Quoting Lars Hecking (lhecking at users.sourceforge.net):
> US Department of Homeland Insecurity Idiocy Level (ok, it doesn't match
> the "useful" requirement ...)
Moved to social@, for reasons that will be obvious.
I got a close look at yet another effect of the Bush Junta's idiocy,
this past few days over on that neighbouring island to your east.
My wife and I were visiting Glasgow for Interaction, the 63rd annual
World Science Fiction Convention and 2005 Eurocon
(http://interaction.worldcon.org/,http://www.interaction.worldcon.org.uk/eurocon.htm), and had an
absolutely lovely time -- as expected -- right up to my ghastly
realisation on Friday that my USA passport was suddenly missing.
I've been a frequent traveller for mumbledy-mumble decades since the age
of 5, and have never lost a passport. I take the matter extremely
seriously, expecially (but not solely) since stolen ones can be used to
commit some rather horrific crimes. So, the very first thing I did was
report the loss to the Strathclyde police, such that the passport would
no longer be regarded as valid. For the same reason, I also attempted
to telephone the closest USA consulate, in Edinburgh. Three times I
called; three times I was dropped into voice-tree hell, and told "The
operator is not available. Good bye."
As the US Department of State Web site for that consulate (misleadingly)
claims (http://www.usembassy.org.uk/scotland/) that the Edinburgh
consulate can handle passport matters, my wife and I took the train to
that town. I marched across town to a photographer who can meet the
Department of State's bizarre and exacting standards for passport
photos, paid him ten quid for an instant set, marched back to rejoin my
wife, and walked with her up to 3 Regent Terrace.
It was fortified like a bunker with concrete barriers closing off the
(otherwise picturesque) street to vehicular traffic. Sufficient comment
about Bush Junta policies, right there, I think.
We knocked on the door; Alan, a local employed at the consulate,
answered, and said the consulate could not help us at all. We
persisted, pointing out that the Web site claimed otherwise, that the
office could not seem to bother answering its telephone, and that
something needed to be done prior to our booked international travel
home to near San Francisco, leaving 11:05 AM Monday from Glasgow
International Airport. Alan left us for a moment, and checked with a
consular official within. Time at this point was about 2 PM.
Soon, Alan beckoned us inside, had us run our bags through an X-ray
machine, and then showed us to a waiting room fronting onto a
bulletproof-glass wall separating us from the consular official, who in
due course showed up there to talk with us. (I didn't catch her name,
but she was a young Yank, possibly in her 30s, with not a lot of
The official apologised for the telephone troubles, which she said had
been reported locally to the telephone utility but not yet fixed. She
provided paperwork forms for passport replacement, but disclosed that
the new passport could be issued only by the offices in Belfast or
London, which alone have the required machinery. I pointed out that she
could issue a letter of transit, permitting me to get home. She said
that consulates were no longer permitted to issue those, and that
airlines would no longer permit anyone on a US-bound flight without a
passport. (The latter was obviously disingenuous: It's very obvious
that the airlines have implemented that requirement at USA insistence
only, so attempting to pass the buck to them was somewhat dishonest.)
I pointed out that it was not possible to reach either the Belfast or
London offices before their Friday closings. Passport service was not
available on weekends, so the next opportunity would be Monday, 8:30 AM.
And it would be wildly unlikely for me to complete that errand and then
return to Glasgow in time for an 11:05 AM departure.
She said that I'd simply have to reschedule my flight. I pointed out
that the booking was non-changeable, by its contract terms -- but that
airlines will generally waive that restriction if telephoned by a
consular official and informed that the passenger needs to reschedule
because of a passport replacement. She said she would immediately
telephone the airlines and also e-mail the London embassy to tell them
to expect my visit.
On Sunday, we telephoned British Airways to reschedule my flight, only
to be told that they had _no_ record of any call from the consulate, and
could help me only upon my paying an additional UKP 900 or so for a new,
one-way ticket: The consular official had evidently not bothered to
call as promised. In some shock but no huge surprise, we declined the
new-sale offer. Attempts to call Edinburgh again achieved no more
success than before.
