It’s a Sunday night, and I find myself sitting and working through the endless caveats and addendums of frequent flyer mile redemption. Bear in mind that I am not attempting anything arcane or utterly outlandish. This is a recognised frequent flyer group, and I am attempting to do something that has been offered to me as an option since the very first day I joined. Cash in my miles for free flights. There. I said it. Having said it, I confess to being somewhat out of my depth. And I can’t help thinking that if I am having troubles, then there must be plenty of others that do too.
Presumptuous? Arrogant? Probably. But then… I know that I’m more intelligent than the average Joe. (My mom told me… it must be true.) I have a university degree. (That alone puts me in the “trainable if not intelligent” category.) And if I am spending hours trawling through endless hyper links without finding what I am looking for… well, I know that my suffering is not unique. Some of the people I have seen on my journeys bear testament to the fact that stupid people can and will travel. Whether it is the overweight woman who exclaimed “I’m an American, you can’t search me!” to nonplussed and unmoved airline security in Hong Kong, or the massively drunk man arguing with a check-in clerk that she was in fact working for his airline (She wasn’t), there are plenty of dumb people out there spending time at 33,000 feet. How do they redeem their miles? How do they get through the endless permutations of rules and regulations? Just the fact that somehow they do is enough to keep me plugging away at it.
Perhaps it is Red-Tape Fatigue.
You see, I’m not just trying to redeem some miles and get a comfier chair out of it. (Fetch….The Comfy Chair!) At the same time, I am orchestrating the planned emigration of myself, my non-EU wife and my decidedly non-EU dog. We’re trying to work out the shipping of some our household, we’re working out the intricacies of the Taiwanese tax system, and we’re doing a TEFL course. To say that the last few weeks have been characterised by bureaucratic bull is an understatement. And it got me thinking. (Not just about how some people get anything done, I know how they do it. It’s simple. They don’t. They ignore it, and hope that it will go away. I have friends who do that sort of thing… simply keep their heads buried in the sand while their visas expire.) No, it got me thinking… what are we doing? Why does it have to be so bloody-minded, obtuse and honestly, difficult beyond any reasonable point of expectation?
I understand that because something nasty happened in American airspace TEN YEARS ago, that airports might be a little leery. But anyone travelling on international flights will agree that security is really getting to be over the top. And I am not speaking about the countless stupidities of the TSA in the US. (There are hundreds of valid complaints about that organisation, go google them. Prepare to be dismayed, but not surprised… after all, when you give someone who has basically got their high school equivalency and nothing else a badge and a dab of authority… what do you expect?) I am speaking of “normal” security measures. The endless proof of identity that everyone from the check-in clerk to the flight attendants can (and will) ask for. The endless security checks. The fact that shoes and belts are now expected to be removed? When did a BELT become a potential weapon? Oh yeah… from the first day that someone decided that a strip of leather with a weight on the end of it can cause damage. So… sometime after the death of the dinosaurs. How many planes have been held up at belt-point? How much damage could I do with my belt that I COULDN’T do with the freely given seat-belt extension? Besides, I’d bet my blog that even the chunky seat belt extension couldn’t even dent the glass in the windows. Travelling through Heathrow is the pits during winter. It’s freezing cold, the floor is NOT heated, and NOT carpeted. And there you stand, in socks. While some “trained security inspector” watches a conveyor belt go by. You’re juggling your passports, your tickets, your foreign exchange, your keys, your cellphone, your laptop, watch and other odds and ends that WERE in your pockets and bag… and then they expect you to put your shoes and belt back on. With a hundred people standing impatiently behind you.
And that’s another thing. Why? WHY? Why in this world of modern technology, WHY is an airline ticket still the same size and shape it was fifty years ago? Why does it have to be too big to fit into your wallet? Why can’t it fit neatly into your passport? Why not? There is NOTHING on the ticket that would prevent its being shrunk to a far more convenient size. Come on airlines! Here is a freebie. Cut the size of your tickets in half! Passengers will be happier! AND… you will be saving money on your paper rolls…. (should be halved, if my math is correct.)… and as a BONUS… you get to market yourself as “making every ecological cut possible.”
I understand that in today’s world, falsification of documents is a big thing. I understand that. I do. But red-tape seems to go above and beyond the logical requirements for proof of identity. Obtaining a UK Visa for a non-EU individual is a process of amazing depth and complexity. As a non-EU spouse of an EU citizen, my wife qualified for any one of FIVE different EU visa categories. Each visa would allow her entry, but only one of those would allow her to remain in the UK indefinitely. They are all similarly named, and all work around the theme of “EU Family”. Last time we tried for a visa for her (for my sister’s wedding), we applied for the wrong one. And we had to stand at the embassy computers filling out another form. An eleven page, MASSIVELY detailed form, I might add. This time, we thought smart. I phoned ahead, and we filled out the right form. As you might imagine, there is a lot of detail demanded, and we made use of the “save and return” feature that they offer on the online application. (Incidentally, in a master-stroke of bureaucratic thought, you fill out an ONLINE application, then PRINT IT OUT and hand it in in person. Gah.) When we arrived… we found that our application was out of date. By a day. Because even though we had “submitted” the application three days earlier, we had BEGUN the application more than a month before. Apparently, there is an expiry date involved on ones name and date of birth. So once again, we stood at the embassy computers making out a new form.
And here is the kicker. One of the stipulations of application is that you furnish the embassy with every trip made in the last ten years. EVERY trip. Do you know how many trips and holidays we have made in the last ten years? Considering that we live in one country, and each of our families live in another? That we lived in a fourth country in the interim? Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven international flights that we had to document with a date, reason and duration. Who the hell remembers the exact day that the went ANYWHERE ten years ago?
It seems to me that red-tape has been instituted to protect the company or country involved. Just as an insurance company can take refuge in the hundreds of fine print conditions before reluctantly paying out on a claim, the red-tape behind air travel and immigration, behind visas and studies and exports… all of this works against YOU. For 99.9% of travellers, red-tape is a stupidity that must be endured. Unfortunately, life is not like a license agreement for computer software. I wish it was. For the 99.9% of us that are genuine souls, we could just hand in our passports and other paraphernalia, click “next” and be on our way. But we can’t. We have to sit and sift through pages and pages of legalise normally remanded to badly designed web-pages, and get more and more frustrated. And it is “We” the users, the travellers and the tourists that are allowing the systems. And we’d love to organise a complaint and a response… but can you imagine the paperwork?