Friday, December 21, 2012

DO NOT fly with Turkish Airlines

Usually, when I blog, I try to show some wit and/or creativity in the title. In this case, however, I wanted anyone who saw the link to know the central moral of the story, whether or not he or she clicked through to read.

As I start this piece, it is Thursday, December 20, 1:54pm Istanbul time. I sit with my partner and her parents in the food court at Ataturk Airport, each of us ready to commit acts that would make Joffrey Lannister reel. Istanbul itself has been amazing – we stayed at the Hotel Sultania, which must have been trained in helpfulness by a crack unit of the Red Cross, and I have seen historic wonders aplenty; Topkapi houses, amongst other wonders, a sceptre containing a ruby the size of my fist. Literally that big. I think that is the first time I have looked at something and have immediately thought “nah… that doesn’t exist.”

But this leg of our journey drew to a close, and so our chariot whisked us to the airport, ready to head to catch our 11:50am to Venice, and further history. We had even booked a water taxi to retrieve us from Marco Polo Airport, which strikes me as being less Venice and more Atlantis. But, having negotiated the luggage and Customs formalities, things took a decidedly arrogant and stupid turn. We got to our gate, and watched as snow fell around the terminal. Not a snowstorm, just snow. Awww. We sat, as the time that boarding was due to commence came and went. No cause for concern; the scheduled boarding time was an hour before takeoff, which is usually a guide rather than a timetable. A staff member checked our boarding passes and passports, and we waited. 

The usual “20 minute before takeoff” boarding time passed. 

Takeoff time passed.

Usually, when a flight is cancelled, the lines are something like this:
“Ladies and gentlemen, At Fault Airlines regrets to announce that Flight six-oh-yours to Someplace has been cancelled. Passengers, please make your way to the At Fault Airlines desk where arrangements will be made. We apologise for the inconvenience.”

At Turkish Airlines, it is not “we regret to inform”, it is “we neglect to inform”. One of our more vigilant co-travellers had checked the departures board, to find that instead of the previous “Go To Gate” instruction next to our flight number, there was now a single word, in red text, that started with C. No announcement of any sort – Turkish had decided to engage the communication system of “We’re Busy, You Figure It Out”. We made our way en annoyed masse to the help desk, past the travelators that mocked us with their only-toward-the-gates-not-the-other-way motion, and I noticed that before we got to the desk, all details of the flight had vanished from the departures boards. Not even the Cancelled entry remained… we had apparently booked tickets on an UnFlight.

Now… the “help” desk. Unless I am underestimating the value of an indifferent shrug, the greatest assistance that the staff at the help desk could be is as spare parts. A note at this point: I am a firm believer that the person who says “the customer is always right” is usually a tool. However, I also try to live by the idea that “the person in front of you is a person”. We were not people. We were, if the staff’s attitude was to be believed, the physical embodiment of flat tyres, dropped-out phone calls and full nappies. After enough of us had gathered, the Moustache in Charge told us that we needed to head to the transit desk, which was left, left and down. This list of directions was as useful as a recipe that says “add the stuff, then heat it”. The group splintered, and we charged off in the wrong direction, eventually wandering our way down a level. It beckoned from a distance; Turkish Airlines Transit Desk. After some quick and terse discussions amongst the group as to what did or didn’t constitute a queue, a decree was made from behind the desk. No microphone, just a shout.

The other transit desk.

We charge deeper into the bowels of Ataturk Airport, eventually finding this third stop in our quest to get where we paid to go. After something of an annoyed jostle, new boarding passes to the 4:30pm flight are issued. The help desk, and transit desk #1 are both capable of printing out boarding passes, by the way, but then as my lady’s father said, “if an army is marching, it isn’t fighting”. 

Heading back up from the transit section seems to be trickier than we thought, as the automatic doors we came through have a certain red-circle-with-a-white-dash symbol, proclaiming as loudly as Gandalf that We Shall Not Pass… at least not in that direction. Because it wasn’t the airline’s fault, I declined to point out that we had been through the metal detectors twice at the airport already; once immediately after stepping in from the cold (including sending suitcases through), and the second time after having our passports checked. So, as we found that our only way back to the surface world was through a third metal check, and I again took my belt off to avoid the buzzer, I heard a voice much like my grandfather’s grumble in the back of my head – “I tell you now, if I have to take this belt off one more time, I’m smackin’ someone with it!”. I should point out that I never heard either of my grandfathers say anything like that ever, but I choose to believe I wasn’t so annoyed that I had developed another personality. 

