Saturday, September 26

Boston to Cape Town Liveblog

Some of you will be familiar with my many adventures in the world of airlines, and this little post is for all of you. I have this wonderful knack for getting screwed over when I fly across the country, which I had to do a lot of in college. In defense of air travel in general, one could argue it was predominantly the fault of United Airlines. I swore once never to fly them again, then sort of forgot that I made such a pact and booked another flight with them. I was not about to forget this a second time. So I don't fly United anymore, and if I have any say I truly never will again. This may not bode well for my angry, ranting stories about my air travel fiascoes which I am told are oh so entertaining. So, I guess its a good thing I'm trying to write about animals now, and not horrible airline angst.

Having heard so many great things about international flights with wi-fi and power outlets next to every seat, I was hoping I would be able to pen a true liveblog of this material, but alas, a KLM Airbus 330-300 just isn't the Concorde. However, much of this was written in-flight so I would not forget key details of the experience.

The trip started out with Lanthe driving me to the airport via zipcar (thanks, girlie). Despite the fact that I was taking an international flight from the get-go, I apparently wasn't going through terminal E - just boring terminal A since the flight was "operated by Northwest Airlines." So after following some extemporaneously devised instructions to the airport and proper terminal, everything was fine.

I have this problem where I own standard style rolly suitcases which I pack to be reasonably full, and they always weigh more than 50 pounds, and I have to get charged, or move my stuff around in order to get my bag under the weight limit. I have one bag in particular which I don't use much anymore. Really, I can't use it because it will always go over the bloody limit no matter how little I think I'm putting in it. I've gotten smaller and smaller bags, and continually run up against the same problem. This time, however, I didn't even weigh them properly, but when I went up to that bag check and plopped them down on the scale, both weighed exactly 50 pounds. Hell yes.

As I sat down in my carefully selected seat for the Amsterdam flight, I was hit by a wave of infantile screams. I was in a four seat row, and only one woman separated me from an Indian mother and her young child. Said child was not very happy to be on our plane. It cried for about half an hour before settling down. I think it (too young for me to be able to tell gender... yes, I know what you might be thinking, but I'm not planning on starting a family for myself anytime too soon) fell asleep after that. Fortune held with me, since (at least at the time I write this paragraph, which is more than 4 hours into the flight) the tyke didn't make an obnoxious sound for the remainder of the flight.

On the Amsterdam flight, the attendant for my region of the plane was an awesomely flamboyant fellow. For those of you old folks in the know, think Adlai, except white.

For the first time in a very long while, I consumed an airline dinners.

attendant: What would you like, chicken or vegetarian?
me: Well, what kind of chicken you got?
attendant: ... Dead chicken?
me: Well, that's a good start, I suppose. What else can you tell me?
attendant: Bad chicken?
attendant: Its really kind of gross. The vegetarian dish is much better, but you have to like curry.
me: Well, its a good thing I do. Let's go with that.

It was rather tasty. I ever managed to get my attendant buddy to get me an extra serving from the back.

While glancing at the map of our route from Boston to Amsterdam, I wondered at how this could be a 7 hour flight, and the next leg could be 11 hours. Geometry be a harsh mistress. Then I realized I was going to be flying over all of fucking Africa, and I really ought to have gotten a window seat in spite of my hate so that I might enjoy the view. Well, my next seat is similar to this one, and I have some decent window views, so I think I'll be okay. Maybe the flight won't be very full, though this one is surprisingly packed.

As the flight came to a close, they sent the duty free carts through the aisles. The were basically just loaded up with cartons of cigarettes and some bottles of booze. They were even the European packaged cigarettes which have 150% more guilt as an ingredient than American cigarettes. They have these huge warnings on the packages saying "Smoking will kill you." Personally, I find them highly amusing, especially when I talk to some of the ridiculous smokers I know about them. Really, they're just wonderful conversation starters in general.

The Amsterdam airport leaves something to be desired in terms of food. Other shopping seems fine, there's storefront after generic storefront for electronics, cigarettes, lighters, chocolates - everything on the earth that you tend to see marked up (but duty free!). However, there were hardly any restaurants to grab some food. There signs everywhere pointing to the one McDonalds in the area, and I was about to break down and get some of that until I saw the massive line and remembered how I'd sworn not to spend my own money on them. All the other options were sit-down restaurants, which I certainly didn't have time for... or so I thought. In the end, I just grabbed a quick "gondola pizza" which was as bad and overpriced as one would expect, for 5 euro, but it hit the spot, and there really were no other options.

