The Curious Case of our Air Freight

2012 October 13
by Ryan

So when we move we are allotted 450lbs of air freight (UAB – Unaccompanied Air Baggage). The idea behind UAB is that it will arrive relatively soon after you arrive at your new post. Household Effects (HHE) will often take much longer so the UAB is meant to fill the gap. Sometimes things go wrong and HHE arrives first. Sometimes things go very wrong and the UAB goes on a world tour. Ours got caught in the perfect storm.

We arrived in Dar on July 22nd. The mechanisms are supposed to be in place such that when the employee arrives, the new post will send word to the previous post that the employee is in-country and they can forward the UAB. Sadly, this did not happen. After a week of not hearing anything about our UAB I contacted Moscow to find out what happened to it. “We were waiting for clearance from Dar.” “So Dar didn’t tell you I was here?” “No.” Of course not. Thus we experienced our first problem:

1) The new post didn’t tell the old post we had arrived.

Well, I told them I was here and they promptly made shipping arrangements. On July 30th I got a AWB tracker that said our UAB was leaving Moscow on a Lufthansa flight and would be in Dar by August 6th. This is where I noted our second problem:

2) Lufthansa doesn’t fly to Dar es Salaam.

After flying through a couple intermediary airports it was to end up in Nairobi then forwarded to Dar an a non-Lufthansa flight. Ok, I didn’t really care, as it appeared the tracking mechanisms were in place to follow the UAB all the way to Dar.

August 6th came and went. In Dar, the crack shipping/receiving squad (of 4 people) assured me the UAB was on its way. After a couple weeks of no UAB I felt it necessary to stop by the shipping/receiving office no less than 2x/day. On Friday, August 24th they said the UAB would be arriving Monday. On Monday, they said Wednesday. On Wednesday they said they had no idea of where the UAB was and had no record of it existing. Wait … what?! They said there was no way for them to find out where the UAB was as it was not in their tracking software (and if it’s not in the tracking software obviously there is no way to find out where the shipment is. Contacting the person who actually shipped it – while obvious to many of us – was not obvious … or even possible for the F-Team). At this point I took matters into my own hands and was able to find our UAB with one email. This interaction exposed our third problem:

3) The shipping/receiving team in Dar are not independent thinkers.

Unfortunately the story only gets worse. Our UAB, which was supposed to get on a Lufthansa flight, was accidentally put on a British Airways flight. Here is the fourth problem:

4) Despite millions of dollars of tracking and security mechanisms, airlines don’t actually care what is loaded on their planes. Also the freight forwarder is an idiot.

So they figured out the problem in Heathrow and send the UAB back to Moscow right? Wrong. They loaded it onto another plane going to Washington DC – where it sailed through customs and then sat there for 3 weeks. And here we see problem number five:

5) US Customs doesn’t have a problem with a shipment arriving in Washington DC that should have gone to Dar es Salaam (a known terrorist transit country). They also don’t care that no one bothered to pick it up.

After I finally asked where our UAB was, the freight forwarder was able to track it down to Washington DC. Ok, mistakes were made – now let’s get the UAB on the next flight out of Washington to Dar es Salaam. It turns out that is easier said than done. While US Customs doesn’t care what comes in the country, they damn sure care what leaves. Finally the sleeping bureaucratic dragon wakes. The UAB wasn’t going to leave the US until every last piece of customs paperwork was accounted for. The problem is, there was no paperwork because the UAB was never supposed to be in the US to begin with. Wonderful. It took 2 weeks for the freight forwarder to sort through that mess and get the UAB on a flight back to Moscow (because for whatever reason, the UAB had to come back to Moscow first rather than take a more direct flight to Dar). I think we can safely make the following statement for problem number six:

6) The billions of taxpayer dollars that have gone to “strengthening our borders” after 9/11 would have been better spent making a 4 billion gallon fruit smoothie on the moon.

So the freight forwarder called a mulligan and started the process again in Moscow. The baggage went from Moscow to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Nairobi, then sat in Nairobi … for 3 weeks. Why did it sit in Nairobi for 3 weeks? Probably due to problem #2. So again I need to pester the freight forwarder to do the job they were paid to do. Eventually the UAB arrived – a little over 10 weeks after it was shipped. Amazing.

One Response leave one →
  1. Hannah permalink*
    October 13, 2012

    Pictures do your uab and hhe in your house, please!

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