The next stage took me back to the “help” desk. As I had picked up our new boarding passes, I had been told that a food voucher would be provided, to cover the five our gap between original flight and planned replacement. The rest of our party got off weary feet in the food court, and I went to retrieve the promised Papers of Nourishment.

“Please sit there. Twenty minute.”

I sat there. 

“Venice – where you fly in from?”

We had flown in from Hong Kong a few days ag-

“No – food only for transit today. Thank you.”

Apparently having been outside an airport that day disqualified us from the Turkish Airlines Food Aid Program. I delivered this news to the rest of our group, and then opened the computer to start this piece.

We funded our own lunch, then headed to the advertised gate for our new flight. 

The scheduled boarding time passed.

The “20 minutes before takeoff” time passed.

Takeoff time passed.

After numerous checks to the nearest departures board, the last one showed a shift – a gate change, to literally the other end of the airport. We headed across, past our original gate for our original flight, and down. Not to a gate that a plane could pull up to, but to a doorway where a bus would park. The snow had not eased up at this point, although flights were taking off through it… as would we, eventually.

The first PA announcement pertaining to our flight that was made all day (remember, we had found out the previous information ourselves, dragging it syllable by syllable from our captors) came at 5:10 pm, saying that our flight was going to take off at 5:20pm. We had had to bite and scratch for every drop of information, and the first piece that had been volunteered was immediately obvious bullshit. This is like starving someone for a week and then handing them a chiko roll. Five minutes later, this time was to be revised vocally to 6pm, and then by screen data, stage by stage, until we finally boarded the plane at 7:50pm, taking off (after refuelling) at 9pm. As we sat, waiting to finally enter the sky, I recalled our arrival into Istanbul, and seeing a sign for Turkish Airline’s frequent flyer program, “Miles and Smiles”. The celebrity whose photo they had used in this massive banner was not smiling, but then I guess calling the program “Miles and Facial Expressions Reminiscent of a Doctor Delivering Bad News” doesn’t really scan. I had learned on that day why she wasn’t grinning.

For details I won’t go into now, I believe that 90% of the delay we experienced was due to financial reasons, not weather (to start, our original flight was only half full), but what made the treatment we received go from bad to unacceptable was the fact that it was delivered constantly with a bored shrug and a turned shoulder… oh, and sandwiches at about 6:30, as one Italian passenger threatened to be the spark that turned the whole thing into a riot.

And so I say, reader, do not fly with Turkish Airlines. And to the airline itself… Go To Hell. Go Directly To Hell. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200, or any of anyone’s hard-earned ever again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Buyer be... where?

Morbid curiosity.

That's what leads me to be online at 2:04am, hitting Refresh on my browser every so often, wondering if will suddenly leap to life. Well, morbid curiosity and the fact that it's a hot night in Melbourne, and being one of the first of the season, I'm not handling it well.

November 20 was supposed to mark a great day in cyber-shopping in Australia. Over two hundred companies were to offer an avalanche of bargains for twenty-four hours, letting rabid shoppers and Christmas-present-buyers go commercially nuts from their own home. However, the evening became another monument to the fact that many Aussie retailers have taken to netshopping like a duck to lava.

So what went wrong? Why were organisers predicting peak-hour net traffic, but were apparently unready for it? Some of's finest investigative journalism had unearthed a few prices, "leaked" presale. I can only imagine the effort and ingenuity required to cultivate a source of such closely guarded information. Perhaps such a catastrophic breach of security resulted in a level of interest beyond expectations? Or perhaps notorious hacker clan Anonymous have gotten involved; no longer content with making political points or hounding child abusers, they have turned their efforts to preventing the spread of sonic skin cleansers at 30% off (yes, the site is working now, and I have bad skin. Sue me.)?

One thing can be taken from this - anyone inconvenienced by this system crash, buyer or seller, who is also against the installation of the National Broadband Network, needs to give him- or herself a quick wake-up slapping. Sure, a quick stroll through Twitter might lead you to ask why we could  possibly need some of these messages any quicker - "FML" is a sulk, no matter at how many megabits per second it flies around the world - but the good stuff will flow freer as well. You know, medical data, the contents of the world's libraries and galleries, pictures wittily captioned in a white blocky font. In the meantime, we continue with slower and costlier internet than much of the world, and in the offices of the coordinators of a certain online sale, trying to find certain people at their desks will result in a real-life 404 error.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Democra - me

In a coffee queue recently, I overheard some teenagers talking. One, about fifteen years old, was insisting that the word “says” is pronounced as it is written, while her friends tried to convince her of the more standard vocalisation. Very quickly, as she realised she had no backup, her reasoning boiled down to one sentence.

