When we set out on our latest trip eastwards to spend 2 months on Nevis, we wondered what was in store for us at the various airports we had to use, after the 9/11 attack and the much strengthened security processes. These had now been in force for just over a year and the initial excesses, we hoped, had surely been corrected.
Geneva was as it always was, efficient, and there were no problem or delays as long as you did not carry any sharp items in your hand luggage. Frankfurt was but a transit point, nothing to write about.
Bangkok was transited 3 times, first upon arrival, then the next day domestically to Chiangmai, absolutely no hassle. In Chiangmai to Phuket, we had another efficient check-in and the same again in Phuket to Bangkok. Minimal delays, just regular X-rays of the hand luggage
Overnight at the Amari Airport hotel, a bellman took our baggage on his large luggage chart to the Thai Airways check-in counter, doing all the X-ray jobs of the checked bags. Then we had a pleasant surprise. A young Thai concierge took us through the back office through Immigration, bypassing the huge lines at the regular place. Then directly to the lounge which was but a few steps from the departure gate. Exemplary. Other airlines should take note.
In Hong Kong, we got a foretaste of what was coming. We were checked in at the UA counter only to be told that the computer showed we had not gone through the X-ray check for checked baggage. By that time, the two luggage carts had already disappeared. A male concierge type helped Uschi take the 4 bags over to a desk where each bag was meticulously hand-checked by a man, layer by layer. It took quite a long time but then, we were early as the limousine bus departed only once per hour and we were requested to be there 2 hours before departure. I asked the comely check-in agent if Hong Kong these days was the newest State of the USA to which she replied that as a US airline, they had to follow all regulations of the FAA to the hilt. So much for Chinese sovereignty.
Upon arrival in Narita, we had what must be a stroke of luck. We touched ground at 2:30 PM, walked to the empty Immigration desks, taking the escalator down to the baggage claim where lo and behold our 4 bags had just arrived, no others in sightâ€¦ We took them through customs and proceeded to the ticket counter for the Limousine bus to Hakosaki and managed to get one 2 minutes later. At 2:50 PM we were on our way towards downtown Tokyo and at 3:50 we were having our first Nespresso in our suite at the Royal Park Hotel. A new record, indeed.
After the Hong Kong incident, I changed my reservation for Tokyo to Los Angeles portion from UA to Thai, especially after I had read that JAL was the handling agent and that we could check the luggage at Hakosaki. When we got there, the large sign showed Thai and SWISS but under the Thai name was a message stuck on a paper saying the service was temporarily stopped. You can guess by whomâ€¦ the friendly folks of the FAA! At Narita, Uschi had to go through the Hong Kong routine again. Luckily she was standing at the Immigration desks right next to our bags because some dumb daikon-ashi woman wanted to place all contents into a plastic container. Uschi protested and finally they agreed to go through the items by hand; even then it was difficult to get all back in and close the suitcases. We also had a break in Los Angeles. No lines at immigration, our bags arrived among the first and the hotel shuttle came within a minute of our waiting at curbside.
For the flight to Miami, we were also lucky. We later heard that they had just relaxed the procedures on that day. We could actually check in our baggage right at curbside, with the boarding passes handed out at the Red Carpet Club. As the gate for Miami was far away, at least 10 minutes walk, we left the Club early but immediately found an electric car waiting for passengers who took us in a short fast ride to within 200 yards of the gate. They just called for boarding and we hopped on among the first passengers.
Miami was good at arrival at just before 10 PM, bags were there fast, and a friendly porter took them to curbside where the hotel shuttle arrived within minutes.
On the leg by American Airlines to San Juan de Puerto Rico, our luck changed completely. The check-in was fast but the agent forgot to place the Priority stickers onto our luggage, so at destination, they of course came through very late. That was not the point, we had a long walk from Section D to B where domestic flights started. For AA and the FAA, Puerto Rico is a domestic destination. If you ship something from the mainland to Puerto Rico, FedEx treats it as a foreign country probably charging accordingly. Even ATT internet services consider Puerto Rico outside the US, but the Postal Services, IDT and others consider the territory as US proper, perhaps with a slightly higher rate: after all for mail, it is farther away,
But the trouble started before we could have our hand luggage x-rayed. In order to accommodate large crowds, they had set up a temporary serpentine. I wanted to leave the luggage near the entrance but no – the ugly short and fat woman using her new found power made us go through the serpentine with all our bags. I managed to topple a few of the posts but another person had to set them up again. The woman wanted to see our boarding passes, our passports, and she was desperately looking for a photo. She did not find one on Uschiâ€™s passport and in exasperation she turned to the supervisor, who was slightly embarrassed, especially after I remarked sadistically that passports were not meant for analphabets.
