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Old 05-09-2003, 07:59 AM   #1
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Strasbourg Revisited

Nearly a year since my last visit (the trip of lost luggage and an expensive French suit) business called me back to Strasbourg, France. Sadly, I had sufficient notice for this trip that the far code was not H, K, or Y; this prevented me from being able to upgrade to BusinessFirst.

I booked the tickets directly from the Continental OnePass Service Center (OSC!) in the hopes that perhaps an upgrade was possible and that also I might be able to somehow reserve/book the flight in a manner which could avoid the $100 paper ticket upgrade fee that I got stuck with on my flight to Nice. Sadly, none of my hopes came to fruition due to my discount fare so I simply booked the flight normally.

My travel began on Saturday 3-May in the late afternoon. I drove down to AUS, left my car lonely in long-term parking, and checked in and checked my bags. I really hesitated to check my bag, as Iím sure you can understand. My previous two flights to France have resulted in lost bags, most memorably my last flight to Strasbourg! However, I was feeling optimistic (and reluctant to trundle around CDG with my suitcase given my particularly long layover). At the last moment I relented and turned over my suitcase, boarding my AUS->IAH segment with only my laptop bag and an optimistic outlook.

The flight to Houston was completely uneventful. I enjoyed some nice music courtesy of my new iPod. Breaking out the laptop for such a short flight is completely impractical and it was nice to have a way to listen to music without all that fuss. The iPod is a fantastic little device. I picked up a copy of ďThe SummonsĒ in case I wanted to read along the trip.

I had a two hour layover in Houston which I spent in the D Terminal Presidentís Club. I spent the time on IRC, idling, and enjoying my last few moments of internet access before the nine hour flight to CDG.

The flight to Paris was completely uneventful, although I was fitful and uncomfortable in the coach seat. As is my favor, I had requested window seats for the evening flight over. My thinking is that itís far better to be insulated from the noise and commotion of the aisle for a flight where Iím likely to try to sleep. For day flights I stay with the aisle seats for the legroom and larger under-seat storage capacity. My seatmate in row 17 was a Houston native traveling to meet her friend who was adopting a child in Russia. Although she was very outgoing I suspect that my headphones stifled nearly all of the conversation we might have had. Iím totally fine with this, of course.

Arrival in Paris was smooth and featured a gate with jetway. (yay). I had two hours or so to kill so I settled down in a cafť near my departure gate and sipped a coffee while I read my book. I finished it before it was time to catch the Strasbourg leg so I mostly just people-watched the remainder of the layover.

Finally it came time to board my AF segment to Strasbourg and I shuffled onto the plane. Still feeling remarkably little fatigue despite my lack of comfort and sleep on the CO10 segment I flipped through the Air France in-flight magazine. I cannot even begin to describe the relief and satisfaction I felt as I happened to glance out the window of the plane to see my very own suitcase riding up the conveyor and into the belly of the plane. No panicked Monday-morning clothes shopping for me this time!

I nodded off and on a bit during the flight. As usual, it was cram packed with people and I was thankful that the flight is a short one. An hour or so later we touched down in Strasbourg and I was off to collect my suitcase, confident that it would be there. You can imagine my shock when it was not! Along with three other passengers from my flight I stood gape-jawed as the baggage claim machinery ground to a halt with no suitcases remaining. After the briefest moment of piercing frustration and confusion the situation was resolved when we all discovered en masse that our bags had been inadvertently delivered to the neighboring claim area (which was in a different room). Relief abounded.

A quick taxi ride to my hotel, check in, and then I spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around and soaking up the gorgeous sunny day in an attempt to calibrate my body to the new timezone. I forgot my camera in the hotel room, though, so I got no pictures of the day. Strasbourg is a very quirky place, like a hyperactive Basel. Thereís a large University presence here which attracts a varied and colorful variety of people. In my walking I got treated to an impromptu drum concert being played by a motley collection of whatever the French equivalent is of ďhippiesĒ. It was delightful. When at last I could stay awake no longer I headed back to the hotel and fell asleep around 9:30p, omitting dinner.

