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The Joys Of Long Distance Travel

February 5, 2009

One of the joys is waking up at 2.45 in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep!  But at least it gives me the opportunity to catch up with a backlog of comments on this blog.

As she will have to do this trip by herself before too long, I suggested to my 16 year old daughter that she was in charge of getting us back to New Zealand on the trip we did over the weekend.  She would coordinate check in, navigate through immigration, find lounges and departure gates, and then at the end of the trip hopefully coordinate baggage collection, customs clearance etc and the connection from Auckland to Wellington.

This was not a good idea.  Not because of any fault on Julia’s part, but because we were confronted with an unusually challenging start to our return travels.  The non-arrival of the aircraft we were supposed to be catching to Munich, so that we could catch a flight to Hong Kong.

Check-in was fine, we went through immigration with out any difficulties, cooled our heels in the Star Alliance lounge for a while, then proceeded through secrurity to our departure gate by the suggested boarding time of 6.30pm.  All seemed fine there, the departure was forecast on the screen at gate A8 to be on time.  There was no plane at the gate but there was nothing to suggest a serious delay or any other problems.  Then at just before 7pm the screen at the departure gate changed to suggest that the gate was about to be used by LOT for a flight to somewhere in Poland.  I noticed also that the Lufthansa staff member who had been standing behind the desk at the gate to field the usual array of questions about changing seats etc. had vanished only to be replaced with someon in a LOT uniform.  Not a good sign.

I suggested to Julia at that point that I would take over as travel coordinator should she not mind.  She seemed releived.

Eventually an announcement was made in French that there had been a delay on our flight and that further information would be provided in 45 minutes.  Further information in 45 minutes is not the same as delay of 45 minutes.  And with us having a transit time in Munich of only just over an hour after our scheduled arrival, this news filled me with dread.  I did not want to be spending the night in a Munich airport hotel waiting for the next flight to Hong Kong.

So we decided to move fast to try and find an alternative route home.  But this meant finding someone from Lufthansa to help, and there was no one from Lufthansa at any of the departure gates nearby.  We collected our bags and tried to find a way to return to the main departure lobby where there was an international transfer desk.  This meant finding a way to exit the secure area we were in.  I knew there must be a way out, and there was one, but it did take a few minutes to find.

The decision to try the international transfer desk was not a good one.  There seemed to be a queue several hundred people long at this desk. So I then hought of the Star Alliance Lounge, time to make use of one’s Gold Status!!  Unfortunately that did not work.  The woman on duty said she could not help and that we should go back to the transfer desk.

The transfer desk was chaos. An El Al flight to Tel Aviv had been delayed since about 10 that morning and there were 200 unhappy customers lined up waiting for restaurant vouchers.  They were not the slightest bit interested in the plight of anyone else and were refusing to budge.  And the staff at the transfer desk were dealing with one irate Israeli at a time.  It was clear that were were going to face a delay of over an hour before we would be able to be served.  Just as were giving up hope we heard our names on the pa system asking us to retirn to the Lufthansa ticketing desk in the departure check-in area.  Easier said than done as we somehow had to get ourselves back into Switzerland to achieve this feat.  This involved walking down some stairs to the arrivals level and going through immigration, then getting more stairs up to the departure hall.  Once this was achieved all went swimingly.  The very efficient ticket agent was able to re-ticket us on a Swiss International flight to Zurich and then onto a flight to Hong Kong, again on Swiss International.  She also arranged for our bags to be re-tagged with our new routing by phoning up someone in the baggage handling system. 

We had three tight connections – Zurich, HK and Auckland but we and our bags made it back and we arrived in Wellington 2 minutes ahead of schedule.  Well done Lufthansa, your efficiency at Geneva Airport was impressive.  You saved the day.

This good news story serves as a counterpoint to our experiences in early January with lost bags.  The blog Tailor of Panama Street also seems to had a problem or two with Lufthansa.

For the record Swiss International has slightly more leg room, better food and a better entertainment system that Lufthansa.  It is owned by Lufthansa.

