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After writing a slightly ranting blog about Logan security, I thought a very brief description of the security at the Shinyanga airport in Tanzania might provide a bit of humor.

The setting: rural Tanzania, a small airport with a single dirt runway.

The flights: once a day except Sundays—if there were enough passengers to merit the plane actually taking off.

The scene: After checking in and being told I’m extremely late for the flight (I arrived more than an hour in advance for a prop-plane flight that only happens once a day and seats about 60 people), I was ushered to “security,” otherwise known as a doorway with a table and one guy who glanced at me and asked, “Any explosives in your checked bag?” “Uh, no,” I replied as I glanced at my bulging red duffel bag. He patted the outside of the bag lightly and gave a nod to the baggage handler who promptly carried the bag five feet to the dirt runway and placed it on a luggage trolley.

“May I look through your carry on?”

“Sure,” I said. And he proceeded to glance through my—in my opinion—sketchy computer bag which was stuffed chock-full with snaking, intertwined and probably knotted wires and cords of various colors and pedigrees. He bypassed the cords and looked quizzically at the other pocket of paperwork. Paperwork that was—in his opinion—much sketchier than my errant cords. He carefully inspected the paperwork and folders.

Next was my purse. Again—in my opinion—sketchily filled with multiple cameras, FlipCams, cords, and medications (Maladrone for malaria and Cipro for those pesky travel stomach bugs). He briefly eyed the technological equipment and zeroed in on a dangerous target: an unopened package of four Duracell AA batteries.

He removed them gingerly. “These are not allowed on the plane. We’ll need to put them in your checked baggage.”

I may have let out a slight “ha!” out from under my breath as I laughed internally. “Sure, no problem,” I said. “May I put them in my bag?”

He said yes and I walked the five feet out onto the dirt tarmac, unzipped my bag piled on top of the three of four other checked bags, placed the perfectly sealed, newly packaged bag of Duracell batteries in my checked bag, zipped it, walked back to the security guy and was given clearance move into the waiting area.

It was hands-down one of the best travel experiences ever.

Oh and I should add, it was only when I walked back onto the dirt runway to board the plane that I noticed there were heavily armed military men everywhere. When taking video of boarding the plane I opted to not include them in the scene 🙂

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This afternoon I’m jumping on a plane to Tanzania…despite the British Airways strikes. My flights were pre-cancelled last weekend but luckily got rerouted. Not an ideal itinerary but here’s hoping for no travel delays…….

Visit Girl2Woman.orgThis is not about travel. Full disclosure…professionally I do new media/web ‘stuff’ at a reproductive health nonprofit. We launched a new initiative this week called the 200 Thousand for 200 Million Challenge. The goal is to reach 200,000 video shares on www.Girl2Woman.org by International Women’s Day (March 8, 2010) to raise awareness about the 200 million women who want, but lack access to modern contraceptives.

The Girl2Woman site is in many ways a labor of love–particularly for our tiny Communications team–and this week I’m frantically working with my colleagues to raise the visibility of the challenge. I’ll post some blogs I write on other sites as well as places Girl2Woman.org gets picked up below (or in ‘Other Writing‘). If you have a minute, visit the site, share the videos, and help spread the word about the importance of reproductive health care!

Girl2Woman.org coverage:

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This past month there has been so much traveling and so much moving I haven’t had time to sit down and do a proper post–or any post at all! But here are some sneak peeks at a few fun things I’ve encountered:

* An angry motorist honking and screaming at me yesterday as I walked across an intersection (where I had the right of way). Apparently the sight of me being on the phone was the last straw in her road rage and for a moment I saw my life flash before my eyes as her car started accelerating toward me. Luckily the car in front of her was blocking her path and I made it safely to the other side…barely.

* The pilot of an AirTran flight from Newport News, VA to Boston, MA opening his remarks-required-by-duty via harmonica. Let me tell you, the melodious sounds of that metal instrument do not travel well via plane speakers. Nice attempt at being catchy and funny…ultimately took out part of my eardrum.

* Walking down to my car and realizing it had a mighty gangster lean—or rather two flat tires. How a car gets two flats from sitting in the garage? I’ll never know. After being told by my car expert brother that I couldn’t break anything trying to change it myself, I broke the tire key, got it stuck in the driveway trying to pull out, had to call AAA, and ultimately have a mechanic (thank you Arbuckle Mobil!) spend 9 hours trying to get my tires off…good times.

