the missing congressman
A few weeks ago, D served as the control officer for a congressional visit that passed through Nairobi. Control officers are responsible for the schedule, logistics, and successful execution of the trip – a daunting task that was made far less so by the fact that the Congressman in question was merely flying through Nairobi. With no meetings to schedule and no hotels to book, all D had to do was to arrange for the DCM to meet with the Congressman at the airport lounge during the latter’s layover at JKIA. Sounds simple, right?
At first it looked like everything would go smoothly – D’s timing was spot-on and after sitting in traffic for a little over an hour, he and the DCM arrived at the airport 20 minutes before the Congressman’s plane was scheduled to land. D had requested the services of an expediter – one of half a dozen Kenyans who work for the Embassy and whose job it is to liaise with airport authorities. The expediter met the car at the curb, escorted the greeting party through security, and led the way to the gate through which the passengers would disembark.
The passengers started arriving right on time; the only problem was that they were coming off a completely different flight. No matter – minutes after the last passenger had entered the terminal, another plane pulled up and a new batch of arrivals emerged through the gate. Alas, they too proved to be from the wrong flight. The expediter disappeared for 10 minutes, then returned insisting that he had the right gate and that the plane had not yet landed. It seemed plausible, but as time ticked on with no sign of the Congressman, D began to worry.
One of the Congressman’s staffers had scanned and emailed D his business card. Unfortunately, the number on it was for the office in DC. While D was speaking to a secretary and hoping against hope that the staffer had been issued a travel BlackBerry, the expediter disappeared again. This time, he returned in a hurry and with a worried look on his face. The plane had landed at a different gate.
A frantic twenty minutes followed, during which the expediter led the rush – first to the correct gate, which was by then completely empty, and then to the business class lounge, which was full but conspicuously lacking in US Congressmen. D finally managed to get a hold of the staffer’s BB number, but to no avail. He called and called, but got no answer. The expediter left again, then called D from the transit desk, where all travelers who have a connection through JKIA are required to register, to assure him that the Congressman had arrived and that he must be in the lounge, his obvious non-being there notwithstanding.
Failing to think of anything else to do, D mechanically dialed the staffer’s number for the thirtieth time, and this time his call was miraculously answered. The delegation had gotten tired of waiting and had proceeded to check in to their next flight. Thankfully, the layover was long enough that there was still time to go to the VIP lounge for the briefing the DCM had come to give. Disaster averted.