Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Italian Experience

There is a movie by that name. There is now also one of those "I will never forget" experiences of my life I will label the same.

It does not happen very often that I get completely mad angry and "blow the top" in public outside the closed circuit of family and friends. Normally I label myself as probably a bit too "timid" and patient. Today's encounter with italians in general and Alitilia specifically however made me completely lose it.

From now on I have no problems understanding why they have not managed to organise a working government since forever, why Napoli is drowning in uncollected garbage and why the Roman Empire collapsed. As well as why Alitalia was bankrupt and noone even wants the leftovers. The answer to all this is "that is not my problem". It is not strange that the Mafia is in control as at least the businesses they control do work - the only thing that really surprises is that there ever was a Roman Empire and that Italy has a strong national soccer team.

These statements are the results of today's experience. I arrive at Rome airport around 5.30 am local time. I have been travelling since around 2-3 pm Saturday using Ethopian Airways and am all but kicking even if everything has worked out and the trip has actually been fine - this far.

The first thing that greets me is what I call "the Maputo experience", meaning there is not a living soul in sight until AFTER you walk through security etc and get all the alarms ringing. Then a sleepy guy shows up and we re-do the exercise.I ask this person for the transfer desk and am told to find "C1".

That no shop or cafe is open on a Sunday morning at this hour I can understand. A completely empty transferdesk I do have a problem with though. OK, I have plenty of time as the connecting flight leaves at 10.15. Or so I think at least.Time passes and around 7 am most shops and caf├ęs have opened. Not the transfer desk though, it is as abandoned as can be. An information desk or such does not exist, all I have is a screen that tells me my gate will be C36. I find another transfer desk that is just as abonded as C1.

OK, I might surf on internet to keep me busy. Right, for starters the "buy internet time"-site works only with Internet Explorer and does not help Macintosh users or users of Firefox, Opera or other alternatives. OK, I have set up a way to use IE just for this kind of situations. Then I am told to put a "future date" for my visa-card. It DOES expire this month but DOES work this month. Not according to the crappy programmer who coded this site. So forget internet.

Somewhere around 7.45 the "wrong" transfer desk is manned. I meet a quiet man who is on the same flight, he works for the Saudi embassy. He has been told to wait 10 minutes. I walk up to the desk with my papers and am told "he does not handle Alitalia, go to C1". My new friend and I walk to C1 that is just as unmanned as before.

So I figure I might do some shopping while waiting - "where is your boardingcard, you can not shop without boardingcard". Catch 22 if I ever saw one.

Around 8.30 we have walked to the gate as we can think of nothing else to try. Unmanned of course. When we get back to C1 it is actually manned - by Qatar Airways. We and other form a long queue, I am no 3 in line. Everyone in the queue is hoping these guys also do Alitalia. When it is my turn I am told "do I look like Alitalia". Let me not tell you what I wanted to say to guy my opionion of what he looked like. Tissue is used in that area - to give you a hint. This is when I lose it and scream to the queue that as we are all Alitalia we are lost and I have been trying for 3.5 hours to find ANYONE Alitalia, the supposed national airline carrier, to give me a boardingcard. Mr Qatar goes mad and bangs the phone in the desk and tries to outstare me and for a while a fist is clearly "just around the corner". I manage to control myself and start walking to the gate as I see no other option. It is now little more than an hour before take-off.

In desperation I grab an airport security guy and ask where the f.ck I can find an Alitalia person. Well, miracles do happen as the lady with him actually works for them. Hallelua. She tells me they have a new transfer desk at "C20".

Great that noone seems to know and nowhere is that information displayed so you can find your way there. C20 is in a new terminal to which you must go by tram. My timid friend, who I think was more than a little bit scared by my outburst, shows up and have been given same info by same lady. Right, we arrive there and for surel 2 ladies are actually dealing with Alitalia transfers. Behind us a queue forms of old C1 friends, some of them now quite desperate not to miss their flights.

Do I even have to say the queue barely moves? One of the ladies is dealing with an old black lady from Nigeria that get so tired she just sits down on the floor. She apparently only speaks Urubu - noone else does. She is on her way to New York and carry a handwritten note stating her daugher will meet her. No address, no name, no phone numbers. Sorting her out took the consorted efforts of all black people around and anyone even remotely suspected connected to Africa. The guy at the other counter need around 20 boardingcards, God only knows where he was heading. A third counter is opened but the man will only deal with one customer at a time and stops serving people when a queue forms. Now that is what I call service...

Finally I get a boardingcard and can proceed to the gate. I now have around 5 minutes instead of hours to shop - is that not excellent business attitude?

It was a relief to arrive in Tirana (a first for me) where people are so friendly and wanting to assist despite poor English that you feel charmed just by their efforts. Only problem up to now you are not left alone to eat as everyone wants to practice their English and make sure you are fine.

Bon giorno - really?
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