At the gate, it took me a little while to figure out what the hell was going on. In Amsterdam, and across all of Europe for all I know, security checks are done at the gate. In theory it makes sense. In practice... well I've not seen nearly enough of these checkpoints to start getting all judgemental. I liked the idea, in spite of the fact that I had already gone through more rigorous security in Boston and generally hate security. Now, because of you have to send everyone through security here, that means the check-in process at the gate begins more than an hour before takeoff. They probably could have used more time. I certainly could have used this downtime which I wasn't aware of to go eat a real meal, but according to Vinayak, that'd cost me about 20 euro in Amsterdam proper, so nabbing a meal in the airport would undoubtedly be close to 30 euro.

Security was all well and good, though. No computer box with me, so now bizarre hang-ups associated with that. I'm getting more and more the feeling that I should have brought the funbox with me. Although my netbook has done surprisingly well for me so far - I've already spent some time using photoshop to touch up some images, and did not really have any performance issues at all.

Anyway, security. All was well. Made friends with another American in the line, one who operates a recording studio in Cape Town. I have a feeling he could give me some mad tips for music on the radio show. Here's a thought for the people on my radio crew: once I get settled, I'll send a local African song to you guys every week and you can play it.

Once the long wait was over, and we were all carefully seated on the very full plane, takeoff continued smoothly. I hadn't slept too much during the first flight, sort of because I wanted to save it up for this 11 hour deathtrap. My plan went quite smoothly. I did not miss a drink or food service, and somehow I completely lost track of about 7 hours of time. I fell asleep during take off, and woke up an hour later to find myself being offered food and drink. One rather tasty chicken dinner and miniature bottle of red wine later, I was ready for the valerian cocktail, which allowed me to continue my conversation with Morpheus.

What happened after that is a bit hazy for a long time. I'd stop and start and glance at the map to find us considerably further south than I might have expected. When I legitimately awoke, I found both my neck and buttocks to be too sore to continue sleeping. None of my standard airplane sleeping position variants afforded me much success. Oh well, it turned out to be time to eat again.

I had a very nice conversation with the English/South African couple seated next to me, and learned a few handy things about the city of Cape Town. I may even have gotten myself an inside edge with their daughter who specializes in tourism and could apparently show me the ropes around Cape Town and possibly some of the surrounding region.

A window seat might have been useful. Clouds are a problem, though. We're two hours out of Cape Town right now, and everything is covered in clouds, so I can't see much of anything anyhow. I'd say the clouds look different here, but I think that is the trick of the setting sun. Looks like there a giant Antarctic ice flow running from here to the horizon.

The quantity of unhappy children on both these flights has been surprising. It has been many a flight (all of which were domestic) since I encountered screaming babies. I suppose it is not too surprising that people traveling such great distances are family types more than the business fliers on my American flights. Or perhaps the semi rule holds true, and the planes are larger and thus the babies more numerous and thus the resulting din is louder overall.

Something amazing just happened in liveblogland. The attendants were pushing their final service carts down the aisle, asking if people wanted ice cream or chips. The guy pushing one of them blunders in such a way as to knock one of the boxes of food off the cart. A woman was standing behind him waiting to get to her seat just past where the cart was currently stationed. At seeing this error, she starts chiding him about it, and he basically asks her if she wants to do it, and she agrees. He takes her seat and she half-assedly continues the service, all leading to more hilarity. When she gets to her seat where the attendant is sitting, she asks, "and you'd like a bottle of wine?" "Yes, please," he replies.

Shazbot, I'm almost there. Its dark outside, which is to be expected, but still a bit disappointing. This sort of feels like what is was like to arrive in Japan really late into the night after a similarly epic flight. My sources on this plane conflict with my others concerning how... "normal" Cape Town is. These people actually live there, though, so I think I can trust them.


  1. In Amsterdam, and across all of Europe for all I know, security checks are done at the gate.

    No. Amsterdam is just dumb. In every other European airport I've been to (quite a few), they do it normally.

    One rather tasty chicken dinner and miniature bottle of red wine later


    Except I couldn't get the damn bottle open because the screw cap was messed up or something. After I cut myself trying, the flight attendant gave it a shot, then gave up and went and got me a big cup of wine from first class, promising me it was much better.

  2. I do not recall saying "20 Euro". I do recall giving you some sort of more reasonable number, like "12".

  3. enough! the world is waiting; can i make it with a baboon?

  4. Sir Graham, even I cannot know the answers to such a profound question so soon. Science takes time after all...