Welcome friends, my name is John Reitmeier and I've been so fortunate to have experienced a lot of travel starting back in 1972. It's time to put the memories in some sort of order, and to add text and pictures to share with our friends and the many listeners to our radio programs. Thanks for coming along on this ride!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The tail wags the dog...or the plane controls the Pilot!

This is a cross post from my personal blog, Reitmeier Here's the travel part of the story.

I was traveling back from Berlin Germany to Minnesota. It was early December in '06. I was scheduled to fly from Berlin to Amsterdam on the 6AM flight, catching a KLM 747 to Chicago, then up to Minneapolis, and Finally to my home airport at Grand Forks. I didn't really like this route, because it involved 4 legs instead of the usual 3 and because I'd be in Chicago going through customs, (a reported nightmare from friends) and then have to pretty quickly get to another domestic terminal to catch the flight to MSP. The UPSIDE was that I was going to be able to be in the upstairs cabin on the 747 (a first for me), in World Business Class or the KLM equivalent. I miss the front cabins of the 747's Northwest used to fly across the Atlantic, they'd have DC10's on the winter season, and 747's for the summer between Minneapolis and Amsterdam. I liked them both but there was always something about riding the THUNDERING behemoths of the sky that put an added spice to the trip. Because of their size, 747's don't just turn...they slowly lay over and start a wide sweep to a new heading. And if you want a little exercise, walking from my customary seat of 2B all the way to the rear of the plane, then across the row of bathrooms in the back and returning always left you in AWE of human ingenuity and design, to make something so big that was flying so high and so fast. Anyway back to our story.

I was supposed to be on this "unusual" routing but when I got to TGL, Tegal Airport in Berlin, AT 4:30 in the morning, the 6am flight to AMS-Amsterdam had been delayed for up to 90 minutes. So While I was going through the possibilities with this very proper British-English speaking KLM gentleman, I asked about getting on one of the direct flights from AMS to MSP. I remember so well his response, "AHM TERRIBLY SAURY SIR, BUT THE LIKELIHOOD OF THAT IS EXTREMELY REMOTE! YOU'LL HAVE TO GO TO CUSTOMER SERVICE. AH'LL KEEP YOUR BAGS HERE SO I CAN LOAD THEM WHEN YOU RETURN!" OK, I got like 180 minutes so why not give it a try! I head over to the customer service station, turn the corner to face the counter, and low and behold! It's Barbara (about 60, very blond, very attractive, and very Dutch). A supervisor that I've interacted with before. She was the one that worked so hard to try to find me a flight back after the big snowstorm in Amsterdam just the year before.

Of course in my excitement I started babbling this entire story again. In about as fast as an American can spout a dissertation, I'm going, "Remember me, you tried to get me a flight home when my aunt died and there was the big snowstorm in Amsterdam and I waited in line four hours and...and...and..." She was looking at me like I was some sort of predator about to jump over the counter. Finally to finish my story to her, I held my (very same)big leather coat open in the motion that I did on that memorable day, in a wide sweeping, block the counter, motion so that she could sneak away and go to the bathroom. (She had just had surgery, which I had mentioned in my excitement which only seemed to confirm that I knew WAY to much about her as opposed to what she knew about me!) Well the minute I opened my coat, the lights went on in her brain and it all came tumbling back, she got this big smile and said in her best German-Dutch accent, "YA SURE I Hremember you, vat can I do for you today!"

I explained that although I'd been looking forward to the upstairs 747 seat, was it possible that she could re-route me on the more direct and NORTHWEST flight. She smiled and said, "well you know we're not supposed to do that!" And I smiled and said, "and I totally understand if you cant!" as she remade my tickets. The one who really had the surprise was the desk guy back at check-in. He though that he was sending me on a wild goose chase, and when I handed him my newly printed, re-routed tickets, he did a double and then a triple take, and said, "WOW Who do you know!" I just smiled and said that he could tag my bags so I could get to the first class lounge for some orange juice!

