A while back I wrote this piece after a very bad experience at the airport. I think I actually wrote this on the plane after it was late taking off. I hope you enjoy it, it's a bit long, though. I decided to repost this after reading Laura B.'s Choose & Defend for today.
Joy of Flight?
August 7, 2005
I am fairly certain that the Wright brothers had no idea what their invention would truly become. Before I started at this company, it had been about five years since my last airplane flight. Since then, the 9/11 attacks had taken any remnant of fun that was airline travel and soundly thrashed it to its demise. It is recommended to show up at the airport two hours before boarding, which is a catch-22 because if the airport is crowded, getting to the gate on time can become a race against the clock. When the airport is not busy I end up sitting at my gate bored stiff and going into serious nicotine fits.
I have no problem showing my ID to prove that I am AlienCG and not Achmed Bhlomiselfup, but to have to show it to three different people at three different points within the same airport is ridiculous. The kicker is in the small airport when the TSA official is watching me get my ticket at the counter and still insists on seeing my ID. I did not magically change my name in the ten feet to the security checkpoint.
Every time I hand my suitcase and toolbox over to security, I get a sinking feeling in my gut. My toolbox is the bigger worry since it contains PC boards, tools, wire and proprietary items that can make most people scratch their heads. It only has one clamp to hold it closed (another tech took the other clamp) so I have a lock on it to keep it from opening. Unfortunately, I have to unlock it if I give it to the ticket agent and it goes on the conveyer to the screener in the back. I prefer giving it right to the TSA agent up front, keeping it locked and waiting to see if they need to hand inspect it, then I get to lock it again when they are finished. So, I have a 50/50 chance of actually getting my toolbox in the same condition when I arrive at my destination.
The security gate is the fun part where I learn all about the people around me. Remove the computer from the case, empty my pockets of everything, take off my shoes (why do I wear high-tops to the airport?), remove my belt (it caused me to get a wanding on my first plane trip) and have my boarding pass ready for the security personnel. The emptying of the pockets is nothing, but I have no idea who was standing on that floor in their bare feet before I was. Remember, most people walk a long distance from the parking garage to the security checkpoint and feet tend to get sweaty. I am standing there in my socks, soaking up all sorts of wonderful, foreign bacteria. Once the scrutinization of my personal items has come to a close I am now free to get dressed and collect all my personal belongings, kind of like being in jail and set free within a five minute time span.
After the inquisition has ended and I am properly clothed and all my stuff is back where it belongs, I walk to the gate to catch my flight. Somehow I always manage to get a ticket for a flight that boards at the gate which is at the furthest point of the concourse. This means walking about a mile, through the lines of restaurants, overpriced newsstands (a $0.50 newspaper for $1.00?!) and little kiosks that seem to cause a bottleneck in foot traffic. Once at the gate, people are sitting in the seats in such a way that there is no way to sit without being right next to somebody. Anybody who knows me knows that I prefer to sit with as much distance between myself and others as humanly possible. Now that somebody picked up their bags and ran off to the Starbucks, which is even more overpriced in the airport, I can have a seat and wait for the plane. There are TV monitors all over the place showing CNN or Fox News. Many people would say that this is a good idea, but there is a downside. The last thing I want to hear about prior to boarding my flight is anything about plane crashes or imminent terrorist attacks, they kind of ruin the mood. I always pray for the plane to be ontime, but inevitably a bird will land on the runway and cause a three hour delay.
The plane lands, people get off and after a short time the boarding process begins. First the passengers who have special requirements and unattended kids are allowed to board, then the preferred customers and finally the rest of the cattle (I am in this group). I always ask for an aisle seat and hope that the flight isn't crowded so that I don't have sit next to anybody. I wouldn't mind sitting next to someone if they fit my criteria (cute female without a boyfriend), but it is always some jerkass businessman who lets out a groan when the order to turn off cell phones comes down. The seating in planes is designed to maximize passengers while minimizing comfort for people of above average height, which means my knees are crushed for the duration of the flight and God forbid the person in front of me reclines. The plane taxis to the runway and the flight attendant is giving the usual instructions (which looks like third base coach at an Indians game), about oxygen masks, smoking in lavatories and seat cushions that can be used as floatation devices in case of a water landing. At long last, the plane takes off, my knees are screaming in pain and it's only three hours before I can get out of this sardine can.
Once on the ground I have to locate baggage claim and pray the my luggage made it. It almost looks like a lottery down by the carousel as people seem to have looks of anticipation as the next bag comes through. Miracle of miracles, my suitcase made it and bringing up the rear is my toolbox, lock intact this time. Will wonders never cease? Now I have to find the rental car counter. There no less than twenty-seven different companies offering cars for rent. Twenty-six of them are ten feet away. Guess which company is not on this level? Correct, the company where I have my car reserved. That company is up the elevator to the third floor, down the escalator to the second floor, out the door, around the corner, through the crystal gates and down five flights. OK, maybe not that bad, but when pulling a toolbox with a suitcase perched precariously on top and a computer case over my shoulder, it feels like that. Once again I must prove who I am, but it is also for a rental car so they do need to see that my home state trusts me to drive. I always rent a mid-size, or intermediate car, but the person behind the counter always tries to talk me into upgrading for the low price of only $45 more per day. I am paying with a company credit card and I don't think the boss would much appreciate that.
Take my advice, drive everywhere.
There you have it. I hope you didn't fall asleep while reading it. Better yet, print it out and while you're waiting for your flight, read it over. By the time you're done, they would have annouced that your flight is delayed. Have a good day.