My work on Monday and Tuesday went remarkably, but things took a turn towards the confused on Tuesday afternoon when I learned that our Basel customer wanted me on-site there if at all possible. Although Iíve made such on-the-fly changes here in the past, now that Air France and Continental are no longer partner airlines things turned out to be far more complicated than Iíd expected. To begin with, I couldnít find anywhere an international number for Continental. Unable to dial US toll free numbers from my overseas mobile I ended up calling tomn and paulf at IQuest in Indianapolis. They in turn conferenced me in with the OnePass service center. All this at $1.99/minute I think! Since my dual-airline trip was a paper ticket, I was told that Iíd need to travel to Paris (10 hours round trip by train) to exchange my old ticket for a new one extending my stay. This simply was not a practical alternative. I looked into the costs of just discarding my current ticket and buying a one-way flight home for Thursday or Friday but this was not a reasonable alternative. Finally I just gave up and decided to cancel the plans to visit Basel.

I grabbed dinner and on a full stomach things seemed less desperate. Several aspects of what Iíd been told by the OnePass rep were still unclear to me and I kept hearing her say over and over ďOK, Iím new at thisĒ and began to wonder if perhaps there were still options in front of me.

I coordinated with jfc at the Austin office and we called back, this time with the office footing the cost (insanely cheaper) to call me directly at the hotel. No longer counting minutes and able to hear on the landline phone the second call into the OSC was much more promising. I managed to clarify that my visit to the ticketing counter didnít need to occur before my scheduled flight, simply before my revised flight home. Quite a bit of breathing room there. Plus, in lieu of Paris I could instead go to either Frankfurt or Zurich. Zurich is about 3 hours closer than Paris and itís in the right direction! At last a plan formed. I rebooked the flight for Saturday morning and made arrangements to take the train from Basel to Zurich for a Thursday night stay during which Iíd get the ticket revalidated at the Continental office there. Friday Iíd take the train back to Strasbourg and have a relaxing afternoon and a flight home on Saturday morning. Super!

Armed with this plan and seat confirmations on the Saturday flight (going through Paris to CO11, not though Gatwick as Iíd been booked for Wednesday) I took the train to Basel and met with our client there. I stuck around in Basel through Thursday evening although the day was 90% vacation and only 5% work (and 5% total slack).

The train ride to Zurich was as expected. I arrived around 1600 and checked into the hotel. I decided that since it was so early I might as well head to the airport and get the ticket issues resolved. Iím also a worrier, so the prospect of having that taken care of was attractive. Thankfully Swissotel offers a free shuttle to the airport, so in a matter of minutes I was in a van and off to the Zurich airport (a 15 minute drive from the Oerlikon location of the hotel). However, I was very dismayed to learn that Continentalís presence in Zurich is all but vestigial. The have just two counters and are only staffed from 0730 to 1030 each day. It seems that all of Continentalís traffic in and out of Zurich is in the morning makine afternoon staff unnecessary. Gah! A half-hour of shuttle riding wasted and I was immediately concerned that perhaps the counters wouldnít be staffed at all the next day if CO had no Friday flights. (you just never know in the current travel climate Ė schedules are cut to shreds all across the board).

Back at the hotel I quickly logged on and verified that yes, indeed, CO had flights on Friday. Iíd simply need to get up early and head to the airport and back in time to catch a reasonably early train back to Strasbourg. Any adventuring I might have done in Zurich was thwarted by some nasty thunderstorms that rolled in just after dark. I ended up ordering room service and spending an ungodly amount of money and time online. Austin work was just ramping up and I got sucked into a number of issues. I kept my ssh and email software very busy! Finally at about 0200 in the morning I called it a night. Knowing Iíd be tempted to sleep in the next day I cleverly ordered room service for 0630 as a wake up call that couldnít be ignored. Yes, not only would I have to be coherent enough to open the door and talk to a real person, but theyíd be bringing hot coffee with them! Super!

My plan worked.

I hit the Zurich airport around 0800 and Iím glad I showed up early. It took no less than 40 minutes for the ticketing agent to figure out what needed to happen and perform what looked like essentially re-typing every little detail of both my old itinerary as well as my new itinerary. Iíd guess it took 3000 slow, error-prone keystrokes to issue my new paper ticket. Airline software is in desperate need of automation. Finally with new ticket in hand, I was off back to the hotel to check out. Within minutes of checking out I was on the 1009 train to Basel where Iíd catch the 1218 train to Strasbourg. I dozed on both trains and Iím presently back at the hotel (itís 1453) after a safe arrival in Strasbourg and a little bit of shopping. (buying a few new shirts is practically the same price as getting expedited laundry service at a Swissotel!) For those who followed my previous Strasbourg saga, I of course visited the same store where I bought my emergency suit last time.

Iíll get online, post this report, and wait until my stomach tells me itís time for dinner. The sky is cloudy and grey but I think the rain has mostly passed. Itís just crisp and chill in the air which feels terrific after all the mugginess of the past week.
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