“Yeah, but that’s how I pronounce it.”

The rest of the group kept making their (and society at large’s) case, but she repeated her one-line defence, angrier each time.

I thought of this girl as I was reading Donald Trump’s Twitter response to the US Election. “If I can’t have support, or evidence, I’ll have anger.” The tweet that most amused me describes Obama’s win as a “…great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us.” Interesting use of the plural there, Donnie. If polls taken internationally are to be believed, the exhalation you heard from the world was a sigh of relief. Unless, the “us” refers to Mr Trump and Fox News?

The above link shows the dignity with which Fox News handled Ohio being called for Obama. Karl Rove almost ruptured a jowl, and the number-crunchers were immediately called to task. This is the problem when the –

You know what, I almost typed “news service” there. Neither concept fits; Fox News provides neither news nor service. I may as well have called them a feathered pizza delivery. But, to resume –

This is the problem when the broadcasting system a statistician works for has an ideology. A statistician needs to work with, and provide, verifiable data, but when that data points at the network’s agenda and laughs, suddenly our analytical friend has to present his employer with a set of numbers that are simultaneously correct and yet Wrong.  Just as the majority of American voters failed to acknowledge the minority’s Self-Evident Truth, creating Trump’s “injustice”.

Also rising from the Twittersphere were a couple of dozen claims that an Obama victory would lead to the Twit in question moving to Australia, despite our female atheist PM. This is another good reason to keep Tony Abbott out of the Lodge; a federal Liberal government would be pull-factor for such asylum seekers. We have various categories of immigration, such skills-based, family reunion, compassionate grounds; I recommend setting our Dickhead Immigration quota to nil, and printing up a series of T-shirts with Obama and Gillard standing side-by-side, with the caption “We’re Not Full, But Fuck Off Anyway.”

So, Donald and co, rub the money out of your eyes for a moment, and look upon the world that is.

And it’s pronounced “sezz”, dammit!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

And in further noise...

'Dobber' Julian Assange voted the most un-Australian by Zoo Weekly

How much wrong can be packed into one headline? How many kicks can those of us who naively search that website for actual news cop at once?

Let's start, as a news story should, with the source. Zoo. Picture without nipples. So, News Ltd has decided to make a national news story out of this article; a piece that the actual purchasers of the magazine probably didn't push past photos of Bouncy Inabikini to read. How does this occur? Do the website's advertisers require a certain percentage of stupid on the front page, to lower the defences of the reader, making them more susceptible to ordering weight-loss shakes and watching Rules Of Engagement? Is a sub-editor's family being held in a remote garage under a collection of vinegar-covered chainsaws, which will rev into action if a space is left blank? As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, will there be a cosmic imbalance without an upped dose of word pollution?

And pollution it is. Calling Julian Assange a “dobber” is a wonderful combination of lazy and dumb. Before I carry on, don't mistake this for a Save Assange rally... from what I have seen of the output of Wikileaks, Assange is less of a whistle-blower and more of a vuvuzela-sounder; the noise is more about bringing the noise-maker attention. But this barb misses the mark. A dobber is someone who tells of a person's misdeeds to an authority, not one who tells officialdom's misdeeds to the general public. The dobber is the one who tells the teacher of little Johnny texting in class , not the one who tells the kids about a teacher stealing from their bags. So, while deserves a backhander for calling anything in Zoo “news”, that backhander should be with a barbed-wire tennis racquet for this waste of ink. And yes, I realise naming the rag in question in this blog brings it a small amount of further attention, but I felt it was important to give full context – if I'd said “a men's magazine”, there may have been one or two readers wondering if Men's Health had moved into social commentary.

And as I type, Channel 9 morning news “reports” on the same piece. This has almost moved me to violence, but I will restrain myself for the sake of the world. If my act was big enough, then there would be news reports about the reaction to news reports of a magazine article, and the world may implode.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Remember, it's a book of human faces.

