Prussian military philosopher Karl von Clausewitz introduced us to the concept of "friction" in military operations. According to Clausewitz, friction includes small, unforecasted events which inevitably occur during every operation, such as miscommunication, poor navigation, or misrouted supplies. Over time, a series of such small mistakes might eventually slow down an offensive. For instance, Helmuth von Moltke encountered friction during the early days of the First World War, when fierce Belgian resistance and swift Russian mobilization stymied the well-laid Schlieffen Plan.
According to legend, Napoleon would reduce friction in the Grande Armee by writing orders as simply as possible. The Corsican would then give the orders to a French corporal, noted for being the most dim-witted soldier in the entire Grande Armee. Should the corporal misinterpret the orders, Napoleon would revise them, thus ensuring that his orders were clear and explicit.
But while Napoleon's corporal was the cause of friction, I have the Defense Travel Service. (And a lieutenant) Verily, if DTS were a private travel agency, like Priceline, it's safe to say the organization would be bankrupt by now. Not even having Captain Kirk in your commercials can save you from such ineptitude.
Though I encountered considerable friction on my way to the airport this morning, I was fortunate enough to encounter two locals who also happened to need a taxi from the parking lot to the terminal. We decided to pool our money and grab the first taxi. Fortunately, the two Bavarians spoke English, so I struck up a little conversation.
"So, uh, what time is your flight?"
"Oh, ve do not have a flight." said one.
The two Germans giggled, "Ja, ve are just going to airport to drink."
My watch showed 6:30 in the morning.
"Ve live around here in Munchen, and ve vere just here for a party. But ze party is over and now ze airport is the only place to get beer".
Declining their gracious invitation to join them for a beer (or five) at 6:30, I arrived at the ticket counter. Fully prepared to eliminate any friction, I had my confirmation numbers in hand. Nothing could thwart my plans now.
Well, except for the fact that there was no ticket in the system. Yeah, despite multiple e-mails with words such as "Your ticket is confirmed", I still had no ticket. Fuck you very much, Mr. Clausewitz.
I consulted the ticket counter, carefully pointing out confirmation numbers for each leg of my flight. Indeed, something seemed particularly odd about having confirmation numbers for each leg of the flight and no ticket.
I then called the travel agency, which uses an American phone number. In its defense, however, the agency does accept collect calls. (Remember those? Neither do I. Time to rack up a cell phone bill. I'm currently on hold for my third call today as I type this).
According to the travel agency, despite having a confirmation number, no ticket was ever issued. Relaying this information to the Lufthansa representative got me little more than quizzical look.
"How, exactly, is that possible. That doesn't make any sense."
"Remember, this is the US government. They're not exactly the most competent organization in the world."
"Yeah. Ever heard of Wikileaks?"