Sir Bob Jones

Commentary on issues of the day from the property tycoon, author and former politician

Bob Jones: US - Land of free and home of incompetence

By Bob Jones

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Colin Craig's wide-eyed naivety has provided much delight for journalists and earned him publicity far beyond his non-existent significance. But last week, in Air New Zealand's Los Angeles lounge with other Kiwis, we concluded he's right on one thing, namely the moon landing must have been a hoax. We reached that decision because of our respective American experiences of unrelenting, spell-binding incompetence at every turn. Let me explain.

I was there with family and friends for our annual Aspen ski trip. We go there because it has the world's best skiing with virtually empty ski-fields. But, by God, we pay a price. This last trip was typical. My various family members all agreed to meet at the lodge on Saturday. Most made it while others, for reasons of airline incompetence, finally turned up on Sunday.

Some were coming from Sydney, two adult daughters were first going to San Francisco to show the city to their children, my eldest son and Wellington office manager wanted three days investigating Los Angeles which hitherto they'd only passed through, and so on.

I accompanied a 5-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son and flew direct to San Francisco to avoid the offensiveness of Los Angeles airport and being shouted at by midget, 300lb Latino women staff. The next day, out we went to the airport for the two-hour hop to Aspen. What happened occurs every year.

There we sat for two hours after the departure time. At 10-minute intervals the desk clerk announced we would be boarding in five minutes. Eventually I confronted her and received the frequently experienced explanation, namely they couldn't find the flight crew, for a scheduled flight.

After two hours they did and off we went, I ensuring my children rejected the rubbish they were offered (this in first-class) which they alleged was food. As my eldest daughter later remarked, if they were stranded on a deserted island she would allow her children to eat the cardboard box but absolutely not its contents. We fly first-class solely to avoid the several hours waiting in queues, standard for US airports. Then a week later came departure and again the standard Aspen airport experience. Bear in mind this is the wealthiest city in America, its economy based on tourism with an airport about the size of Rotorua's, which is quite adequate assuming New Zealand efficiency.

On arrival several hundred people were cramming the building and spilling on to the street. Some had been there four hours. Why? They didn't have anyone to unload arriving flights, let alone load departing ones. As their loudspeaker system, like everything else, wasn't working, periodically a massively obese young woman would shove her way through the throngs, shrieking announcements about the delays.

After four hours we boarded and waited for an hour while they tried to find the flight crew. Eventually they did but another hour elapsed while we waited for the ambling oaf they'd mustered up to load the passengers' bags. I asked the despairingly apologetic air hostess how often she sat on the ground because they couldn't find the crew. Several times each week she assured me.

In Los Angeles we had our eighth passport check and finally reached the refuge of Air New Zealand's lounge. But it was staffed by American girls who took my issued boarding passes because they said, they'd "like to reissue them for their records". And so they did, with us all in the same seat. It's typical.

I spoke to an Auckland businessman who frequently travels throughout America selling a specialist computer service. Avoid United, he told me, this being America's largest airline. But, he added, what we suffer each year he experiences everywhere there on a different plane. He visits numerous factories and without exception, he said, they're light years behind in their technology.

I could outline similar stories about the hotel's mismanagement and, indeed, with almost every aspect of a casual visitor's experience of monumental cock-ups. As is ritual, once back home I stormed into our Colorado girl's office and gave her a bollocking. "Why do you think I live here?" she bleated defensively.

I first went to the Soviet Union in the 1960s and thereafter was drawn back regularly through fascination at its horrors. But it was never as inept as modern America. My first US visit was more than 40 years ago. Then it was the height of efficiency. But over the past decade it has all gone wrong. I can only speculate why. As elsewhere, President Obama has been going on about the wealth gap. America is a great country but a tough place to be if on the bottom, with mediocre wages leading to widespread incompetence, which I suspect is the source of their problems.

- NZ Herald

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