Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Long Flight Home

Greetings from Frankfurt Flughafen. My last hours in Germany are going by, looking out at a sky as gray as the tarmac. Yesterday I had a beautiful morning shopping downtown. In total I walked over 14 miles through the city and, with a daily pass costing 5.80 Euros, could ride the public transportation anywhere (now why can’t the “most technologically advanced nation on Earth” have a deal like that outside of a few select cities?). And did. As soon as I can get it processed, I promise you my “Frankfurt bei Nacht” photo.

Today’s a good day to leave. The last two weeks we’ve had two decent days; otherwise, the weather could be described as either bad (not raining but cold and overcast) or terrible (cold and overcast with wet snow or rain). But that’s pretty typical of German weather this time of year. My cat-sitter tells me my cats miss human contact terribly so it’s time to go home. I’ve lived here, I love Germany but now, homesickness rules.

Leaving Germany is as unbureaucratic as entering. They put you through security – you can leave your shoes on – the beamter scans and stamps your passport then you’re in the airport. Lots of shops with stuff you can’t afford with the weak dollar, lots of people coming and going. It’s airport hell, a world where they intentionally make the departure lounges unappealing and uncomfortable to convince those who can and will pay for business class and higher that they’re actually getting something extra for their money, apart, that is, from a seat that will hold someone bigger than a ten year old in relative comfort. Air travel sucks and we’re the idiots for accepting it. We get stuffed into small seats, delayed, bags lost, put through vast self-sorting machinery called airports, fed bad food at outrageous prices, kept in conditions you can’t legally put a prisoner in and we pay vast sums for it. Is it fast? For a trip of this length, yes. For anything under 400 miles, drive. By the time you count all the time and cost, you’ve saved nothing by flying.

Don’t even get me started on Southwest, American and the FAA trying to eke out a bit of profit by skimping on safety inspections. I really hope that no one flies American after this. The shareholders who will accept these business practices deserve to lose vast sums of money. Instead I predict Chapter 11, all debts forgiven, and a weak company goes back into competition with other weak companies. We have lost three airlines and one is in bankruptcy but still flying in two weeks. It’s going to be a tough year.

And I work in aviation. Hell of a recommendation for my industry. I can hardly wait to get to Denver and US Immigration and Customs. I’ve been to Saudi Arabia – it will be interesting to compare the two countries’ entry procedures.

Entering the US after the long flight, well, we don’t compare well against Saudi Arabia. I filled out no forms on the way over. At least now there’s only one for US citizens. The Dane setting next to me had two to fill out and had to leave his fingerprints. Oh, well, I guess the terrists aren’t out to get Europe, no fingerprints left behind by this (somewhat ugly) American. We got back, were stuck on the tarmac for maybe fifteen minutes waiting for Air Canada to push back then into the gate.

We are such a friendly nation. We greet the foreigners with the faces of those who should be checking our visas on the way in, the American Indians. I found it ironic that the faces of the original Americans greeted me, an American of the European variety, as I proceeded to Customs as established by the European variety. We’re separated by staircases, US citizens to the right, all others to the left. We wait for the friendly immigrations guy. Since I was away on business, the Immigrations Guy asked me in a somewhat hostile tone, “So you were on business.” Yes, I answer and then the Immigrations Guy, determined not to let a hostile into the US asks me “What did you bring back?”

“My luggage, a couple bottles of wine,” I said in a very disgusted tone. Immigrations Guy stamps my passport and I’m off to Customs. Then, the long wait. I was early at Frankfurt which meant my luggage was late getting off the carousel. And of course, someone certain I was about to blow up the plane or something at my destination had checked to make sure the two bottles of wine, the digital camera and the dozen Ueberaschungseier had cut open the box the Lufthansa desk agent in Frankfurt had given me to save me 40 Euros in overweight fees. Made it a bit tough to carry but I got it, walked to Customs with my German colleagues and was once again free and clear in the US.

Think of it as you will, I see entry into the US as the triumph of the paranoid. But hey, it’s good to be home.

At least now that the jet lag has passed. Tchuess!

No comments: