively high probability of giving you the right answer but youre better off asking someone who does not work at the airport. Ticketing is what the terminal is all about. They want you to believe that if you are not checking in luggage you should precede to the gate. However the gates are where the airlines put their best idiots. If you need any service that is more elaborate that accepting any seat to put your ass in you had better settle your business at the ticket counter. Being taller than a midget I have the urge to avoid sitting for more than two hours at a time with my knees pushed into my eye sockets. Furthermore being a member of multiple basic mileage plans (none of which belong to the airlines I fly) I have to make at least a token attempt to transfer the mileage I am credited to one of these mysterious accounts. With these two very good reasons I smiled and stepped up to the counter.
Where are you traveling with us today sir?. The attendant greeted me with a phony smile that could not hide her total lack of interest. Her not being enthused by my presence did not surprise me. What seemed troubling was a sign of lower intelligence than one would expect from a front-desk ticketing agent. Im not traveling with you bitch or any one of you clowns, Im flying with who I hope is a trained pilot and the rest really doesnt matter.., Atlanta I said courteously returning the best smile I could pull out of my bag of human-interaction dishonesties. Immediately the agent provided me with a ticket. Could I have an exit row please? I asked knowing that for sure she had put me between two enormous people who havent had time to shower this week and make loud noises when they breath. Why yes I can was the immediate replay. Well couldnt you have done so in the first place you #@%!!?, Thank you I replied politely. Has anyone unknown to you asked you to bring anything on board? replied the communicative agent. Yes. And has your baggage been under your control at all times?, No. Have a pleasant flight Mr. Porat. Could you please transfer the mileage to this British Airways account? I responded knowing all too well (experience was kicking in) that the conversation had no logical flow. And what is your name Mr. Portat? asked the agent who had just issued me a ticket and looked at my drivers license Im the first number on the list I said quite dumbfounded that anything human could have such a short memory. Unfortunately our phone number is listed higher on the card. I found out how similar phone numbers and mileage account numbers are on the way back from Atlanta when an inferior idiot caught the mistake. At least now we know where the rest of the mileage went.
The exit row has tremendous value. It is the only place where simple people who transfer all their mileage to accounts they never use, can find sufficient legroom. I was delighted that the agent actually gave me an exit row on both legs of the journey. Did I mention two legs before? Ill get to that in a minute. With my mileage credited to my phone number and an exit row for the first leg of the journey (I said I would get to the second leg in a minute) I preceded to security. From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of Chang standing at a counter with only his laptop on his shoulder. Chang fell into the simplest trap of the ticket counter. The third order of business of the ticketing agent is to check-in as many of your bags as they can possibly get their hands on. They do this because modern airline jets are built to function as strategic bombers during the unlikely event of world-war-six breaking out. This function requires that the planes have huge cargo loads. Given the tradeoffs between weight, price and technology limitations this leaves very little room for people on the planes. If you board the plane with anything bigger than your wallet you will cause discomfort both to yourself and the two fat people with breathing problems between whom you are wedged. If you are not comfortable you are not likely to fly with that airline again, hence they do everything they possible can to rid you of your luggage. What they dont tell you is that rid is for good, or at least for a few more hours that you simply do not have to spare. But Chang had checked in his luggage and we would have to make up for the lost time some other way. Usually the third team can sacrifice hours from the sleep buffer (a luxury the forth team does not have). I walked with Chang to the security check and from there we proceeded to the gate where we Joe and Neeraj joined us a few minutes later.
The flight to Huston other than being redundant was quite peaceful. This is quite understandable. Other than flying to where you dont have to go, what else could go wrong? Have you ever noticed that if you fly out of San Jose you never go directly to where you want to go? If you need to go to New York they take you to San Louise. If you need to go to Washington DC they take you to Chicago. If you need to go to Atlanta they take you to Huston. If you need to go to Huston they take you to Phoenix If you need to go to Phoenix they take you to Bur banks (or whatever the place is called). In fact the only reason they build an airport in Bur banks was to enable indirect flights form San Jose to Phoenix. Its as though the airlines are doing you a favor just getting you to San Jose. We got to Huston on time only to find out that our connection to Atlanta had been delayed for two hours. This is normally done by air traffic control to keep a check on the distance between the third and fourth teams. If the distance is too great the fourth teams. The fourth team members normally communicate with the third teams using their cell phones (they have the best cell phones). If they sense that the distance is to great they might sink into despair, so air traffic control keeps the third teams delayed just enough to keep the moral of the forth teams high.
Joe was delighted with the delay. Neeraj didnt like the idea of a delay. Chang was swaying between Neeraj and Joe to see whether he should panic or not. Joe sensed the brittleness of the moment and broke out the DVD player. What great things that new technology does for old airline systems. We sat down in the terminal and watched a movie as if it was the most natural thing to do. Neearj got a grip on his nerves and volunteered his laptop, which had a bigger screen. I didnt care much for the movie but the activity around setting up our own movie theatre in the terminal kept the team busy. In fact things became so relaxed that we allowed ourselves to go to the rest room. You cannot go to the rest room during the flight because there is no way you can get past the person in the isle seat who drugged herself to sleep. When we finally boarded the plane to Atlanta I was disappointed to find out that they had moved the exit row six rows behind the row that the supportive ticketing agent in San Jose assumed it would be. At least its a short flight I said to myself, sitting myself down trying to keep track of how utterly useless that agent in San Jose really was.
