Thursday, July 15, 2010

Back in Texas: In Search of Plan B

More than 70 hours of plane travel later and a five-plus hour drive to get me home I'm finally back from my great World Cup adventure. I hope you'll appreciate some scarce posting while I readjust to life back in the States and make sense of it all. But two quick points/anecdotes:

First, are there any sweeter words on the planet when you are about to board a 22+ hour flight than "Sir, we're going to need to upgrade you first class."? I'd say the answer to that is: No. No there are not. It was delightful, although I suspect that the Ethiopian Airways stewardesses were trying to fatten me up Hansel and Gretel style, because the food just kept coming. Bonus points for the option of actual Ethiopian food (or to Ethiopians: "food") on top of the regular meal service.

Second: I have heard roughly six years and especially five weeks of westerners wringing their hands over whether or not South Africa (or simply "Africa") could handle hosting the World Cup. So perhaps some comparison is in order.

Upon arrival at Dulles (hardly an obscure, small, or disadvantaged airport) all went smoothly as I went from passport control to baggage claim to customs. But because I had booked the domestic legs of my long journey separately, I had to go through check in all over again. I must note that I took at least ten round trip flights in the last six weeks outside of the US and never was a charged for luggage. Never. Get to the US and immediately I spend $60 just to get my bags home, and that required me to push the limit with my two carry-ons. Apparently what is essential to American Airways' survival is not essential to that of Botswana Airways, South African Airways, Kulula, British Airways, or Ethiopian Airlines. I guess the Africans just have a better business model. In any case, then I get to security. At Dulles these days there are at least 15 possible security lines with the full complement of machines and scanners and inexplicably smug workers. We arrived on a weekday morning at a little after 8:00, meaning that I was going through security at about 9:30 in the morning on a weekday in Washington, DC. The Nation's Capital. People might just be traveling at that time. And yet they had two lines open of the fifteen or so, with at least ten people just standing around while the queue just got longer and longer. They were checking the boarding passes and id's of people and then yelling at them for thinking it was ok to move to one of the two open security lines (again, of fifteen). It took 45 minutes to get through a line that should have taken five. And it was all due to poor planning, lousy service, terrible communication, general incompetence, and not a little idiocy.

But finally I get up to my gate. It had been six weeks or so since I had gotten Starbucks, and I wanted to grab a handful of US newspapers -- the Times, the Post, and the good old USA Today. So I find a news agent that also has a Starbucks in it. Score! But the first sign of trouble is that the two are in the same space, yet one cannot buy the newspapers and the Starbucks at the same place. So that's two transactions, and I have not yet gotten cash yet. I trudge off to an ATM. Grab my papers to do that transaction first, and . . . the computers freeze. For both Starbucks and the shop. In a month in South Africa I dealt with one power outage, and that was the result of some work being done at the University of Pretoria (during the Q&A of my paper) and not of Eskom service delivery issues.

Perhaps, then, FIFA should think twice about considering the United States for hosting duties for the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. America has put its hat in the ring for both, but can a country with such clear service issues, infrastructural problems, delivery issues, and of course such high crime rates possibly host such a significant global event? But at least if we take a chance on the Americans and their myriad problems we know that South Africa can serve as a really good Plan B.

[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog.]

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