The first time I visited Paris was my first real trip abroad unchaperoned and fully in control of my own destiny. That journey helped start me on the path to who I am today. I have a lot of great memories of that trip. Now I’m back for a few days and I’ll try to find out what’s changed – both here and within myself – and rediscover my younger self in the process. This is part of a series of my reminiscences of Paris.
After the night of reminiscing in my old Paris neighborhood I woke up relaxed. I lazed around a bit and ran a couple of errands before heading out to the airport. Life was good and I was in no hurry. But my last errand took a bit longer than I’d planned. Not too bad and I’d still have plenty of time, just not enough to take the Metro and train. I’d have to grab a cab instead.
So there’s apparently a delay at Borispol airport in Kiev. Nobody at the airport seems to know why. But according to the Kyiv Post, the massive delays at Borispol were caused by an unpaid bill. According to the article, the billionaire oligarch who runs Ukraine’s largest airline failed to pay his airport bill for so long that they cut the airline off and shut down operations.
I can’t verify this, but I have some theories. First theory is that it was an honest mistake, the digital check got lost in the electronic mail, and that everything will be resolved quickly and amicably. Second theory is that someone on one side or the other is relatively incompetent and just didn’t do what they should have. Third theory is that this is a broader social issue around oligarchy in the region. Fourth is that this was a move to make money.
The official story is that there was a systems glitch. This caused payment not to be sent or applied. And everything would be straightened out quickly. But given that shutting off an airline would take a positive action on the part of someone, and that it would be guaranteed to cause massive disruption and frustration, it seems like it’d have to be a huge glitch that persisted over months with nobody’s common sense kicking in to fix it. Otherwise the organizations would work together to get it figured out and there would be no disruption. So that leaves us with one of the other two theories as being more likely.
What if some incompetent bureaucrat caused the shutdown? Given the region’s reputation for incompetent bureaucracies that seems like a likely candidate. Maybe the check or paperwork sat on somebody’s desk too long. Or maybe somebody went on vacation without approving whatever needed to be approved for continued service. Or somebody was just obstinate about process, paperwork or whatever and didn’t do the right thing by the passengers. That’s believable.
What if this were an oligarch fight? Aerosvit is owned by an oligarch, according to the article. But it’s not clear who owns and operates the airport. That may be another oligarch. So maybe this is a feud. Or maybe someone at the airport decided to stand up to an oligarch who refused to pay for services. Or maybe the airport was trying to squeeze the oligarch for more money or power or some other reason. That’s fairly likely as well.
But a complete shutout of Aerosvit isn’t exactly what happened. Instead, flights were coming in on time, but not allowed to leave for hours. So
peasants passengers were forced to spend extra time inside the airport itself, not just backed up at other airports. And therefore they were more than likely to buy stuff – food, drinks, souvenirs, cigarettes, whatever. So really there was an economic incentive for the airport to keep people there longer than need be. Maybe not enough incentive to offset the loss of goodwill by the passengers and airline, but who knows. This would be just the thing to increase revenues in the short term – perhaps to pay for things like makeovers for security agents or ongoing expansions in advance of the European Cup?
I’m on a flight from London to Atlanta and I didn’t get bumped up to the soft cushy seats that lay back flat so I can’t sleep and am a bit cranky. So some of the small things are starting to bother me.
Like deaf flight attendants. Why are they on planes? The ADA? I asked for red wine with my meal and she reached for the coffee. I said no, red wine. Orange Juice? She asked me. WINE I shouted. She poured me water. People on the opposite side of the plane glared at me. The guy on the aisle grabbed it for me and she handed me a cup.
And why are the stewardesses so homely these days? Airline travel isn’t sexy anymore I guess. Three of the five women on this flight practically make Sinead O’Connor look like Rapunzel with their butch hairstyles. And Tammy Faye apparently taught them to apply makeup, or they’ve been using Homer’s makeup gun. And to whomever is in delta’s HR team, please find a way to get the fat ones out of the air. As a rule of thumb, if they bump into both sides at the same time when walking down the aisles, they’ve got to go!
Which brings me to the meals. They seem like store brand frozen dinners more so than something I’d actually like to eat. I know it’s challenging to make a good meal at 30,000 feet but they seem to do it for the first class passengers. Let me put it this way: when collecting trays the waitresses at the mile-high cafe wear plastic gloves. They’re afraid to touch what I’ve been eating.
I suppose it all goes back to costs and profitability. “you people want cheap tickets” the execs might say. “so we have to keep cutting back costs.” well I suppose that’s true, but we weren’t the ones who started it. When the executives’ pay was raised and amenities started being cut back in the 80s and 90s, we said “I’m not going to pay that much for this crap.” since then it’s been a devolving cycle of executive increases and “cost cutting” measures which have gotten us to this place where the average airline traveler demands prices sub-premium fares comparable to the sub-standard travel conditions offered.
The peasants are revolting.
With my flight from Fargo to Minneapolis, I became a Delta Silver Medallion member. That’s 25,000 MQM sky miles, which roughly translate into miles flown. The true distance flown is probably closer to about 20,000 because of bonus MQMs, minimum mileage credits, and flying non-Delta airlines. If you add that to the airline travel I did at the beginning of the year (Atlanta to LA to Taipei to Hong Kong; Lasa to Beijing; Tallinn to Brussels to Washington, DC to Atlanta >15,000), that’s over 35,000 miles of air travel. Including my train travel (Hong Kong to Guanzhou to Guilin to Nanning to Kunming to Chengdu to Xi’an to Lasa; Beijing to Irkutsk to Ykaterinburg to Moscow to St. Petersburg to Pskov to Riga >8,500) and driving (I estimate at least 7,500), that’s over 50,000 miles.
To give you an idea of the scale of that distance, the circumference of the Earth is less than 25,000 miles at the equator. That’s more than some people will travel in a lifetime. I’d estimate that it is about one-quarter of the distance I’ve traveled before this year (~75,000 miles on my trips to Europe, at least 60,000 driving and at least 40,000 flying in North America; about 18,000 to Australia and back). So let’s put my total lifetime travel distance somewhere around 250,000 miles. That’s a hell of a lot.
But consider the airline “Million Miler” programs that have about 250,000 members. I can hardly imagine hitting that mark. I’m not sure I want to. At that point, traveling would be my entire job. Not unlike airline pilots who might be the ones with the most miles under their belt. Consider a trans-Pacific round trip might garner 25,000 miles. If a crew makes just one of those a week, they’d be at 1,250,000 miles a year. I would imagine that 10 years of that routine would be common for those crews. And 20 would be imaginable. That’s 25 million miles flown and is 100 times more than I have traveled. Now that is truly impressive.