Monday, September 30, 2013

Fixing What’s Broken

Fixing What’s Broken

This blog isn’t about the government shutdown, which seems likely as the sun rises on September 30, 2013.  Whether or not Congress can cobble together a continuing resolution acceptable to both Houses and the President, the US government will remain among the most dysfunctional institutions in the country. 

Instead I’d like to acquaint you with three snafus that occurred in quick succession yesterday.  The story began at the x-ray scanner at terminal C at the Philadelphia airport.  As I was waiting for a TSA agent to tell me that I was free to retrieve my belongings from the belt, I watched my laptop computer crash to the floor.  The agents monitoring the machine that scans people had slowed because the man in front of me was wearing a number of necklaces.  Meanwhile, the agents scanning baggage continued to push belongings through the x-ray machine.  The bin containing my computer popped into the air, and the computer was ejected from the belt. 
People Issues (1995)
There was very good news and bad news.  The good news was that the computer rebooted.  The bad news was the computer case was cracked.  Having stood on line for better than thirty minutes to clear security, I now spent a bit of quality time with a TSA supervisor.  He wrote up the incident and gave me a website and 800-number in order to pursue a damage claim.  I’m expecting to spend many hours pursuing this small matter and don’t expect a recovery anytime soon.

Next I want to take you to a holding apron just off runway 27R in a new Embraer 190.  We had been shunted to the side where we had a perfect view of plane after plane taking off into the clear blue sky.  It turned out that USAirways hadn’t sent the weight and balance information to the pilots.  After about an hour of idling, the plane had consumed too much fuel, so we made the slow return to the gate.  Refueling isn’t a time consuming process, but USAirways still couldn’t get basic information to its pilots.  The flight crew for the next leg of this Embraer 190 was sitting behind us.  Interestingly, they were kept in the dark about the exact nature of this delay despite repeated calls to their dispatcher.  When maintenance workers entered the cockpit, they finally figured out that the plane’s computer wasn’t receiving the weight and balance data from USAirways’ offices.  After another hour and a reboot of the plane’s computer, we were on our way.

However, during that time my aging Blackberry (yes, I still prefer my keyboard) decided it didn’t want to send any more emails.  It had ceased receiving emails earlier in the day.  I uninstalled and reinstalled my email connection without success and perused the Internet for a solution.   As the pregame for NFL Sunday night began, I decided to call my wireless carrier.  For the better part of an hour I had the same conversation with two different specialists before they gave up and transferred me to Blackberry.  At least Blackberry didn’t bombard me with advertising while I was on hold, but their background music soon became annoying.  A Blackberry technician made me repeat every step I’d done on my own, plus all the steps I’d undertaken with each of the AT&T representatives before they disappeared for extended periods of time to consult with someone.  Finally, as the football game entered the third quarter (I was following the score on my Blackberry), the Blackberry technician conceded defeat.  I had a very bad feeling as she handed me to some kind of supervisor.

The conversation was brief. For the fourth time I was asked to explain what was wrong with my phone.  Without hesitation the supervisor told me he could fix the phone. He told me to hang up and he would send instructions to the device to restore email service.  He suggested I retire for the evening and that the phone would be sending and receiving emails in the morning.   I’m not sure I believed him, but I was exhausted.  The phone is working again this morning.

So the race is now on between my computer claim with the TSA and Congress’s attempt to agree on a budget and raise the debt ceiling.  There are long odds on both, but I’m betting on the TSA.

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