Monday, December 29, 2008

First class hijinks

I passed through the security gate after check-in and found the first class lounge sign. I just wanted something quick to eat for breakfast because it was 7am. There was no business class lounge sign though, so I headed to the first class lounge area to ask.

There was a 50 year old-ish Egyptian man at the counter in front:
"Is this also the business class lounge?"
"Yes it is. How may I help you?" He had a strong Egyptian accent.
"Ok great." I handed him my boarding pass to gain entrance.
"Sorry sir. I can't take that. You need one of these." He showed me a voucher that I was supposed to get from BA but they had forgotten to give me. I was surprised that the business class ticket was not enough to get in.

But he added with:
"I can't tell from the boarding pass that it is business class, and therefore I can't help you. You will need to go back down to the check-in area to ask them for the voucher." I checked the boarding pass myself. There wasn't any obvious indication that it was business. He was right as far as untrained eyes could tell, though I found it strange that every BA employee could always tell that it was.

I didn't want to go all the way back out to the front. I only had 30 minutes until my flight would start boarding and I didn't want to go back out security or immigration and have to come back through.

BA had messed up or this man was screwing with me looking for a bribe, so I asked him:
"Can I get your name? I am going to complain to BA that their process in this airport is broken or that their employees messed up."
"Sure." I pulled out my camera because I noticed his name badge was completely in Arabic. I was going to take a picture because I didn't trust him to actually give me his real name.

As soon as I turned the camera on and was fiddling with the controls to turn on macro mode, he realized what I was going to do and hid his badge from me.
"You can't take a picture of my badge." He had an uncomfortable smile on his face, which I was quietly enjoying.

"Why not? I don't know Arabic so I'm going to have to do this. I don't know how to write your name myself." I was really starting to enjoy myself. I was probably already starting to smile outwardly.
"Because you just can't. It's BA's fault downstairs that they didn't give you the voucher, so there's no reason for you to take my name."

"Well, I don't know for sure whether it's BA's fault, so I have to gather the necessary facts and find someone who will do something about the problem here. I need your name so that when they ask me who told you that you weren't allowed into the lounge, I can tell them. That way there is some way to trace the process problem." This made him get defensive.
"Look sir, this lounge is not owned by BA. It is property of Cairo airport. We get paid by BA for every voucher we collect from them. If I don't have a voucher from you, we won't get paid. That's what it is."
"How do I know that it's not BA's lounge?"
"Come here sir. I will show you." He stepped out of the counter stall and motioned for me to follow. I picked up my backpack and my documents and started to follow.

"Sir, you may leave your bag there. It will be fine." My backpack has my most important stuff in it. I wasn't going to let this man talk me into leaving it on the ground in a public area. I hadn't done that in 7 months, I wasn't going to start now.
"No I'll bring it thanks. I don't trust anybody."

He smiled uncomfortably and nodded in acknowledgement. He walked me back to the lounge door. He pointed to a large seal that was fixed into the wood of the wall.
"Do you see the sign? It says Cairo Airport Lounge. There is no BA. This lounge is run by the airport. We are not BA. I need someone from BA to tell me that you need access to this area." I nodded because I agreed to what was written. We walked back to his counter with him leading me.

"You must go back down to check-in and ask for the voucher. It only takes 5 minutes. Please go get it. I need the voucher." From what I've experienced in the last 3 weeks, nothing in Egypt takes 5 minutes when it comes to beaurocracy and security together. There was no way I was going to let him talk me into stepping outside just to get some croissants with 30 minutes left until boarding. I was not going to go outside, but I needed some substance with which to complain with to BA, so I planned to take pictures of everything in the scene, including his badge.

"I would still like to take your picture so that I can tell BA my story. I don't want them to think I'm lying."
"You don't need my name. Everyone who works at this desk will tell you the same thing. You can complain to BA anyway. They will not think you are lying. There is no reason you need my name."
Of course this sparked my curiosity. I particularly enjoy making people nervous, especially when I feel that they are lying or hiding something.

"Ok so if you didn't do anything wrong and BA is at fault, then I guess there's no reason why you should have a problem giving me your badge. The fact that you won't let me take your picture has convinced me that I should definitely take your name with me."
At which point I think he had realized he wasn't going to win this argument with words, so he asked, "Would you like me to call a BA representative up here?" I was going to say yes but then decided I didn't want to wait in case he was bluffing to stall. I told him I would go get a BA representative at my gate myself. I happened to have noticed earlier that my gate was only 100m away from this desk.

I told him I'd be back shortly. I walked to gate 6 and found the nearest BA employee. I told him that it seemed that I had mistakenly not been given a voucher for the business class lounge. He looked at my boarding pass as I handed it to him, then nodded and said "follow me please."

He led me back to the lounge and just walked me past the guy that I had been dealing with for the last 10 minutes. He barely acknowledged the guy's presence. I smiled a little and said, "thank you" to the man at the counter to show that there were no hard feelings. The BA employee took me into the *first* class lounge, said that he was sorry for the mistake, wished me a good flight, and told the ladies at the front desk something in arabic, then jotted something on a small card, probably authorizing my entry somehow.

I walked in and had some breakfast. The lounge was nothing special. It was actually pretty drab, but nothing could drown the satisfaction that I felt having played the game with the man outside correctly.

In recollection, it sure seems a bit strange that the man outside is collecting these "vouchers" yet there are 2 women inside the lounge checking to see who's coming in again. The BA rep proved that to me. I think there's a good chance the man was just looking for a bribe and his entire job is just collecting these pieces of paper literally just to collect these pieces of paper.

There have to have been incidents in the past where someone else didn't have a voucher in the history of Cairo airport and its lounge. If all it took was a short call to the BA desk to clear it up then he should have just done that from the start rather than ask me to exit immigration and security and then come back in with some paper voucher that was going to get me orange juice and a lazyboy. That's not what I call customer service. He wasn't doing anything else that I noticed anyway while sitting there.

I know it was cruel for me to rub it in with the "thank you" but I couldn't help it. He was an ass to me, either intellectually or emotionally or both. Sometimes you have to use some simple logic and assertiveness to get past the sheep that are blocking progress, and this time it happened to work in my favor.


Blogger Ben said...

great story Jimbo and I can totally see you doing this at work

January 4, 2009 at 9:51 PM  

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