Thursday, August 30, 2012

United and Special

I felt some regret at what I'd written yesterday about United; was I jsut over-entitled? After all, the plane still had seats, and flew, and so on. But given the rudeness of the cabin crew, I started to feel less forgiving for United again. It's not that they were universally rude - we kept heard them having cheery conversations with the people in the rows directly in front or behind us. But every time they reached us, they became sullen and grumpy. Perhaps they hated vegetarians. Perhaps they were annoyed that I discovered when you request apple juice, they have to give you an entire can of the stuff rather than a slosh of juice from an already open carton. Or perhaps they didn't like my beard, or the haircut of the affable Marine who sat next to us. Whatever. At least if they'd been rude and grumpy with everyone, it would have been easy to accept. You don't always want to be made to feel special.

Arriving at Chicago O'Hare, we certainly didn't feel special. We disembarked (yes, that's a proper word, in the way that 'de-plane' isn't) from the plane and then queued up in a nondescript corridor, as if we had arrived in the back of a warehouse rather than a major international airport. We went down the corridor, down some escalators, and into the immigration hall.

Here they had a woman whose job is to shout "Citizens on the left, Visitors on the right" over and over again. Because people can't read. And because no matter what your language is, it's always easier to understand somebody bellowing at the top of their voice.

Immigration itself is vaguely farcical; every person working in O'Hare seems to be surprised by the idea that they might encounter somebody who can't speak English. It's almost as if they would be better off working somewhere which didn't involve interacting with lots of people from different countries and cultures.

Perhaps because of the stress that induces, most of the immigration personnel wander off at random, when they don't feel like checking more documents, and so although the queue got longer and longer, and the shouty woman yelled more and more, the time to process people took longer and longer.

Not that we were worried. After all, we had at least 50 minutes to clear immigration, collect our luggage, recheck it, take a train to another terminal and get on another plane. That wouldn't take longer than ... forty minutes. Along the way we encountered the usual cordon of sullen TSA agents (there are people whose job is to draw a circle on your boarding pass with a ballpoint pen and apparently nothing else) and be distracted by the smell of food, before clambering onto a plane and departing for Canada.

Even tiny Canadian planes have back-of-seat monitors to entertain you, whereas United's 747s are still in the late 1990s and have a couple of big screens so we can all watch the same movie at the same time. That meant I could watch almost all of Footloose before we arrived in Montreal.

Unlike our luggage, which decided to chill out in Chicago for a few hours and miss our flight. I wasn't unduly stressed, because the day before we left Singapore I purchased travel insurance, and for every eight hours that the baggage is delayed, we get another $200. This is good news for us, and bad news for the insurance company; as it's already been 16 hours since we were meant to be reacquainted with our luggage, we're already going to be getting back more money from the insurance company than the total premium I paid for a year, and there's plenty more trips to go on where we could have further ability to claim. Isn't insurance a wonderful thing?

Thus today, although suffering a bit from the journey, we were fairly relaxed; after eating as many croissants as I could fit into my body, we toured the old town, visited a cathedral and then went to a supermarket with an enormous crane in the fresh vegetable department. What a wonderful country Canada is.


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