Monday, September 20, 2010

Start the clock, take time out...

If you were to believe my original itinerary, I'd be telling you this story from Eldoret after having seen my wife and tucked my bags away in our room.

In actuality, however, I'm telling you this story from Nairobi, while my luggage is en route from London as we speak.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

The whole trip started off with a bang. Scheduled to take off from Indianapolis at just after 4:00, I was on scheduling preparations-wise to be out of the house with plenty of time to make the flight. That is, until I got a call from American Airlines, telling me that the 4:00 flight was getting into Indy too late for me to make the connecting flight, and that they were putting me on an earlier flight through United.

So I rushed through my last steps and headed out to the airport with Mark (father-in-law) driving the van. This proved to be a little more daunting thanks to increased traffic caused by a change in construction patterns that had created an express lane on I-465. Now, usually drivers in Indy are pretty good, but the first day of a change (and on Friday night, they had changed where the lane split off from the local traffic lanes), it seems like everyone panics and forgets how to drive.

So, flight leaves at 3:00, and we pull into the airport at 1:50. Not ideal timing for international travel, but at this point I knew I'd have to hurry whenever I arrived. Now, I'd been told by American that I need to check in with United since my first flight would be through them. So, I wait in line a the ticket counter. Now, most airlines at most airports will have their automated check-in kiosks away from the desk because that will help keep some of the unnecessary foot traffic away from the counter which makes things more efficient.

Not here, though, and this is one of the many reasons that I don't fly United if I can help it. We waited in line to get to the kiosks, which meant that people who had no idea how to use them were clogging up the line and hogging up the folks that work thee because apparently they get confused when a touchscreen monitor asks them hard questions like "WHAT IS YOUR NAME? _________"

Deep breaths.

Of, when I got there, the screen told me I had to check in with American. Awesome. Went over there and used the touchscreen (handily located away from the counter, I might add), and then went to the counter to check bags. They gave me boarding passes for the 2nd and 3rd legs of my trip, but said I had to get checked in by United since it was their flight.

Deeper breaths. Serenity, Courage, Wisdom.

When I got back to United, the line was twice as long as when I'd started, and the same people were being thrown off by the ridiculously tough interrogation of the touchscreens, "ARE YOU CHECKING ANY BAGS? ______" By this time it was 2:20, and my flight was boarding in 20 minutes. I hated to do it, but I bypassed the line and went straight to the clerk that told me that I had to check in with American, and said in no uncertain terms that she was to check me in immediately. Uncertain though they may have been, my words and tone of voice were kinder than the words that the associates at the American Airlines desk used to describe the folks at United. So it's not like I was rude about it.

Much to my surprise, it worked! I flew through security and hustled to the gate to find out that - guess what - another flight was at my gate!! Whoooooo commercial airline efficiency!! Can anyone guess why they're going bankrupt?

Ok, that was a cheap shot, but still. Turns out the delays meant that my gate was essentially double-booked. Thankfully the many clerks from United that were at the gate were working hard to find a solution and alleviate the situation.

And by many, I mean one. And she was at the wrong gate.

After frenzied walky-talkying and two others finally arriving on the scene, everything got worked out, and I was on the plane. We landed in Chicago, and there was plenty of time to grab a quite bite (and a last Caramel Apple Spice for a while) before heading out to London. That flight went well, and I had a little more time at Heathrow airport, whose Terminal 5 is incredible, especially if you like high-end retail shops - nothing says luxury like Duty-Free Gucci!

After a spot of porridge and tea, it on the plane to Nairobi. Thankfully another pleasant and uneventful flight - kudos to British Airways, btw, on both of their legs of the trip. The only thing missing was in-plane WiFi, but everything else was spot on.

Landed in Nairobi at 9:00-ish local time and called Meagan with the Kenyan cell phone she'd acquired and given to me. She told me there was a change in plans - I'd been scheduled to fly out on the morning flight from Nairobi, but apparently had been bumped to the afternoon flight. Neither of us were thrilled about that, but it worked out (more below). Customs took over an hour, and then sat at baggage claim for half an hour while they unloaded all of the bags from the plane, which understandably brought a lot of people over (which partially explains the delays at customs as well). As I've mentioned, though, my bags were not to be found.

So, a quick trip to the Baggage claims office, and lo and behold, they found my bags. On their computer. In London. This was the point at which I just started laughing.

Worked out a schedule with the folks their on when my bags will arrive in Eldoret, and then met my driver, who was very patiently waiting out front. Titus, the same driver who took Meagan, greeted me warmly and kept me laughing all the way to the hotel at which I was not scheduled to go. Just as with Meagan's stay, I would not be able to stay at my original destination, so it was off the Heron hotel, which is delightful, and where I am typing at this second.

So, it seems like this adventure has started before it begin. I'm quickly learning that patience is required when doing much of anything here, which as we saw with the United-American snafu, is a trait that is not unique to any one culture.

I'll be in Eldoret soon, though, and that will mean the end of this part of the journey, and many, many more parts to look forward to beyond that.


  1. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures. this is awesome.

  2. Hang in there, Michael. Problems with airlines and luggage are as old as the industry. Your humor is intact, and that will go a long way