The angry Israelis haunted us until our departure from Geneva.  As we went through security for the second time one of the El Al passengers went through just ahead of us and pinged the metal detector.  She was instructed to take off her shoes so they could be x-rayed.  She refused to do this on the grounds that she had been wearing the shoes for almost 12 hours.  At this point my son was standing immediately to the side of this woman collecting up his belongings that had emerged from the x-ray machine.  A female security guard placed her hand on the El Al passenger to try and direct her out of the way and take her to a screened area where she could be physically examined.  The El Al passenger did not like being touched and started throwing her arms about and shouting “don’t touch me”.  One result was that her flying right arm collected my son square in the face.  Luckily he decided to take the experience on the chin…..

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President Obama

January 21, 2009

As I write CNN is preparing itself for history to be made in 20 minutes as President Obama is sworn.  I wish you all the best Mr President.  You have many challenges confronting you.  Be bold.  Use the international financial crisis and your longer than normal honeymoon period to good effect.

Sun

January 15, 2009

It has taken nine days, but the sun has finaally broken through here in Geneva.  This great event took place yesterday afternoon.  Today we have made another achievement – temperatures above freezing point!

Bags Found

January 8, 2009

The last of our lost bags was delivered at 5 minutes to midnight last night.  We are now able to venture outside without being too cold.  Still no offer of compensation for the 58 hours without warm clothing.

Happy New Year

January 3, 2009

Have been in a mad rush the last two days.  We head northward today and will be back in Wellington tomorrow.

Managed to squeeze in a final round of golf for the year yesterday at Cromwell. The weather was windy and wet but I played quite well. 9 over, and it could easily have been 5 over if I had not had a couple of bad luck holes.  No more golf until early February unfortunately.

I wish all readers of Dear John the happiest possible 2009.  It will not be an easy year.

Very Concerning Survey Result On Science And Maths In Schools

December 11, 2008

National’s proposed re-focus on literacy and numeracy could not be better timed.  This survey which puts us behind countries such as Kazakhstan is deeply worrying.  We are going to need more engineers and scientists to keep this economy innovating and growing in the future and it doesn’t look as though we are going to be producing that many from the current batch of year 5 students.  Let us hope that the results serve as a real wake-up call to the thousands of officials now working for the Ministry of Education

Primary school children’s science achievement has plummeted to its worst level in 14 years, sparking urgent action by the Education Ministry.

 

An international study shows New Zealand year 5 pupils are doing worse in maths and science than children in more than half the other 36 countries surveyed.

Business advocacy group Business New Zealand says the findings are deeply concerning. It said the country risked losing its competitive edge and ability to innovate without a workforce highly skilled in science, technology, engineering and maths.

“All the developed countries understand that those ‘stem skills’ are really critical, and the fact that we’re doing so poorly in them is a bit of a worry,” chief executive Phil O’Reilly said.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science study, released yesterday, shows maths achievement had improved significantly since 1994 but had plateaued since 2002.

Kiwi children’s maths and science results were significantly worse than other surveyed English-speaking countries, including England, Australia and the United States – though we fared marginally better than Scotland.

They also did worse than Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Latvia, Germany, Italy, Russia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Hungary and Kazakhstan.

The ministry said it planned to roll out new science-based teaching activities next year in a bid to improve results while analysing what went wrong.

“Clearly we need to take account of [the findings] and ask is that good enough, and I would say, `No, it’s not,’ ” ministry curriculum manager Mary Chamberlain said.

The study looks at 425,000 year 5 and 9 pupils every four years.

It says Kiwi teachers spend less time teaching maths than any other English-speaking country and annual science tuition hours fell by nearly a third between 2002 and 2006, from 66 to 45.

Mrs Chamberlain admitted the report’s findings were concerning, but said New Zealand was still in the “average band” overall.

Dreadful News For Air New Zealand

November 28, 2008

I am very sorry for the team at Air New Zealand following the news of today’s Air New Zealand Airbus crash in Europe, particularly for the families and friends of those who appear to have been killed in the crash. We work very closely with Air New Zealand at the Chamber.  CEO Rob Fyfe was one of our most recent speakers.