July 13, 2007

Embracing the Suck to Kuwait

By Michael J. Totten

KUWAIT CITY -- I have no breaking news to report. I haven’t even made it inside Iraq.

No one should expect a smooth and comfortable trip to Baghdad and Anbar Province – especially not in July – but things shouldn’t have gone south as soon as Chicago.

While listening to my iPod and waiting for my flight at the gate in Ohare Airport, I noticed some teenagers pointing in amazement at the sky outside the window. I pulled out my earbuds. “They can't make me get on an airplane right now," one of them said.

The sky boiled with evil black clouds. Lightning zotted across the heavens.

The kid needn’t have worried. No one was allowed to get on an airplane.

I waited sixteen hours in Ohare for a flight to Dulles International Airport in Washington. My flight to Kuwait from Washington left long before I arrived.

When I did finally arrive I had to wait another sixteen hours for a re-booked flight to Germany. In the meantime, every hotel in the region was full. Washington, apparently, had weather delays of its own. The entire eastern half of the United States was snarled in air jams. So I had to spend the night in the airport.

Dulles is not a nice airport. It is not where you want to spend sixteen hours.

Some European airports have nice lounge chairs where you can sort of get comfortable if long delays force you to sleep there. Not Dulles. Only uncomfortable chairs with no head or foot rests are stocked in that airport.

I found a dozen or so wheelchairs stashed in a corner and thought I’d be clever by wheeling one of them over to a row of chairs and giving myself a place to put up my feet. I stuck my noise-reduction earbuds in my ears, donned by sunglasses, put up my feet, and felt good to go. A bed would have been nice, but this beat the floor. I fell asleep instantly.

A half hour later I woke with no circulation in my feet -- the wheelchair was higher than the seat and my feet were too high. So I rolled onto the floor and slept flat on the savagely hard marble. All I could do was laugh at how crappy everything was. I was on my way to Iraq, not the Bahamas, and had no right to expect comfort of any kind. At least I was awakened by the BEEP BEEP BEEP of a guy driving a whatever-you-call it loaded with suitcases instead of a car bomb.

My flight didn’t leave until evening, and I’d be damned if I spent another whole day in an airport. So I took a taxi to the Adams Morgan neighborhood and had breakfast with Noah Pollak, who is briefly there from Jerusalem. I sure didn’t expect to see him any time soon.

We thought about walking around the neighborhood, but the heat and humidity turned the air into a thick nasty soup. So we watched a movie in an air-conditioned theater – A Mighty Heart, as it turned out, the film about the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. This was probably not the best choice of movies to watch on my way to Iraq, but everything else looked insufferably lame and this film turned out to be slightly okay. (The negative reviews are too harsh. It deserves two and a half stars at the worst.)

United Airlines rebooked me on a late flight to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and told me my luggage would be transferred to them and should arrive with me in Kuwait.

“Are you sure my bags will get there?” I said. The whole system was in chaos.

“They will get there, don’t worry,” the agent said.

My bags did not get here. I have no body armor, no helmet, no camera, no laptop, and only one change of clothes. Lufthansa swears my luggage will arrive here this evening, but pardon me if I’m skeptical. According to their online tracking system, they still have no idea where my bags are.

But hey! This is the kind of suck that isn’t too hard to embrace. I have a king size bed to sleep in after spending four days in the claustrophobic airport security and transportation regime. I can eat when I want and even shower. I may have to wash my socks in the sink, but at least I have a sink.

Postscript: Despite the various snags, I should be in Iraq soon enough.

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 13, 2007 04:55 AM
Comments

Another fruitful transportation brought to you by The Most Powerful Country On Earth.

Posted by: glasnost at July 13, 2007 07:20 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 07/13/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at July 13, 2007 07:33 AM

So we watched a movie in an air-conditioned theater – A Mighty Heart, as it turned out, the film about the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. This was probably not the best choice of movies to watch on my way to Iraq, but everything else looked insufferably lame and this film turned out to be slightly okay.

Michael, what are you, some sort of masochist?!

Posted by: Zak at July 13, 2007 08:00 AM

I have no breaking news to report.

We don't come here for breaking news. We come here to find out how things really are.

But this was fun too!

Good Luck!

Posted by: Yafawi at July 13, 2007 08:05 AM

Talk to United, not Lufthansa - your bags could be sitting in the United luggage office at Dulles even now.

Posted by: Solomon2 at July 13, 2007 08:24 AM

Michael,
I know you are busy, but how could you have not noticed that Lisa Goldman went to Beirut?