Facebook gives near-unlimited opportunities for people to shed any excess dignity they may be carrying, by displaying people's thoughts (and I use that word loosely) across a wide range of their friends (term used even more loosely). The websites that are devoted to stupidity broadcast on Facebook give further opportunity for humiliation, potentially sending a brainfart to a much broader audience; fortunately for my self-esteem, I don't have any friends that belong in such a log - my niece would get closest, with her determination to launch 874-comment arguments from her phone. But with a slight change in timing, Facebook can help bring a sense of perspective, and that idea that seemed to be demanding it take its place in the chatter can have its claim on the attention of others shown in a more accurate light.

My whinge was loaded, and ready to fire... let's just say that last night's journey home took two hours longer than expected, and involved a tow truck. If my phone had a little more battery, whoever of my contacts was spending part of Sunday night cybernetworking may have seen a couple of my complaints amongst the World Cup reactions. Eventually I got home, the words "cracked head gasket" ringing in my ears, and fired up the laptop to spread my tale of woe to screens across Australia, New Zealand, the US and Europe.

Suddenly, my car didn't matter as much.

One of my colleagues in another city - a gentleman I have only worked with a couple of times, but wears the mantle "good bloke" comfortably - has an infant son in hospital, heading into emergency surgery, during overseas travels. He posted this information, to gather support from his friends without the stress of actually vocalising the situation, and the support has been coming. As most people have the misfortune to find out at least once in their lives, when you reach out, it is comforting to have people reach back. And while it's a tad voyeuristic, it is also heartening for a bystander to see the rally. It also puts a couple of hours of transport difficulties into a different context.

There's been a lot of media coverage of Facebook lately, with some people announcing their foibles to more of the world than they intended, and others mistaking fiddling with privacy settings for actual privacy. Like all other forms of human communication, Facebook is as dignified, as stupid, as self-obsessed and as compassionate as the people who use it.

And Simon, our thoughts are with you and Fletch.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Holidays Not Only Start Romances...

I may have just caused a divorce.

To be clear, I didn't create or place the explosive charge, but I may have leaned on the detonator.

I am currently on the cruise ship Pacific Jewel, hugging the Queensland coast. I don't perform until tonight, so at the moment the passengers have no idea that I'm part of the crew. So, when I stood next to one particular passenger at the buffet line, she thought I was simply another sun-lover on holiday (although a glance at my pale complexion might suggest otherwise).

Not everyone would be concerned by the fact that the crab salad was next to the coleslaw, however crab is one of my extensive portfolio of allergies; a small amount ingested, and it would look like I was growing my own neck brace, my lips would swell beyond the desires of the most addicted plastic surgery recipient, my tongue would fatten so much that it would feel like I was trying to chew a bouncy castle, and breathing would take an effort usually reserved for pushing a reluctant teenage elephant. I watched as she took a share of the personally toxic food, and then declined to set the contaminated tongs back down, instead heading them to the salad of my goal. I had to act quickly, touching her on the shoulder and saying “excuse me, please don't.”

She turned, the indignant fire that filled her stout frame burning brightly in her eyes. She was clearly annoyed by the interruption, and downright offended by the fact that I dared place a hand on her, managing to communicate her outrage with the mere word “what?”. With the amount of force and bile she managed to pack into that one syllable, I'm guessing that one of her ancestors can be found in the Bible, wielding a trumpet at Jericho.

As a crew member, I need to tread carefully, in case any perceived misdeed ends up on paper. So, I have made my own effort at condensing, trying to combine politeness, clarity and brevity into my explanation. Apparently the element I missed was believability, as when I have told of my shellfish allergy, she has immediately snapped back with “oh, you are not!”. This took me aback for a moment – my brain whirled with the idea that either she had assessed me medically and come to a different diagnosis, or she thought I had nothing better to do than to police utensil usage in the buffet line. Fighting every urge towards sarcasm, I have played back with a straight bat - “No, I rea-”

“That's really rude! You're really rude, what do you care which tongs I use?”

Part of my thought process was doing a systems check to establish if I'd had a stroke, and wasn't in fact speaking in English. The rest was formulating a response, but the reply that came back wasn't mine.

“Oh, you stupid cow!”

When many couples go on holiday, they have a chance to get away from the grind of the real world, and reconnect in a relaxing setting. Others, however, find out that they are now spending more time together than they're comfortable with. As this lady's husband continued, there was the distinct tone of a camel's back giving way.