* Trying to book a two week trip to South Africa in less than six weeks for my mom, who has never ventured to the African continent, and me. This included fun questions like ‘Are we going to Zaire?’ ‘Does this hotel have a heated pool?’ ‘Can we do a day trip to Ghana?’ Answers included: Zaire is no longer the name of the DRC as of ~1997. Seriously?! And, no, Ghana is about 3,000 miles away from South Africa. Would you want to do a day trip to San Francisco from New York?

So has the travel karma become better or worse over the last month? It’s pretty much a toss up. Stay tuned for more travel stories soon–including what I’m sure will be some great ones from South Africa!

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This past weekend, instead of traveling outside of Boston, I braved the travails of moving…and specifically the transport associated with it. Over the past nine years—depending on how you define moving—I have transported my stuff at least 14 times, transitioned to 6 different cities, and am now preparing to live in my 14th different “space.”

In the midst of my own current move, I’ve also been helping my parents pack up my childhood home in Dallas as they prepare for the next phase of their life. Needless to say, things have been a little hectic.

Not as sketchy as the sign at the place we rented

Not as sketchy as the sign at the place we rented

Generally, my moves have been fairly seamless. Unlike my usual poor travel karma, I actually feel like I have fairly good moving karma. Unless it involves Budget (Truck Rental).

My battle with Budget began several years ago when a friend of mine rented a truck with them, showed up on her appointed day to pick it up, and was dismayed to learn that in fact, there weren’t any trucks available. She was stuck with no other options for moving that day. A few years later, lured by the inexpensive rates of Budget compared with other options like Uhaul and Penske, I decided to forego my friend’s warning and rent a Budget truck to drive from Madison, WI to Boston, MA. When I arrived to pick up the truck, everything went fairly smoothly except when I returned to my car to follow my dad back to the house, I couldn’t unlock my door. As it turned out, my electronic key battery had died. So my dad and I had to drive around looking for a specialty battery store for about an hour and a half in a huge Budget truck. It should have served as a warning sign.

Delayed by the battery search, we arrived back at the house short on time. As we scrambled to pack the truck to meet our moving deadline, it started pouring. And low and behold, there happened to be a large, mangled hole—not visible to the eye until streaming water poured through—in the front left part of the roof. Having encountered no overpasses or other hangings, the hole could only have been from the previous renters. I called Budget to let them know. They said that I could return the truck for another, but we had already packed half of it. We decided to just tape it up to the best of our ability and power through.

What we didn’t realize is that Budget truck rental is run by contractors—and they don’t talk to each other. When we arrived in Boston there was no record of my call with the other Budget office. And they claimed I was fully responsible. Many heated words were exchanged and I ended up with a hefty bill that I refused to pay.

Needless to say, for my move this go around, Budget was not at the top of my list for truck rental.

So I made a reservation at Uhaul. Unfortunately however, when Uhaul called to confirm my reservation, they could only offer a truck from 3pm on Saturday till 6am on Sunday—and we needed more time. My moving partner, Jon, called Budget and they offered a truck from 9am on Saturday till 9am on Sunday. We decided to go with Budget—afterall, it had been a few years. Maybe things had changed?

They hadn’t. As we drove down a long winding alley to the back of a very poorly maintained parking lot, I had a bad feeling. There was only one rusting Budget sign hanging askance at the entrance to the lot. Two Budget vans, and two Budget trucks were parked oddly on the pavement.

We walked into the office, past rows of crated furniture stacked almost to the top of the large warehouse. Inside, three other people sat waiting. I remarked to Jon that this was perhaps the sketchiest truck rental place I had ever been inside. One of the waiting party members grunted a laugh. Apparently he agreed.

A few minutes later, a slightly overweight man, who clearly spent a lot of time pumping iron, walked in the door, cell phone attached to his ear, “What do you mean? I’ve got customers waiting? What am I supposed to tell them?” He looked over at us. “What’s your reservation name?”

“Kimball,” Jon said. The guy turned his attention back to the phone. “I’ve got Kimball here waiting. What truck am I supposed to give to them?”

Oh boy. Just what I wanted to hear.

Some of the truck sizes Budget offers. The 28 footer we were offered was bigger than the one on the far left.

Some of the truck sizes Budget offers. The 28 footer we were offered was bigger than the one on the far left.

They didn’t have a truck. Jon and I spent the next hour negotiating with the guy trying to figure out what to do. I called Uhaul and tried to see if they had any other reservations. The office owner called other Budget rental locations around Boston. Nothing.