After a couple of hours of "lounging" in the first class hangout at Tegal, we boarded the flight and got to Amsterdam. Then a couple of hours wait, and it was time to get on the Northwest flight, an Airbus 330, direct to Minneapolis, arriving in the same time to catch my flight up to Grand Forks. After going through the "screening" (translate GRILLING) to get on an international flight in Amsterdam, I comfortably settled down in my seat 3C, a bit smug that my plans had come together so well and the pilot announced something I'd never heard from a flight deck before. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm sorry but there's going to be a slight delay. It seems that this Airbus 330 won't let us start the engines." HMMM the only thing I could think of was this was a case of the tail wagging the dog. How was it that an airplane could refuse to do it's job. Then further news came. It seems that before they had left Minneapolis, a maintenance switch out of a component had been performed on one of the engines. When the airplane got to Amsterdam and hooked into the main computer system, it was discovered that the guy who did the change out DID NOT have the certification to do that repair. SO, the plane was refusing to move from that very spot until it got the information that it wanted. I didn't know that the computers on board were that sophisticated or had that much power. Well our slight delay turned into an additional 90 minutes on the ground. But it didn't matter to much being in the front of the plane, with excellent service, a wide seat, and a new found secure feeling about the high maintenance standards that the airline had developed! It wasn't that the guy wasn't qualified, it was that his credentials weren't in the master computer correctly, which gave the airplane the power to say, "NO GO!!" and it took them 90 minutes to get the credentials right, then into the world system, then into the plane in Amsterdam so that the engines would start up and we could depart.

If you've never flown in the first class/world class section of an airplane, there's a certain social camaraderie that seems to always be there, especially on long flights, it particularly comes out when there is a delay or other trouble. So the conversation is always lively, and it seems that the FA's (flight attendants) are always more upbeat and even a little snappy in their responses, all which makes for a much more enjoyable environment rather than being in the "squeeze together" cattle car section. So the conversation in the front cabin was lively and spirited, even the pilots came through and there was some banter about who was "really" in control of the plane. Also it was asked of the pilot, if there was some kind of emergency and we really needed to get away from this airport, could you override the airplanes directive, and he sort of winked and said, "the captain is always the one in total control!" Which gave me some confidence that if the computers decided to fly the airplane to some foreign destination where there'd be guys with masks and machine guys, that the captain could explain to the airplane computer that we would be actually flying ON TO MINNESOTA!

In our time on the ground, when all was quiet and the hot salted nuts and champagne were being passed around, I was asked by my seat mate where I was from. Not being shy about where I'm from, I mentioned that I was from Crookston Minnesota and gave an idea of where it sits in the state. I saw that the lead FA's eyes perked up a bit but really didn't give it another thought. Not too much later as she was passing by my seat, she said, "I have an uncle who lives in Crookston, maybe you know him." I responded with the fact that I knew most everyone there so who is he? She said, "Bob Dirks, he used to have the Ben Franklin in town." Well not only did I know him, but we went to the same church and had known each other for years and years and years. So we chatted a bit about the town and his family and that he had been in the family business in Olivia before moving to Crookston and how I knew of their family's furniture store because it was on Highway 71 and I had just driven past it the previous summer on my way to the Jackson County fair.

I'm always amazed at the folks you meet traveling around the world and how often you run into either someone you know, or at least someone you both know! So finally we take off and are heading to Minnesota. Our church in Crookston had just put in stained glass windows, LINK and we had made a Holiday card out of the window that was the Christmas Scene. I had taken about 30 of them along with the grand intention of filling them out in my free time while I was in BERLIN (HA) which then got down to the free time on the flight back to the USA. It hit me like Santa's sleigh running out of reindeer power two feet off my roof...Give a card to Bob's niece, have her send it to him without any mention of me and see if he figures it out! I shared my plan with her and she was game. So at 33,000 feet somewhere over the deepest part of the Atlantic my plan was put into operation. We had a great flight back to MSP, got through customs pretty easily, and were home for supper. I really kind of forgot about what I had done at that time with all the Christmas festivities that seemed to bump against each other. Christmas came and went, and then New Years and the Sunday after as I was walking out of church I felt the presence of someone off my left shoulder following just a little too close and then in my ear I heard, "IT WAS YOU WAN'T IT!" kind of growled like a parent catching their kid with a broken cookie jar. I turned and in my most innocent voice said, "I don't have any idea what you're talking about." He laughed and said he KNEW it was me, and so I told him the story about the Christmas card that went all the way to Germany with me and changed hands somewhere over the Atlantic and ended up at his house. It was a happy moment that I'll always remember.

So I learned a lot of things that day. 1. ASK if you want changes, you might get them. 2. Go with the flow, something good might come from it. 3. Don't be afraid to tell people where you're from. 4. Always be looking for little ways to have fun!

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