“He's got a bloody allergy, why do you get to cause a ruckus just because you can't be bothered changing tongs?”

Intra-couple arguments are called “domestics” because they're supposed to be held at home. This one had become a spectator sport, if you can picture more than half of the spectators trying to focus on anything else in the room. From the few grabs of the resulting din I could pick out, there were accusations of lack of support, quick tempers, and knowing that a cruise was a bad idea (as far as this pair were concerned, they had the rest of the room's silent agreement). After another long, loud minute, the husband has leaned in and snapped “you know what? I'm done.” With that, he has turned and stormed off, leaving behind both his tray, and an awkward silence of such thickness that it could have been used to make a bank vault door.

For ten points and a chance at the bonus round, answer this question; who Lady Shriek's gaze next fall upon?

Fortunately for me, embarrassment set in, and she made her own exit, in the opposite direction to her husband. The silence took a little longer to ebb, but eventually, with a few arched eyebrows between strangers, people have returned to their meals, left to wonder about a possible sequel (to the cabin steward working in this couple's area, I apologise).

And I ended up passing on the coleslaw.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Be vewwy, vewwy quiet... I'm hunting ignorance

Ever since I saw the first interview on Australian commercial television with a Muslim after September 11, 2001, I've thought that certain people shouldn't be at the helm of public debate. Of course, everyone has the right to an opinion, but some are all too ready to set an agenda when, frankly, they'd have trouble setting a watch. For those of you fortunate enough to not remember the interview, the crack journalist asking the questions was Richard Wilkins, and answering them was Anthony Mundine.

This pattern has continued recently - a talk radio station in Melbourne recently hosted an on-air discussion of the appropriateness in Australian society of the burqa. One of the key voices in the exchange... John-Michael Howsen. His lack of objectivity might have been given away by his response to the idea of ever personally talking to a Muslim - "No, I don't want to. Frankly I have no need to." And while the producers had contacted Sherene Hassan, from the Islamic Council of Victoria, to contribute, it was allegedly Howsen's protests that changed the producers' minds. After all, why would you want to hear from an Australian Muslim about whether or not the burqa is un-Australian? Picking one part of this scenario that offends me may seem to neglect the others, but beyond the xenophobic outrage wrapped in national pride, like gold leaf decorating a soiled nappy, what stuck me was this - why is someone who cut his media teeth as a leech on the arse of Hollywood celebrity culture telling anyone about what is un-Australian? By that logic, the next time my car needs a service, I'll take it to a butcher... no, I'll take it to someone who does nothing but talk about butchers.

At least, with his "Stay In The Closet" column in the Herald Sun, Jason Akermanis was writing as a footballer talking to other footballers. And he does have one convincing point... for the first AFL footballer to publicly admit being gay, he will have a tough road to walk. But it doesn't take long for the article to go sideways - the threat that such an admission could "break the fabric of a club". Is small-mindedness something to be protected, then? Trust me, it's not rare enough to be endangered. And if he is correct with this assessment, then rip away, and then a new fabric can be woven without the pointless fear.

Akermanis references other players' potential "discomfort" - ironic, considering a large part of a footballer's job is dealing with physical pain. The thing about discomfort, and awkwardness, is that they are temporary. Human beings adapt to far more arduous circumstances than being uncomfortably close to one of them.

A further irony is that, considering the backlash that Akermanis' column has received, he has probably made the football environment more conducive to the first official AFL Closet Exit. From gentle counter-argument to howls of derision, the majority of responses, from the public and the football establishment, have been of the "who gives a crap" variety. Before an obvious retort comes out, I can tie my own shoelaces, and am okay to operate cooking equipment ninety-five percent of the time, so I am not foolish enough to think that this goodwill translates directly to the locker room environment. However, considering the fortunate position professional footballers find themselves in - namely doing something that people love and do for free regularly, but for ridiculous amounts of money - they should show the heart, determination, and one-game-at-a-time grit to shut up and cope.

I honestly don't think that Akermanis is homophobic, just misguided. Waiting for a culture to change is futile; brave people are needed to bring the change. In hoping that, some day, "the environment changes to a degree where coming out isn't a big deal", Jason is waiting for Godot, when we need a person, or people to show enough courage to drag Godot onto the stage.

And if, in the scuffle, someone should accidentally knock John-Michael Howsen into the orchestra pit... I can live with that.