We got home last week from Spain. Great trip and only a little interaction with technology. We did find a place in Barcelona that offered free Internet access and so we couldn’t resist checking our email. The keyboards at this place were built into the counter, which required significant pressure to type so it was a bit uncomfortable. In addition, because Spanish (and probably Catalan which is the main language spoken in Barcelona) has some extra letters not found in English, the keyboards were arranged somewhat differently than what we are used to. For example, the @ is still above the 2 but it is the third character above the 2. So there’s an extra shift key that allows you to get to the third characters. The second character above the 2 was “. As you can imagine, this took a little getting used to.
I had a ton of email when I checked, but none of it was critical and in fact, most of it was junk, ready to be deleted unopened. I suppose if we had taken the trip during the semester, this might have been different but it made me realize that I really don’t need to check my email multiple times per day, especially in the summer.
One problem that we had with technology (although it was technology that was hidden from us) was that our bags didn’t make our connecting flight on the way home. We left Barcelona on Tuesday, July 1, flew to Paris with a 2 hour layover there, then flew to Philadelphia (5 hour layover) and then home to Manchester. When we got to Philadelphia, we had to go through Immigration, pick up our bags (even though they were checked all the way through to Manchester), go through Customs and then recheck the bags. Our bags had not made the switch of planes at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris so we didn’t have them in Philadelphia. When we spoke to the person in Philadelphia about it, she said that even a 3 hour layover between connections would not have been enough time for bags to make the connecting flight at Charles de Gaulle. This surprised me because I would think this huge airport would have the latest in baggage handling technology so that much of the routing of bags would happen automatically using the bar coded tags on the bags. The truly stupid thing about all of this is that even though she told us that the earliest they could possibly make it to Manchester would be the following day, we couldn’t put in a lost baggage claim until we got to Manchester. And she said that the bags would not be put on another flight until we put in the lost baggage claim (“for security reasons”). I would have thought that the airline would be able to figure out that it was their screw-up that caused the bags to be delayed and so they would automatically put the bags on the next flight to the US. But she said that it’s a security risk for the bags to travel without the owner of the bags on the same plane and so they need to be sure that would only happen when the baggage had been “lost”. And the way they know the bags are lost is that someone has filed a lost baggage claim. Of course, this explanation makes no sense to me and seems to be another example of security theater that is performed in airports around the world. So as a result of all these rules, our bags did not arrive in the Manchester airport until nearly midnight on Friday, July 4. That’s right–our bags arrived in Manchester three full days after we did.
When we filed our lost baggage claim in Manchester, the clerk asked us if there were any distinguishing items inside the bags that would allow the handlers to definitively identify the bags. I don’t understand why they would have to open the bags to identify them. Isn’t that why we are required to put an identification tag on the outside? And isn’t that why they put a bar coded tag with the routing information on the outside of the bag? The whole incident made me realize that although it is pretty amazing that millions of bags are handled each year and mostly they get where they’re supposed to go eventually, there could be some improvements in the use of technology in the system.
In any case, we’re glad to finally have our bags back. And we’re glad to be home.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.