Posted by: Brooklyn at July 13, 2007 08:59 AM

You took a taxi from Dulles to Adams Morgan??? Might as well keep going to BWI, or NYC at that point...

Posted by: Stacy at July 13, 2007 09:25 AM

Since no one else has busted your chops for it yet, I thought I'd give it a go:

You put your laptop and your camera in your checked bags?!?

Posted by: Naha at July 13, 2007 09:43 AM

Next summer trip we carry ultralight mattress pads in our carryons. We've gotten too lucky too often together not to catch this kind of layover hell.

Something like this: http:// www. rei. com / product /708473 link deliberately broken to avoid spam filters. Therm-a-Rest ProLite 4 Sleeping Pad - Short

I wanted one like this when we were stuck in Amman last year. I think this is small enough to be worth the volume hit, even if I have to shift my carryon to a bigger bag.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at July 13, 2007 11:39 AM

Yikes.

Who would have thought that the worst part of your journey to Iraq would be the one through US and European airports. Talk about irony.

Good luck out there! Cheers.

Posted by: Bad Vilbel at July 13, 2007 02:08 PM

Michael,

You buy yourself a pad for situations like this. You make plans for travel to the Middle East to cover a story. The day you're to go the airport is socked in by extremely bad weather, as is the U.S. east of the Mississippi. The very same day some nutjob, with no connection whatsoever with any terrorist group, tries to bring down a jetliner by burning his sleeping pad.

Guess what the TSA response is? :)

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at July 13, 2007 10:37 PM

The horrors of airworld..

Since you travel often it might be a good idea to look into buying access to a VIP lounge in the Airport. They have comfy chairs, internet access, showers and occasionally, free drinks and food.

Posted by: mary at July 14, 2007 09:59 AM

Michael, it's good you are getting to sleep it off for a few days before plunging into the combat zone.

Do. Not. Ever. Fly. into O'Hare. There are more horror stories about O'Hare than any other airport combined.

This is why I always carry as much on the plane as they let me. People laugh when they see me hump my large backpack into the overhead bin. But if my luggage is ever delayed I will have the last laugh.

But you probably would have had to check the body armor etc anyway....

Posted by: Yehudit at July 15, 2007 12:32 AM

Who would have thought that the worst part of your journey to Iraq would be the one through US and European airports. Talk about irony.

Lazy comedy writers have taught us to never say anything like "well at least the worst part is over."

Actors know better than to tempt the gods of slapstick by wishing each other luck. As they say instead, "Break a leg!"

Posted by: Josh Scholar at July 15, 2007 04:54 PM

Like they say, if you have time to spare, go by air! You'd think after, oh, what's it been now, 80 years? they'd find a better way to get you on your airplane then off your airplane. One of the last, great places just begging for innovation and original thinking.

Posted by: Kevin at July 16, 2007 09:19 AM

One of the last, great places just begging for innovation and original thinking

Since most frequent flyers are traveling for business, congestion and security lines might be reduced if they used Very Light Jets flying out of smaller, regional airports.

But since the major airlines are protected by the government money no matter how often they fail, this might not happen for awhile

Posted by: mary at July 16, 2007 11:51 AM

Just remember, getting there is half the fun.

[ducks]

;-)

Can you tell us anything about who you're going to embed with?

Posted by: rosignol at July 16, 2007 05:35 PM

This is why I always carry as much on the plane as they let me. People laugh when they see me hump my large backpack into the overhead bin. But if my luggage is ever delayed I will have the last laugh.

Truly, words to live by when traveling by air.

Always take the electronics (camera/phone/laptop), any medications, and at least one change of clothes (with spare socks & skivvies) in a carryon.

Do not ever check a laptop computer. Replacing the hardware is merely inconvenient, replacing the data in the laptop is nearly impossible.

Posted by: rosignol at July 16, 2007 05:43 PM

what a joke here it's not even a proper website

it Failed validation, with 995 errors on your HTML code lol .
any way going back to your topic on Libya and how you've been viewing the country, that's really a shame on you because you deliberately putting ugly pictures like your face to be viewed by the public.
if you go to the sixth picture and to let all know that this is a new construction that is built up and in an area where no car quite a lot move across , as Sam said I don't think you will enjoy holidays in Libya as apposed to enjoy them in a bar at your dirty country full of pain and mentally and physically sick people

Posted by: rain2000 at July 24, 2007 11:28 AM
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