Again we were early, and all our baggage went through the machine. At the other end, one woman took my notebooks (I had now two, the old broken one and a newly purchased PortÃ©gÃ© 2000) to see whether they contained any dangerous time bombs or other devices. We were led by an old man to a table where he started to use his baton to check us for whatever dangerous looking people could possibly carry. Then he made us sit down, take off our shoes, and took them away to be x-rayed again. Then he went through my carry-on attachÃ© case, with a fine tooth comb, but finally finding nothing, he said I could go.
Uschi was less lucky. She had to undergo the very same procedures but she felt she would soon have to take off her underwear. Possible a lesbian inclined checker? They went through her roll-on like fanatics. She had a carton of cigars there, so they were looking for a lighter (which apparently it is forbidden to carry on board as many people do). Uschi finally quipped for all to hear: have you guys ever heard of using a match to light a cigar? To which all looked really stupid and the checker said she was done. It is what you get from people mostly fresh from joblessness, without proper training and on minimum wagesâ€¦.
Unfortunately, the Wyndham Condado Plaza & Casino was a badly aging Princess where most things were not working, and those which did, cost a lot, like a $2 access charge for each 800 number, a $25 valet parking charge for the car, even for the buffet lunch, and the waiters pointed out that the gratuity was not included. So I gave them a dollar for bringing us a pot of coffee, the rest we had to go get ourselves. I had three phones in the room but only the one in the bathroom worked; no one came to fix it during the 2 days there despite 3 reminders. And they would not give me frequent flyer miles as they were only available to corporate guests. We’ll go back to the Hilton where as a Gold Honors member, I get an upgrade to a suite most times , and always the free use of the Executive Lounge, including free breakfasts and free cocktails and snacks in the evening.
Well, what do you know? After we had returned the Chevy Malibu, we found a porter who managed to get all 6 bags on his 2 wheel stand-up carrier. Liat’s check-in counter was way in the back of the airport and it would have been a nightmare to carry our bags alone as we had still another 5 small pieces of luggage. Well, I chatted up the Latina behind the counter and lo and behold, we paid only $25 for 5 checked bags, Uschi took her roll-on into the cabin as it was easier for her to place her other bag on top of it, rolling it to the gate. One of the Liat ladies approached her saying that she needed to check it as it was too big. So Uschi got another check, but it did not cost anything.
We had still to go through and baggage checking procedures. They were the very same as in Miami, only executed by far friendlier and very polite people. We were amazed how efficient it all went with everybody smiling and making small jokes.
Well, we were prepared for a long wait in a small crowded waiting room downstairs where all smaller airlines and charters come and go. To my great surprise, I spotted a Delta Crown Club lounge right after the control procedures. I went through my many cards and lo and behold, I found a membership card, compliments of some American lawyers who had mounted a class action suit against Delta after the Pan Am debacle some 10 years ago. I got my miles credited and better still, I got life membership in their lounge program as we were Life members of the Clipper Club. We could wait in splendor, use the open bar and even had free Internet access. A real treat, and more so because it was entirely unexpected.
The new Terminal in Nevis is quite imposing, with the old shack still standing forlornly on the side of the splendid-looking new one. Immigration was smooth, and Customs also, as these people welcomed me back like the prodigal son of biblical times. Omel returned my mobile phone that I had loaned her in March. The TDC/Thrifty RAV-4 with PA 361 plates rental car was standing there in the parking lot. However, the key in my envelope did not fit it. They had prepared a brand new Mitsubishi Lancer; PA 360, for us, but I think I will go for the 7 year old RAV-4 as it is so easy to get in and out. When shopping for food Sunday morning in Charlestown, a friendly good looking young lady came up to me and introduced herself as a TDC rental agent and enquired whether I was happy with the car. I said yes butâ€¦ I would prefer a SUV perhaps not as brand new but again not 7 years or with an odometer exceeding the 100K mark. She was all smiles and said to check back with her tomorrow Monday. You bet I will not forget to check that outâ€¦
David Johnson had placed some food stuff into the fridge before he left for the States a few days ago so we found all we needed.
It is surely nice to be back home after 5 weeks on the road, even if it means a lot of work and imagination to get to know again where all the things that we put away in March, are hidingâ€¦
Nevis, December 15th, 2002