Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A propos of Nothing

photo by Lasse Fuss; from Wikimedia Commons
I was reminded the other day of something that happened to me seven years ago, a small event that has always encapsulated the difference between American and European attitudes:

I booked a flight to Istanbul for a soccer match, flying American Airlines from my home in San Antonio to Chicago, then Lufthansa to Istanbul. When I got to Chicago, I asked where I went for the Lufthansa flight, and was told that "all international flights are out of Terminal 5." So I rode their little train over to Terminal 5, and walked back and forth looking for the Lufthansa desk, unsuccessfully. I asked someone there where it was, and was told that Lufthansa, unlike every other international carrier, had its desk in Terminal 1, at the other end of the airport. (I may have the terminal numbers wrong, but that's beside the point.) So I took the train to the other end of the airport, found the Lufthansa desk, stood in line a few minutes, then presented my travel papers to the Frau behind the counter. She looked at my reservation, then at the clock, and said it was too late: the plane left in 57 minutes, and I was required to be there an hour before. Arguing did no good, so I asked if she could re-book me on a later flight. She glanced at the computer, typed something, and announced "No, there is nothing. Nothing can be done." Then, when I complained, she suggested I go back to American Airlines, since they were the ones who made me late (by telling me to go to the other end of the airport).

photo by Arpingstone; from Wikimedia Commons
I did. I spoke to a clerk at the AA desk; she called her supervisor over. I told the supervisor the story, and she said, and I quote, "Well, let's just see what we can do." She played on her computer keyboard for maybe thirty seconds, then said, "I can get you a seat on the Lufthansa flight that leaves in three hours; it'll get you to Istanbul a couple of hours later than you were originally scheduled."

That, my friends, has ever since represented to me the difference between Americans (Let's see what we can do) and Europeans (Nothing can be done).

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