That Time American Airlines Gave Me a Heart Attack

It has not been a good few months for American-based airlines.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it – the frustrations of subpar and declining service which has been the norm since 9/11 was just looking for a reason to explode.

And it has. Rather than just going away, people are now more willing to listen to others’ complaints about customer service and strong-arm tactics.  Airlines have their defenders, yes, but even those defenses often just serve to fuel anger.  Is there a valid reason for enforcing a no-one standing while the plane is in line for take-off rule?  One hundred percent yes.  But what happens if you just can’t hold it?  And what happens if you have to go, but the line to the hopelessly overextended bathroom area which services 75 other passengers stretches down the aisle and turbulence happens? I noticed, to my horror, upon disembarking a flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg that one of the adult passengers had actually wet himself.  That should *never* happen.  But it does.  And many people are afraid it might end up being them.  Fear, dread, and total loss of control – combined with a multi-hour uncomfortable smoosh-fest with gross food – does not lend itself to happy and easygoing passengers.

If anything good comes of this, it will be that US-based carriers up their game and remember that customers are paying them for a service, they are not doing customers a favor by taking their money and abusing them.  And airlines are making the right noises about change; whether they follow through or not remains to be seen.

I think some of them are trying, though, and it was as a part of one of these attempts that American Airlines triggered my ulcer into acting up and gave me heart palpitations that nearly sent me to the emergency room for treatment.

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Through the Eyes of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone isn’t the first holiday destination most people think of.  In fact, most people don’t think of Sierra Leone at all, unless someone is discussing child soldiers or Leonardo DiCaprio movies (may I mention here just how impressed I was with Leo’s Saffer accent in Blood Diamonds?  No joke, he nailed it about as well as someone from Not-South-Africa ever could).

There are some very good books coming out of West Africa, though – books that really capture life, culture, and a world that people outside of Africa often don’t get to see either in person or in print.  With one of my newest favorite authors, Aminatta Forna, Sierra Leone is firmly represented on that growing list.

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Those Don’t Seem Like Such Friendly Skies Anymore

Do I even have to mention it?  *IT*?  The fact that United Airlines demanded a man ALREADY BOARDED AND SEATED get off the plane, and called the police to force him to leave with a few bits of blood thrown in along the way?  We already all know that story, right? And although most of the internet is firmly on the side of hating the airlines, there are some defending the airline’s actions as well.

I’ll get to that, but first, I think we should have a little fun playing a game I came up with called Flying United Airlines Bingo.

How many categories can YOU get? And what would be an appropriate prize?

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Reading About Jamaica On The Road

So, I’ve got to give a shout to the fantastic flight crew of our Johannesburg to Madrid Iberian Airways flight, because my family really tries to be no trouble at all, but we always end up with an issue.

This time it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad combination of things: (1) we’re traveling to countries with strict medicine laws and I had to make a choice to leave my migraine medication at home,  (2) we had a day tooling around Johannesburg and it was ridiculously hot and dry, causing my body to do it’s best impression of turning into biltong, (3) our rental car had the guts of an eighty-year-old man with lifelong asthma and a 2-pack-a-day cigarette habit and could not drive AND run air conditioning, and (4) I let myself get fairly severely dehydrated (see aforementioned biltong comment) because the issue of bathrooms on airplanes is fraught with peril when you have to pee NOW along with thirty other people and there is only one bathroom for you all to split – especially if you throw a few potty-training toddlers, Gerard Depardieu,  and people with limited mobility into the mix.

Five hours into the 10+ hour flight I had the mother of all migraines and no way to treat it.  However, the flight attendants kindly allowed me to drink an entire big bottle of water (the one they usually split between several people in the shotglass-size plastic cups) and looked the other way while I rummaged through baggage, desperately hoping I had missed a blisterpack or two of my meds.  I had, we medicated and hydrated just in time, and a crisis was averted. They were a pretty awesome staff, indeed.

All this kept me from reading my usual amount, and I was only able to finish two books on the flight. I feel like I have failed a bit.

In any case – book number one covered Jamaica on my Read Around the World list: The Book of Night Women, By Marlon James

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Putting the Barf in Barcelona

In 2012 we decided to do our first “giant” trip that involved planes, trains, and automobiles, multiple weeks, and multiple countries in Europe.  We started out in Brussels, headed to a fifth floor (EUROPEAN fifth floor, so really sixth floor. Don’t let them try to fool you) walk-up with narrow curlicue stairs in the Gambetta in Paris, then went off to Madrid, Barcelona, and back to Brussels before flying back to Zambia.

There are many things you can’t plan ahead for while traveling, no matter how dedicated, resourceful, and thorough you try to be.  Like, for instance, a rotovirus outbreak.

You can’t plan for a rotovirus outbreak, people.  YOU CAN’T PLAN FOR THIS.

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Bourbon and Bacon Mac and Cheese – Expat Cooking With Booze

As promised – because I’m all about fulfilling promises – I’m about to give you the keys to the gates of culinary paradise.  A recipe so profound, so life-changing that I had to translate the recipe into English from the very alphabet of the Heavenly Angels.  A recipe that is the actual Platonic ideal of macaroni and cheese.  A recipe that epitomizes everything that is good about pasta, bourbon, cheese and bacon by mixing them together.

When Kraft grows up and becomes a highly successful hedge fund manager who volunteers in poverty stricken orphanages and works on clean water projects in the Third World, it is this bourbon and bacon mac and cheese.
When Kraft grows up and becomes a highly successful hedge fund manager who volunteers in poverty stricken orphanages and works on clean water projects in the Third World, it is this bourbon and bacon mac and cheese.

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You Can’t Take it With You – Expat Cooking With Booze

The thing about being an expat living in Africa is that everyone brings you booze for every occasion.  Plus there were all those times you passed through the Duty Frees in various transit airports (Pro-Tip:  Big 5 Duty Free in Johannesburg’s OR Tambo.  You can thank me later).  And don’t get me wrong, a lot of it gets properly used in the imbibing process.  However, it is inevitable that there will be a move that will come around just when you have reached maximum booze collection density .

Just a few of my favorite things.
Just a few of my favorite things.

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Doing What the Locals Do

I will totally own it.  I’ve said it.  I say it, in fact, every time we travel.  “Let’s do what the locals do!”

I mean, locals go to the Dubai Mall, right?  That counts.  And Angkor Wat.  Those are totally local things.

We're local here. Seriously. The Angkor Wat complex is local, and we're visiting it. It's local.
We’re local here. Seriously. The Angkor Wat complex is local, and we’re visiting it. It’s local.

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That Time We Stayed in a Murder Hotel in Addis Ababa

Right at the start I can assure you, I’m not using similes, metaphors, or exaggerating.  Me.  Two kids.  Murder hotel.  Addis Ababa.

And I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ethiopian Airlines for their high commitment of customer service in adventure travel (*COUGH*).

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Travel, Kids, Life, and the Search for the World's Best Airline Lounge