The Bureaucratic Mindset

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It’s a long boring story but the upshot is my itinerary had me flying, in one day, from Bismarck, North Dakota to Denver to Phoenix to Los Angeles and back to Denver. That’s right: four flights between Bismarck and Denver with a layover in… Denver.

None of this was anybody’s fault but simply a result of separate reservations made to accommodate a changing schedule.

Checking-in at Bismarck Municipal airport, I explained to the United representative that since Denver was my “final destination” that I would only be taking the first flight, thank you very much, and that she should therefore only check my bag to Denver and not to LAX, which would have required me to collect my bag and re-check them to Denver (owing to separate reservations).

“You’ll lose your return flight” she explained. She said it in such a way that suggested less full-disclosure than “I’m not sure I can do that”.

My instinct was confirmed when, after gamely poking at a couple of computer keys for a couple seconds, she summarily informed me that it couldn’t be done. Before I could explain to her (in a way that would keep her dignity intact) that it could, in fact, be done, another United representative who overheard our exchange took up my cause. “Just go to bag management”, she said, pointing to a key on her computer.

Not surprisingly, the first representative’s can’t-do attitude remained unfazed. She implied that it could, in fact, be done, but that it would be “illegal” for her to do so. (For this I gave a small prayer of thanks that anything so hilarious could be uttered in Bismarck, North Dakota).

It become immediately clear that I was dealing with one of those bureaucratic souls whose can’t-do attitude blinded her to what should have been obvious.

Happily, uncharacteristically, competence reigned as the other representative took over while the Fearful One looked on with the resentment those who can’t have toward those who do. She was advertising her own refusal to learn anything from this experience – and the self-loathing that accompanies such refusal.

Within two minutes I was headed toward security with ticket in hand.

Whenever I encounter someone with the bureaucratic mindset I am reminded of a line – I think it’s Hannah Arendt’s description of Adolf Eichmann – that “He was less concerned with what pushing the button meant than with pushing it well”.

I arrived safely in Denver and my bag did the same only a few minutes later and the sun has since continued to set in the west and rise in the east.

Do you have experiences with the bureaucratic mindset and a can’t-do attitude? Share them in the comment section below.

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3 thoughts on “The Bureaucratic Mindset

  1. I was flying from LAX to Anchorage and needed to check a bag and so presented my ID and bag at check-in but had no way to know that the agent zeroed in on my middle name and checked me in under the reservation of one “Melvin Thomas”. I hastily pocketed the boarding documents and cleared security without producing them since I was travelling as a uniformed crewmember. Approaching the gate, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why I had three boarding passes? and who the hell is Melvin Thomas? and just where is my bag now checked to? Melvin’s destination was Dutch Harbor, Alaska which was where my bag was now to go. The flight was boarding so the agent told me to go directly to customer service at my Seattle connection so they could re-tag my bag for Anchorage, which I was keen to do. The oxygen thief I dealt with at SEA simply told me without opening a computer window nor making a phone call that this could not be done and that I should only file a claim for my missing bag upon arrival at my destination (at which time my bag would be enroute to Dutch Harbor on their affiliate’s once-daily service.) Along the way, I had determined that, while I had a 4-hour layover at SEA, my bag however had a very short layover. So, I then asked Ms. Oxygen Thief if perhaps I could be moved up to the earlier flight which my bag was booked on. Again, with no need to open a window nor pick up a phone I was declined. I then proceeded directly to the departure gate for the connecting flight which my bag was booked on and asked the gate agent if there was space for me to be accomodated at which point she was obliged to inquire whether I had any checked bags; I simply responded, “Not any more.” In this way I was able to stay with my bag at least as far as Anchorage where they had no problem isolating it from the several bags designated for Saab 340 regional service to Dutch Harbor. The earliest my bag could have been retrieved from Dutch Harbor would have been upon the return of the NEXT daily service at which time I would be operating my flight to Hong Kong and onward for several days without my bag.

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