Lost in limbo: The Continental flight from Tel Aviv toNewark i s one of the worst I’ve had in a while. The plane looks like it hasn’t been serviced inside since the first Bush administration. It is dirty. There is garbage on the floor. The upholstery is torn and stained. The media screens flicker and have major LCD burn-in spots. The air flow is poor.
Just to make things more fun, I end up in one of the seats against the back bulkhead, so not only can’t I recline, but I get a nasty whiff of eau de porta-potty every time someone opens the restroom doors. The crew is cranky and rude, and the culture clash between the American follow-the-rules mentality and the Israeli dafka-ness is painful. There are almost no empty seats, and I end up seated next to a big guy whose elbows intrude into my already-limited seat space. He has bad breath.
Twenty minutes out of the gate, there is a medical emergency. The crew, already edgy, becomes downright rabid. They yell at us repeatedly to remain IN OUR SEATS WITH OUR SEATBELTS FASTENED. YES, YOU! SIT DOWN! RIGHT NOW!
The only pleasant thing about the flight is the group of Mennonite tourists returning from a pilgrimage. They jabber in what sounds like German with flat American accents and remain cheerful and happy throughout the flight.
At Newark, we sit on the tarmac for another 20 minutes before a gate is available. Then the real fun begins. The immigration guys are rude. The security people are rude. We are shoved into lines and yelled at. The signage is horrible. Passengers who checked luggage must collect it, then wheel it through and recheck it. I am given bad info, bad directions, and when I finally make it through the usual security stuff, I am already tired. Then, I look at my ticket and see that it says gate 115b. But I’m in the C concourse, and the only way to get to B is to exit through the security area, navigate more halls, escalators, more bad signage, and finally find the train that connects the terminals. At this point, the monitors showing departures list a flight leaving RIGHT THEN for Minneapolis, and my flight (supposedly boarding half an hour later) pushed back to 21:00. I cannot find a Continental customer service person. I cannot get to any human who might help unless I stand in a long line and go through the process of check-in (I’m already checked in). The one Continental person I finally locate is rude and dismissive. Worse, to get to any gate area, I will have to go through the whole security mess again. But the monitors all say the same thing, plus they all say terminal C. So back I go, once again preparing to remove shoes, take out laptop, doff jacket, etc. But wait! This time, in the SAME LINE, the security professional, a 19-year-old who has barely managed to understand the English on the application form, notices that the spelling of my first name is different on my passport and on my ticket. She refuses to let me in. She wants me to do an enormous, time-consuming backtrack to go and get re-ticketed. I show her another ID that has the same spelling, and she lets me through.
Is this the end? Noooo. Now we listen as flight after flight is canceled. My flight, supposedly leaving from a dark, musty, windowless corner of the terminal, is not up on the board. There are many stories circulating: a missing back door on the plane; bad weather at the destination; bad weather on the route; bad weather on the route from which the plane must arrive. Finally, only three hours after the original boarding time, we are allowed to board. It is a tiny little plane, with a one-two seat configuration, similar to the noisy little prop-jets I used to commute in. But this still is not the end. We end up sitting on the tarmac for almost two hours before getting a slot. The flight itself is 2.5 hours of uncomfortable jiggling on seats designed to break tailbones, but at last we land, and I trot the confusing maze to the exits, snag a cab, and am at the Hyatt by 01:30. At this point, I have been traveling for 27 hours.
Nothing like starting business meetings on three hours of sleep.
Still alive! But it isn’t all bad. I managed to get everything I needed into one carry-on bag, and while I won’t have a different pair of shoes for every outfit, as one of my colleagues here was telling me, I’ll manage just fine. I also surprise myself on Friday by getting through ten hours of meetings and a two-hour dinner without falling asleep, though in the late afternoon I found it a tad difficult to concentrate. Still, it is very exciting to be starting my role on the board of directors, and I am quite touched by the warm welcome I have received from my colleagues.
Too bad, Teapacks: Nice job, boys, but not This Year’s Flavor. I miss the Eurovision semi-finals, but someone with a Blackberry is able to check the results during our lunch break, so I learn that Israel did not advance to the finals. Ah, well. We still love ya, Kobi!