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Friday, September 5th, 2003

german efficiency

“Blah blah blah blah,” announced the voice over the PA system, although in German the words actually had meaning, or at least, I assume so. The message (I’m told) directed passengers to note the “zone number” printed on their boarding cards, to facilitate the boarding of the airplane. My wife translated the anouncement as she extracted our boarding cards from a carry-on bag full of sensitive electronic equipment. “That’s Lufthansa for you,” she gloated, “German efficiency.” She was feeling her heritage.

A few minutes later, preboarding began. Teeming crowds of families, apparently from countries that don’t espouse birth control, with too many bodies and more suitcases than legs, swarmed the gate and were slowly absorbed through the doors.

We would board with zone 4. Given our high row number I assumed we’d be among the first unencumbered passengers on the plane. But no, the gate scientists of Lufthansa are beneficiaries of advanced degrees in crowd-control technique. Their ways are not the ways of common sense. Ice is a fluid, sherbet has only 1 ‘r’, and no matter what you might believe to be true, sometimes boarding the rear of the aircraft first is not the efficient way to do it.

“Now boarding zones 1, 2, and 3,” said the PA voice in two languages.

Err, what? Why would they go to the trouble of assigning zone numbers if they don’t intend to use them? Well, it’s Lufthansa, we considered. They must have a reason.

So we waited. Many people pressed through the turnstiles. The crowd size dwindled. Soon nobody was left in line, although some still occupied seats and a handful more, edgy-looking types, hovered around the periphery in hopes of being first in line for their respective zones. I approached the desk. “Are you still boarding only zones 1 through 3?” I inquired. “You can board,” came the reply, with a look that said (after translation) “you have a dumb question only asked!”

We passed through the gate and walked down the jetway to find about 100 people queued up, waiting to get on the airplane. A brief survey revealed nearby passengers bound for all five zones on the plane. It took us a long time to reach the door to the aircraft.

Why were we waiting in line in the jetway? Why did the gate agent call three rows at once and the other two not at all? These are the mysteries of professional German plane-filling. You might think that by boarding the rear first, they could cut down on the time people spend waiting for the aisles to clear. But this is precisely why you’re sitting in your chair reading my journal rather than calling zone numbers for Lufthansa. Face it, some people just don’t have what it takes to compete at the international level.

posted to channel: Travel
updated: 2004-02-22 22:49:16

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