A grumpy old flyer
I’ve been told I’ve been getting crankier every year, usually by some whiny young punk, but I suppose it could be true. I don’t feel crankier, maybe a touch less tolerant of fools and nonsense than I was when I was younger but I honestly believe that life is becoming more ridiculous and foolish. It’s true!
Let me give you just one example; there was a time when I liked going to the airport, I’ve always enjoyed traveling and the airport represented the beginning of a new adventure. Over the last decade or so going to the airport and commercial air travel have gone from being an adventure to being a royal pain in the backside.
I remember strolling into an airport without a ticket an hour before a flight, buying a ticket to visit my family in Boise without showing an ID, checking my luggage free of charge and walking straight to the gate to board my plane. Once aboard the airplane I would relax, cross my legs and enjoy the flight. It may sound crazy but 20 years ago, you always had plenty of elbow room to enjoy eating your complementary meal. That’s right we had elbow room … and free meals!
Now when I fly I buy my ticket two weeks in advance so I have a 50/50 chance of not getting stuck in a middle seat. Even with a reservation I show up at the airport at least two hours early so I have plenty of time to wait in line. Waiting in line has become a prominent part of modern commercial air travel.
First you wait in line to check your bags and get your boarding pass. This is usually a chaotic process because I’m almost always on my own trying to check in using a computer kiosk that requires a major credit card, a biometric eye scan or some sort of DNA sample. This machine asks you a series of questions about your destination, how many bags you’re checking, who won the 1947 World Series. I’m not sure what happens if you fail this preflight test but I assume a trap door opens under your feet and you’re dropped into some sort of TSA screening room.
If I successfully pass the kiosk exam the machine will print out my boarding pass and baggage claim receipt. Next I get to speak to an actual human being who asks me to provide a photo ID before accepting my luggage, I guess it’s important to prove it was actually me who paid $60 to bring along my extra shirts and underwear. I’m not sure why it matters or why anyone else would pay $60 to send my extra shirts and underwear along with me, but that’s what we do now.
Next I stand in line at the TSA checkpoint so I can once again produce photo ID to prove it’s really me traveling with my extra shirts and underwear. Once again, I’m not sure why anyone else would claim to be me just so they could fly to Boise with my luggage but it seems important to the TSA folks.
Of course there’s always another line to stand in waiting for my turn to remove my shoes, belt and dignity while passing through the TSA checkpoint. If I wasn’t grumpy before, passing through the TSA checkpoint is sure to do the trick! For Cold War veterans like me, submitting to “screening” at the airport feels a lot like passing through “Checkpoint Charlie” passing from West to East Berlin. Good times.
There’s still another line to stand in once you reach the boarding gate. By the time you’ve survived the lines to check-in, get your ID checked and assumed the position while being scanned by the TSA mystery machine everyone is a bit edgy and in a hurry to board the aircraft. Because of my foul mood I usually wait as long as possible before strapping myself in, shoulder to shoulder, with a perfect stranger who’s also in a foul mood.
I know this sounds like a rant from a grumpy old guy but, seriously, commercial air travel doesn’t have to be this way. Try flying on a foreign airline, generally you get more legroom, free drinks (including booze), an actual meal and your bags fly free.
Maybe youngsters who never enjoyed a pleasant airline experience have different expectations or maybe I’m just a cranky old guy… either way next time I’m driving to Boise.
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.