At 3 AM Monday morning, my wife and I rose and went to Glasgow
International, so that I could get the very first flight (cost: UKP 187)
to Heathrow. I landed at 7:15, then ran for the Piccadilly Line
Underground station, took that to Hyde Park Corner station (much
unplanned delays), then ran for the embassy at Grosvenor Square,
arriving around 8:45.
The London embassy was even more of a concrete-barracaded fortress than
the Edinburgh one: They have a constant police patrol in addition to
street closures, metal fencing, and the security checkpoint for visitors
is out at the sidewalk, away from the building in a small trailer.
After the security check, I walked in and faced a larger version of
Edinburgh's bulletproof-glass waiting room. I presented my paperwork
and photos, paid US $97 for the application fees, and stressed to the
(British-national) clerk that I _still_ needed to have a consular
official telephone British Airways.
He asserted that the embassy could not perform that service, which I
knew to be untrue. I persisted; he admitted that he spoke only for what
the passport-replacement staff could do, and said he'd ring someone up
from Consular Services to talk to me. They had no record of any e-mail
Around 9:30 AM, a young woman arrived to talk with me through a
different bulletproof glass window, and I explained that the call would
be vital to not only my travel but also my wife Deirdre's, as she was
attempting to follow our original travel plans while I attempted to
split mine off on a separate Passenger Number Record (PNR): If the
matter were not handled correctly, Deirdre might find her connecting
flight reservation cancelled because I (but not she) had failed to show
up for the first leg.
The official was willing to call BA, and did so... only to be put into a
voice waiting queue without any indication of projected wait time.
Fully 40 minutes later -- well past 10 AM -- a British Airways
reservations clerk finally came on. The official made the plea,
which BA accepted, and passed the telephone over to me to arrange
BA were unwilling to change my routing, so I would have to return to
Glasgow. Moreover, I would be unable to travel until the next 11:05 AM
daily flight, Tuesday. However, BA waived all change fees, for which
I was quite grateful. They were unable to reserve a seat for the second
leg of my travel (Chicago to San Francisco) on American Airways, as it
was booked full, but told me I could attempt a standby reservation upon
arrival in Chicago, and meanwhile booked me on an available, similar
flight four hours later.
The BA clerk admitted that she had inadvertantly deleted my wife's
reservations information despite my plea that she carefully avoid doing
that and please, please split the PNR. However, she claimed that she'd
fixed this problem by the time our call was done at around 10:40. (This
turned out to be incorrect: Deirdre found out in Chicago that they'd
cancelled her reservation and claimed they couldn't fix their problem:
She insisted, and they eventually did.)
I thanked the BA clerk and Consular Services official, walked up to
Marble Arch, and hiked about 8km along Oxford Street, Holborn, Holborn
Viaduct, etc. out to Liverpool Street Station, where I took the Stansted
Express train to Stansted Airport, then took EasyJet (cost: UKP 90) back
to Glasgow International, took the bus back into town, helped
Interaction pack out everything and then helped finish those troublesome
supplies of Real Ale at the closing parties, then took the airport bus
back at nearly midnight, slept (fitfully) on the chairs, and read Iain
[M.] Banks novels and tourist brochures until 11:05. Chicago O'Hare
airport lived up to my low expectations: Amercian Airlines could not
fit me on any planes in the first few hours because they had oversold
all their flights (as usual). At around 20:10 Tuesday, I was finally
allowed to board the delayed 19:20 flight I was booked on, and (finally)
fell asleep in my seat.
Some minutes later, the pilot announced that the plane seemed to have
hydraulics problems, and that everyone would need to debark and march to
the other end of O'Hare's domestic-flights terminal, to await a
replacement plane. Half an hour later, the pilot announced that _that_
plane had a suspicious smell of burnt electrical components in the back,
and we'd have to wait some more. Another 30 minutes, and he said they'd
given up on fixing that plane, and we'd have to walk to a third gate.
An hour later, we were finally able to board. Further delays followed,
and I reached San Francisco International around 1:30 AM Wednesday --
having been up almost all of two days straight.
Despite all this brouhaha, we had on balance a wonderful time in Glasgow,
and look forward to returning -- perhaps for the 2006 Eastercon in April
(the 57th British National Science Fiction Convention,
http://www.eastercon2006.org/). ILUGgers might consider doing likewise,
for a change of pace.
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