Friday, January 4, 2013

Good Report - Dos

Due to a combination of John Good's hectic schedule as PG-crew and the fact that the information superhighway doesn't quite go through here, his blog posts tend to appear a day after he writes them. Yesterday he wrote:

Today's feature was wind - not the truly dangerous wind of several days ago, but undeniably substantial.  It was a north wind (south of the Equator, that's a warm wind) and we had plenty of sun (indeed, no clouds at all), so most of the wet areas on the airfield have now dried out rather nicely.  But it blew a fairly steady 25 knots all day, which was enough to cause practice tasks to be cancelled - which certainly pleased those who chose not to tow their gliders to the takeoff grid.  Some few gliders actually launched and predictably struggled; I heard no reports of any significant cross-country flying.

Today's mission for PG (that's Phil Gaisford's Discus 2B) was the BBP (belly beautification project).  This involved finding space in a hangar (to escape the wind), turning the fuselage upside down, and making the underside beautiful by means of polish and tape to seal gear doors, tailwheel and CG hook.  Glider pilots probably pay less attention than they really should to parts they don't regularly see, but the air sees all and it's reassuring to know that nothing on the glider is holding the pilot back.

Since it was a quiet day on the soaring front, I'll tell the (rather long) story of my arrival in Buenos Aires a week ago.

Due to a flight cancellation in Philadelphia (another story), I was a day late departing, but my flight out of Dallas touched down in sunny Argentina at 9am Friday - just a few minutes late.  At the passport control area I was somewhat daunted to find a good thousand people there ahead of me.  But the line seemed to be moving and indeed a mere 45 minutes later I'd snaked my way to the front of the queue.

My passport passed muster, but there was a problem: I was unable to present proof of having paid the "reciprocity fee".  This is a fee that applies to citizens of Australia, Canada and the US - presumably because these nations levy a similar fee on citizens of Argentina.  The cost is $160, and until Dec. 27 - the day I was supposed to arrive - it was possible to pay this where I now stood.  But as of the 28th the procedure changed - this now has to be paid online, in advance.

Fortunately, it was possible to pay this fee by leaving the passport control room and joining another line containing several hundred would-be Argentina tourists who, like me, hadn't got the word.  Unfortunately, at the head of this line was no human, but simply a terminal.  The process was thus dreadfully slow - picture grandma and grandpa, after 10 hours on a full Boeing 777, trying to navigate the tolerably complicated process of paying the fee online, with no one to help them.  At the rate this line was moving, it was looking like a 4-hour process.

I decided to try for an internet connection with my Android tablet (a new purchase for this trip).  A weak signal was available, and after about 15 minutes I was through most of the screens and just about to supply my credit card info, when the connection failed.  It seemed likely that service might be better elsewhere, so with some misgivings I left the line and indeed found good service at the top of a long escalator.  After some additional struggle the fee was paid, and it was time to wonder what sort of proof I'd need to show.  My tablet was displaying a screen that said "Your reciprocity fee has been paid - your confirmation number is 0283477."  Feeling this might suffice, I made my way back to the passport control room.

Fortunately, I'd been told I did not need to again wait through the 45-minute line (which looked as if had grown to a solid hour).  Unfortunately, there was no one at the front of the line to explain this to people who naturally resented what they though was a queue-jumper.  But I was able to get to a passport-checker who looked at the screen I'd preserved.  It was clear he was willing to accept non-printed evidence, but he explained that he needed to see full information: name, passport number, transaction ID, etc.

With no wireless service in the passport area, it was back to the top of the escalator (about a 3-minute walk, dragging my two bags).  I was able to display a different screen that indeed showed all the required information, so I made my way back to the passport control line, to once again be scorned as a queue-jumper.  My passport checker agreed that the information looked about right, but explained that it was not in the correct format, and lacked an important barcode at the bottom.  So it was back up the escalator where I finally did what should have been obvious: display the screen that is the printable image.  Now feeling confident, I made my way to the passport hall for the fourth time, and was at last cleared for entry to Argentina, a mere 2:45 after my flight arrived.

Great fun.

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