Friday, August 27, 2010

A few pictures from Afghanistan

I just returned home from my adventure in Afghanistan.  Internet connectivity in this 3rd world country is difficult to come by, so I’ve waited until now to post.  Also, most of what I really wanted to take pictures of was just what the military didn’t want me to take pictures of, so I passed on those.  There are no award winners in this bunch, but it may give you a little idea of what the place is like.


P1000037 - Copy






Thanks to Jim Bell for the really cool carabineer for my armor.

Monday, August 16, 2010

United Airlines F’s over its Customers

On Thursday I had what must rank as one of my top ten all-time worst customer service experience at the hands of United Airlines.  It all started when my 2:30 pm flight to Washington-Dulles was cancelled due to bad weather in the DC area.  I don’t blame them for not flying without permission, but cancelling the flight altogether put the 130 or so folks on the plane in need of rebooking to get to their destination.  Had we flown when the airport reopened, I would have made my flight to Kuwait which was also delayed instead of enduring the torture that followed.

As we pulled back to the gate an announcement was made for domestic customers to line up at one gate and international customers at the other.  I’m thinking that they will give the international customers a priority since they have more expensive tickets and longer delays if flights are missed.  Nothing could have been further from what happened.

The domestic line was about twice as long as the international line, so it wasn’t surprising to see two agents servicing those passengers.  I was 9th of about 45 passengers in the international line.  Things were looking ok until the second customer in my line.  The first customer was in the wrong line so he was gone at once.  The next guy took over 50 minutes to try every possible option and ask every possible question.  Several international passengers asked for the agents to help us out a bit.  That wasn’t going to happen. 

As the ‘help’ whet on, the average time to book domestic passengers was maybe 5 minutes and the average passenger in the international line took about 30 minutes.  Even though I started 9th in line, I didn’t get any help with my travel until I had stood in line for over 3 hours.  Of course, by that time there was no way to get to Kuwait in time to catch my connection. None.  And since my connection only runs three days a week, it pushed my travel back 3 days.

Even though our line was moving so much slower, the 2 agents serving domestic passengers made no effort to help our line at all until all of the domestics were gone.  That happened right about the 3 hour mark.  Score 90 domestic, 8 international.  Nice.

At that point, some folks from further back in the international line stepped into the domestic line.  Once the domestics were gone, the agents continued with those line-jumpers in front of them instead of serving the next customer in the proper line.  Let that be a lesson to those who listen to instructions and play by the rules.  The folks behind the desk don’t give a crap about that.  They will do what is easier for them.  And did United keep all 3 agents working to help customers?  Nope.  One of the agents disappeared with no explanation.

Thankfully I was in my home town, so I could schedule a tentative trip and go home.  I really feel for the folks who were still 3 hours deep in the line and facing a night in a hotel and another day of traveling.

DId I say I could just go home?  That’s not quite true.  I still had to retrieve my bag from the airline.  That took another 30 minutes of waiting at the bag conveyor line.  From there I hopped on the waiting shuttle to airport parking and got right to my car.  Then I say the worst backup at the parking pay windows that I’ve every seen.  It took another 30 minutes to pay for the parking that I didn’t need.  I was home about 20 minutes later, much to the surprise of Dr. K.

As I’m writing this, my second try at this trip is going much better, but there is a long way to go.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Long Layover

Now that I seem to be on my way I’ll quit being coy.  I’m headed to Afghanistan for a couple weeks.  Specifically, I’ll be traveling to US Army bases in Kabul and Kandahar.  They are exotic locations and the living conditions are much different than I am used to in the states, but the work is pretty much the same.

Is it safe?  Yes, I believe it is.  The most dangerous part by far is the flight, and not because it is in a war zone, but because it is a flight.  The problems that you hear about on the news tend to be out in the country-side or around forward operating bases (FOBs), not the big bases near cities.  I found that to be true in Iraq the past two summers and I expect the same in Afg.

I tried to get this trip started last Thursday.  The plan was to travel from Charlotte to Dulles and then on to Kuwait City arriving Friday afternoon Kuwait time.  There is an apartment that I can use there to get a shower and some sleep before continuing on to Kandahar and finally Kabul on Saturday.  Weather threatening in the DC area botched those plans.  My United flight out of CLT was cancelled.  The resulting ordeal that followed is too long for this post, but I will follow up with that rant shortly.  United won’t be happy, believe me.

Currently, I’m in the United Red Carpet Club in the Dulles International Airport.  It is a much nicer hang-out than the concourse.  Some free drinks, snacks, a bar, and NASCAR on the wide screen will work just fine.  I hope they don’t mind my changing the channel.

Because of the problems of Thursday, I didn’t want chance missing the flight to Kuwait again.  Unfortunately, the next earlier available flight out of CLT gave me a 6 hour layover here in Dulles.  So my current schedule looks like 2 hours of traveling to and hanging out in the Charlotte airport, 1 hour flight to DC, 6 hour layover in DC, 14 hour flight to Kuwait city and probably another hour or two of getting into Kuwait, getting my bag, and getting to the apartment.  After that 13 hours in the apartment, it’s back to the airport for the flight into Kandahar and then Kabul to finally get bedded down around 12 hours of travel on Tuesday.  Of course I will be full of energy and ready to go on Wednesday morning.  Right.

For security sake, I won’t be giving any details on my specific work.  You wouldn’t be that interested anyway.  I will try to snap some interesting pictures that I’ll pass along if I can, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Booty Ride Wrap-up

The HearUSA 24 Hours of Booty Team had a very successful ride for charity last week.  All four members completed at least 100 miles.  Captain Tracey (“Dr. K”) and John the Trainer (picture left) completed 200 miles in just under 21 hours.

booty team cropped

Personally, I was very happy to participate and glad that I could support my wife in a cause that she is passionate about.  I was also disappointed to have come down with a cold while in Seattle on Wednesday only to have it peak the night of the ride.  I’m thinking that the 3 or 4 days with little sleep in a strange bed and two cross-country flights might not have been the best preparation for the ride.  I had about 91 miles ridden before 4 am, but that’s where I fell out.  I returned to the course about 2 pm to complete my century and to help pack the campsite up.

We completed getting everything in the cars just as the sky opened up.  We literally threw the last two items in the car as the heavy rain began to fall and headed for home. Dr. K insisted on a beer and pizza dinner even though she had not slept all night.  She was pretty punchy by the time we returned home.  In all, the team raised $2785 for cancer research and treatment.  Dr. K is already shopping for a new bike for next year.