The 36 hour Workday

Okay, I have the attention of you management types out there.  Any slave driver would love to have a 36 hour workday for his workforce, but this was actually simply a flight home after one of the nastiest work experiences that I’ve ever had.


Our company had a project that needed closing out in India.  The two things that had not been done to complete the project and get final payment were to make the first sellable coil from the hot strip mill and provide three weeks of instruction.  As the training manager, I was to do the teaching with a team of three others.  The team consisted of an executive who was from that area of India and provided language, customs, and other knowledge, a mechanical engineer with experience in other places of Asia, and an electrical engineer who was flying over a week later, and me.  The executive left after the first week.


To get to India, we flew from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, the wrong direction.  From Cincinnati we flew to Frankfurt, Germany.  From Frankfurt, we flew to Mumbai.  I was told that you could smell the country at 10,000ft.  When we descended to about 20,000ft, a flight attendant burned something in the microwave, filling the cabin with a horrible stench.  I wondered if she was trying to mask the smell of India.


I had been in Thailand the previous year.  The smell of raw sewage wasn’t knew to me, but it took a few days to get used to the different smells of India.  I never got used to the hour-long drive to work.  There were no rules of the road, accidents every day, and so many ox carts.  After a month of never feeling clean and working sixteen hour days, seven days per week for the last three weeks, we were all ready to go home.


I got a telegram when we got back to Mumbai to catch our flight home.  There were problems at the steel mill where we had just left, and one of us had to stay.  It came to a coin toss between the mechanical engineer and me.  Either of us were knowledgeable and skilled to help fix the problems.  The mechanical engineer lost the coin flip and stayed.  That left the electrical engineer and me to go home the next morning, the 36-hour long Friday, actually a few hours more than that.  It was his first time outside the US, so I had to take the lead.


Being the training ‘manager’, it was up to me to stay up and call the office to confirm all of the necessary changes.  Before I went to bed, the electrical engineer called my room about midnight and said that he was a sound sleeper.  If he went to bed at the hotel, he would be unable to wake up at 3:00am to go to the airport.  I muttered a few words, nothing profane, just upset.  I told him to meet me in the lobby.  I called the front desk and changed the time for our driver to take us to the airport.  “Could it be right now?”  We checked out and were at the international airport by one a.m.  We were now on the clock.


We cleared ticketing and the Indian version of security.  By three a.m. we were resting in a waiting area.  I read a book while my associate slept.  Two hours later, we went through a second security checkpoint and waited at our gate for another hour.


We flew from Mumbai to Singapore to change planes.  We had not crossed the security line in Singapore, but we had to go through security again at the next concourse.  The official hand checked my forty rolls of film slowly and we nearly missed the connection.  The flight back to the States had a refueling stop in Tokyo.  My associate cleared customs and then returned just to get the stamp on his passport.  Resting in the lounge was the only thing on my mind.  I can’t sleep on the plane and I had now been up for over 36 hours, since early Thursday morning.


On the flight, I was watching the flight locator channel instead of a movie.  When we crossed the International Date Line, it was exactly midnight.  We were now living Friday all over again.  I checked my associate on a bathroom trip.  He was sound asleep.


We arrived in Los Angeles at about the same time, on the same day, as when we took off.  Before the doors to the plane were opened, my name was mentioned on the intercom.  Oh, Joy!  Something else was wrong.  The uniformed agent at the door pulled me aside and explained that the airline made a mistake.  We were on the flight to Los Angeles along with my associate’s luggage, but my luggage was placed on a flight to San Francisco.  The airlines was very apologetic.  Actually, one of his and one of mine was sent to San Fran, but I’m just relaying what I was told.


I cleared Emigration and sat with my associate for a few minutes to explain how the system worked.  Our flight was late, and it looked like we might miss the connection.  At this point, he was back on US soil and I figured, he could figure out how to get home.  I then walked empty-handed past the customs agent, declaring nothing.  The armed agent, behind the customs guy with the rubber stamp, drew his 45 caliber weapon and pointed it at me.  “Stop, sir.  Return to the carousel and get your luggage.”  Although it looked like he was pointing a cannon at my nose, I didn’t blink.  I had been awake for over 48 hours by this point.  I told him to talk to the uniformed representative of the airline, and pointed in his general direction.  Without waiting for him to holster his weapon or apologize, I shoved the double doors open and went to the shuttle buses.  Our connecting flight was in a different terminal.  Oh, Joy!


My associate showed up as they were boarding our flight.  He explained that the missing luggage was one of each of ours.  He recognized my bag and pretended it was his to get it past customs.  On the flight back to Pittsburgh, I missed the meal.  I missed us taking off.  I sat in my seat, opened my book to continue reading, and then we touched down in Pittsburgh.  I finally had slept on an airplane.


I completed my circumnavigation of the globe back in Pittsburgh.  As we were waiting for our luggage, my associate asked me, “It has now been 36 hours since we left the hotel to go to the airport in Mumbai.  What do I put on my timesheet?”  I explained that company policy was that we put eight hours down, regardless of how long it takes for travel.  They aren’t going to pay us overtime.  Be glad they are paying you for sleeping 30 of those hours.  His reply was, “That isn’t fair!  That flight was a day and a half.  Not one eight-hour day!”  I explained that it was Friday the entire time.  Live with it.


He again brought up the subject of the long flight home at work the next Monday while completing his timesheet.  The other guys and ladies in the office told him the same rule, eight hours.  I warned him to put down eight hours and not incur the wrath of the female accountant.


The other guys in the office then moaned about how hard it had been while I was gone.  That had gone to a convention in Orlando, and on one of the days they manned the company booth for twelve hours.  And besides, they only got free tickets to Walt Disney World for just one day.  How terrible.  I was not sympathetic, but I didn’t punch them in the face like I thought of doing.  Their flight home was three hours.  They put eight hours on their timesheets.  It was the rule.


A few days later, the beautiful female accountant showed up at my associate’s desk.  She was less than pleased.  She spoke firmly and loud enough for everyone on all three floors of the building to hear.  “What is this 36 hours on your timesheet for last Friday?”


“That’s how long it took us to get back from India.  It isn’t right to put false information on a timesheet.  Is it?”


She replied, even louder, “I don’t know what planet you come from, but when I try to enter more than 24 hours into the computer system, it spits up!  I’m changing it to eight hours, and don’t ever do that again.”



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