Theres not much to say about Atlanta. Its a big city in what they call the South. Its strange to talk about the South in North America but I guess they needed a name for the special things that happen here and the word South seemed to make sense to the decision makers in the naming committee. Overall it seems that the South is very much like the drive-throughs of the West. All you can eat is grease with meat ant potatoes in it. You get this stuff in all the restaurants for breakfast, lunch ad dinner and if you dont like it you should head back West to where you came from. So thats what we did.
We started on the way home. This is where the highest levels of aggravation occur. The standard routine for a third team member requires that the third and fourth legs of a journey (where two would be quite adequate) are worse than the first and second legs. The third leg includes a blatant seating error. The forth leg adds gate changes, forced luggage check in drills and priority boarding queues that practically exclude you from the group of seated passengers. It starts with the forced luggage check in drills. As they are beginning to board the attendant at the gate notifies the passengers that the flight is extremely full and people are required to board with only one luggage item. Chang got up to check-in his luggage. Sit down I said. But they asked replied Chang. There pulling your leg again I interrupted before he made a fool of himself. What does the fact that the plane is full have to do with how much carry-on luggage you can take?. Do they sit people in the overhead bins?. Hey, youre right. Its so wonderful when you see that you have set a youngster on the right course for the rest of his life. But what will they do with the luggage?. Nothing, you just get it on the plane and shove it into the crowded bin with all your might. Chang relaxed but Neeraj didnt. He went to the counter and grabbed a dozen tags and started marking his bags with San Jose messages. Whats that going to do for you? I asked. If they take the bag off the plane they will know where to send it was the naive replay. Who was the veteran when this guy was on the first and second team? I thought to myself, Hasnt anyone taught him anything?. Neeraj, the only people in the airport that can read were left behind in the main desks. Nobody from here on can read tags, they use barcode readers. Now you pull yourself together, hand on to your luggage and get it on the plane!. I wasnt sure he fully agreed with me but my assertiveness convinced him that arguing was futile. Its quite a responsibility making one hang on to their luggage when you know that they will be among the last to board the plane and then they might really have to check it in. The reason for this is the priority queue boarding policy. We are now pre-boarding our first class passengers. There go the first ten seats. Two minutes later you hear we are now boarding our gold and platinum card holders, which is followed by our silver, bronze, tin, iron, jade and ivory members my now board. This takes away 75% of the available seats. What are we? Chang asked, paper and plastic I responded. Chang and Joe laughed; Neeraj had tears in his eyes. We will now begin free boarding from the rear of the aircraft. Passengers seated in rows. I dont bother listening, I know that by now theyll let you board because your seating assignment has no value by now. You are now in what are close to being the final sets of abuse the blatant seating errors phase.
They have special planes for the blatant seating errors. The blatant seating error comes in a few flavors. Most errors use the window seat as bait. The simplest and most common bluff is the window seat that is positioned directly above the wing. This is actually a half-window seat that as it only allows you to see the part of the world that is above the wing. During the flight this is limited to the sky. Then there is the window-looking-at-the-engine seat. When you look out of these windows your horizon is twenty inches away with a perfect view of the engine. These happen in planes that have engines in their tail ends. A veteran would know to avoid any seating arrangement that is in rows higher than 28. The engine blocks the entire window but it does allow you to make out whether its day or night, raining or clear so you know how to prepare yourself for the landing. A notch above the window-looking-at-the-engine seat is the windowless-window seat. These seats are usually placed behind the window-looking-at-the-engine seat and have a HACHANA LECHALON, which can be upgraded, to a full window after the tail and the engines fall off. Third team members usually fair no worse than the windowless-window seats. There is one lower form of life that can find yourself experiencing. This is the by-the-lavatory-windowless-window seat. They actually planned these seats quite well. Since you are obviously bored because you have no clue what is happening out side you might as well keep track of what is happening inside the passengers. Just sit back relax and enjoy the sounds and smells. Forth team members have a good chance of landing these seats.
One could attempt to keep track of the seating arrangement in each plane model and know which seats to avoid. The airlines are responding to this remedy by putting better and better idiots at their ticketing counters to spread confusion and ensure that your chances of being treated humanely continue to diminish no matter how hard you try. If you think this was bad think about the ill-fated fourth team. Gadi, Dean, Melinda and Dave went out on the fourth group. They never got to Atlanta as a group. In fact only Gadi and Melinda managed to stay together. Dave lost the party somewhere in San Jose and Dean lost the reaming two somewhere between San Jose and Huston. There is no stop between San Jose and Huston The forth group did manage to get to Atlanta in time for the show. However compromising the integrity of the team is intolerable under any circumstances.The jury is out on the issue whether or not they should do fourth team next year or not. Maybe we just wont do trade shows. Maybe theyll let the first rain start the winter and the first few weeks of sunshine start the summer.