We were offered either a 28 foot truck with an electric loading dock off the back…or a van. Nothing similar to the 17 foot truck we had reserved. Jon and I walked out to look at the 28 footer. I couldn’t believe that you didn’t need some kind of special license for that thing. There is no way that you could just rent and drive it.

We opted for the van. We decided that although it might take 17 trips, at least we knew we could park it.

After haggling on the price (the owner originally wanted to charge us the same price we had reserved for the 17 foot truck) and getting him to give us the mileage for free, we secured the keys and started on our way. Except that before I could drive two feet, I received all kinds of warnings from the van that something was wrong with the tires and I needed to check the engine. Based on my previous experience in Madison, I immediately hopped out and went in to ask the guy if I would be charged for this. He said no, he had noted the problem and it would be fine. As I left, I heard him saying to a new customer who had just arrived, “How do you think I feel, I have 15 customers coming in to get trucks after you and I’ve got nothing!”

Great, nothing like customer service.

How is it possible that you reserve a truck ahead of time and show up to nothing? I have no idea. But needless to say, I will not be renting from Budget (at least their trucks for moving) ever again. And I’m inclined to recommend that no one else ever rent with them either.

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Earlier this week, I received the following mind-blowingly boring email about carry-on regulations from American Airlines:

Dear Jaime [Argh, I have a double name!] Fowler,

We know that for many of our customers it is very important to know what to expect while traveling so that they can better plan their trip. Thus, in advance of the busy summer travel season, we are providing the following information regarding American’s carry-on baggage policies.

One key aspect of an airline’s carry-on baggage policy is that it must be consistent with the policy officially filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Our carry-on baggage policy is summarized below and can be reviewed in its entirety at www.aa.com/travelInformation/carryOnAllowance.

In addition to being in compliance with the FAA, it is important to us and our customers to avoid last-minute delays related to checking baggage at the gate. With that in mind, we have placed baggage “sizers” at curbs, check-in counters, and security access points to assist customers and our airport employees in determining whether or not certain belongings may be carried on board in accordance with our policy. Please note that overhead bins on some of our aircraft may accommodate differently sized baggage; however, the size of the carry-on item as specified in the FAA filing is the key factor and the “sizers” are designed in accordance with those specifications.

We value our customers’ time and travel experience. The carry-on baggage policy is intended to maximize convenience while satisfying the FAA’s requirements. We hope that you find this information helpful and very much appreciate your cooperation on this important matter.

Thank you for your business.

American Airlines

Tip: For greater accessibility in flight and upon arrival, and to maximize the availability of space on board, aim to use the bin over your seat for your larger carry-on bag, while reserving the space under the seat in front of you for a personal item.
Policy Summary: When traveling within the United States, each customer may carry on one bag plus one personal item, space permitting. The carry-on bag must not exceed 45 inches when adding length plus width plus height. A personal item is a smaller item such as a purse, briefcase, laptop or similarly-sized bag or tote. Bags and personal items that fit in an American Airlines baggage sizer will comply with FAA-approved policy.

I have to say despite the fact that I flew United, I think this email may have been in direct response to some of the people I saw traveling this past weekend. On Sunday, when going through security on return, I saw all kinds of people trying to get bags that were too big through X-ray machines or walking through the sensors not realizing they had wallets, cell phones, keys, or other random pieces of metal in their jeans. One woman directly behind me put a full-sized Dasani water bottle on top of her laptop in one of the security bins and was saying to another passenger “I’m so glad they allow water now” as we passed a trashcan full of water bottles, soda cans, and other banned liquids.

In my head a flutter of questions: Seriously? You understood that you needed to take out your laptop and disaggregate all of your makeup, but you thought a full bottle of water would be a good idea? Something that for years has not been allowed on planes? What memo did you think you received that liquids are now allowed on flights? Did you see the 15 signs on the way from the entrance to security?

Don’t get me wrong, I know this stuff can be confusing. I myself have almost had it out with numerous security personnel over everything from whether “cream cheese” is a liquid (according to Monterey airport it’s not, but San Jose it is) and whether when you have your wallet in your hand to show your ID it’s considered a third bag—don’t even get me started on that.

So I appreciate that sometimes it helps to test the system—why not see if this bag marked ‘over-size’ goes through the X-ray machine? Why not try to bring your personal gallon milk jug through security? But there are some basics that if you travel frequently enough, are just no-brainers. And for those that missed the posted signs, the questions at check-in, the announcements from security personnel,  and the death stares of other passengers as they judge your filled water bottles (i.e., me), there are always friendly, albeit mind-numbing reminders from American.

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