Flying to France -- 12/08/01
Note: This entry is labelled as being my December 8th entry even though it covers both December 8th and 9th -- my overnight airplane flight meant that I did not have a night in bed to separate these two days -- they were just one endlessly long day. This entry was emailed from France to my Notify list and posted to my website upon my return home.

Airports are boring places. That doesn't make sense at first: they should be exciting places -- filled with people setting off on journeys, arial voyages -- travel and adventure -- and the marvels of flight (I'm looking out the window at a 777 now -- those engines are huge! They could swallow the good-sized truck that is parked next to it!) -- those huge metal birds that miraculously lift into the air. But the reality is that airports are the answer to the question of what do you get if you cross an inter-city bus depot with a generic shopping mall and have the result raised by a flock of bureaucrats.

Yes, I'm writing from an airport gate area once again -- Terminal E - Gate 7 - at Logan Airport, waiting for British Airways flight 214 to Heathrow -- the first leg of my journey to Nice -- although I suppose I should call it the 4th leg since first Nancy had to drive me to the train station, then AmTrak brought me to Boston, then a taxi took me from Boston's South Station to Logan. I got here too early, far too early, but I was afraid of taking a later train because of uncertainty -- AmTrak doesn't always run on time, sometimes Boston traffic can be pure gridlock, Logan doesn't exactly have a shining reputation for efficiency, international flights have always tended to have tighter security than domestic -- and two of the 9.11 flights were from Logan, which naturally leads to a certain amount of after-the-fact barndoor closing -- so I felt I couldn risk taking the train that should get me here in reasonable time but which had a chance of not. So here I am... waiting... and waiting... I think I've been here for a week and a half so far today...

Checkin at British Airways counter went fairly quickly and the security checkpoint leading to the international departure area also didn't take long -- even though I got a thorough examination with a detector wand -- had to take my ballpoint pen out of my shirt pocket, remove my wallet, and unfasten my belt.

The food court in the international departures features Wok & Roll, McDonald's and Au Bon Pain (with a Villa Pizza coming soon). I hit them all -- dinner from Wok & Roll, dessert and coffee from Au Bon Pain, and then another coffee and a large orange juice from McD's for the vitamin C ('cause I'm always afraid of catching a cold or some bug when I travel by air. The food court is surrounded with signs listing the distances to various cities:

I was reading a not very good novel and drinking my coffee at the food court and having a difficult time keeping my eyes open -- yeah, the boredom of air travel -- hours and hours spent waiting -- no wonder those airport shops do business, people shop to kill time -- waiting in line, waiting in waiting areas, waiting to board, waiting to take off, waiting to land, waiting for luggage, etc.

Despite being very tired and sleepy, I doubt that I'll be able to get any sleep on my flight. I've only fallen soundly asleep on an airplane once, and that was on a flight from Newark to Providence so it was really more of a short nap. I've grown accustomed to arriving in Europe jet-lagged and groggy after an overnight fllight, but then that usually gives me an afternoon to wander around, do a bit of sight-seeing and then go to sleep early and wake up the next morning ready for work, but in this case I'm going to have to work as soon as I get there on Sunday, despite being awake all night... thanks to the French air traffic controllers. The European Union is proposing a Europe-wide air traffic control system, one that ignores national borders in routing flights, making flights shorter, thus allowing more flights with existing facilities while still decreasing congestion. For some reason this annoyed the French union so they went on a thirty-six hour strike, from Wednesday evening through Friday morning -- and the resulting disruption caused a delay in delivery of the package of CDs containing the software we needed to have installed and configured for our class on Monday. Thus, upon our arrival in Nice, Sully (my colleague) and I will have to spend hours installing and configuring and testing the software our students will be using in our class.

That was an all too accurate prediction -- I did not sleep during the flight. I was on a 777 for the Logan to Heathrow leg of my journey. The plane was almost full -- there were five or six empty seats but fortunately the seat next to me was empty and it would almost have been comfortable until the woman in front of me decided she would recline her seat to sleep. (I belong to the school of thought that says reclining an airplane seat if there is someone behind you is an extremely rude and obnoxious act.) This plane was equipped with a modern entertainment system, with LCD screens on the seat backs and a choice of multiple channels of video entertainment -- more than a dozen choices of movies or cartoons and old television programs plus a number of audio music -- and that was followed by a second showing with completely different choices of movies and other programs. Well, at least that was the theory... the reality was that about three quarters of the way through the movie I was watching, the system failed on my side of the plane... seats H, I and J -- the seats to the right of the right aisle -- on that whole side of the rear cabin. And we also lost our reading lights... we had experienced some turbulance over Halifax, but after that it was a fairly smooth ride, so I was able to spend some time just standing around in the back of the cabin. Usually there might be three or four people hanging out back there but this time I was by myself. Boring. The attendants kept trying to bring the system back up but couldn't get it to work. Since it was too dark to read, it made for a boring two or three hours until they brought up the cabin lights for breakfast. In Heathrow I changed to a 757 for the flight to Nice. This was a relaxing flight as the plane was more than half empty and I just read a British newspaper for most of the flight.

I was going to meet Sully [the colleague with whom I am working on this course] at the Hertz counter at Nice -- what we hadn't allowed for was that there are two terminals at Nice and they each have a Hertz counter! Yes, my flight landed at terminal one and his landed at terminal two. Well, we eventually connected up at the hotel and set off for the village of La Gaude [which is the location of a branch of the Big Computer Company which employes us]... up a very winding road into the mountains behind Nice (oh, okay, into the very high foothills of the mountains)... arriving there around four o'clock local time (which was ten in the morning by my time -- and eight a.m. for Sully since he lives in Colorado)... and we struggled to get things installed on the computers in the classroom. We had to call in someone local to assist us in getting things started -- we were having problems with our bootdisk and he supplied us with a pair of diskettes containing code we needed to start and also duplicated the CDs we had so that we could configure more than one machine at a time... and then he left and Sully and I worked and worked... not just working without sleep, but also without food since neither of us had anything to east since the breakfast that we were served in flight.... Finally, a little before ten o'clock we finished our work, both of us struggling to stay awake... then the drive down that winding mountain road... something to eat at the hotel -- ah, food at last! -- and then finally we got a few hours sleep before we had to get up and go to work.

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