As the old saying goes, there’s a thin line between love and hate. Congratulations, US airlines, TSA, and airports all across the US. You have pushed me over that line, you have turned my love for flying into hate. It’s been coming for awhile now, and mostly, I’ve blamed the airlines–what with costly flight cancellations and delays, add-on fees, and increasingly cramped seating space designed to make flying ever more miserable–but the scales finally tipped on my trip home from Italy, and now, I’m not feeling overly fond of airports, either.
First of all, that 9 hour flight from Rome to Dulles nearly did me in. I’d been ill off-and-on throughout my whole trip, and I was really, really nauseated on the plane. I was so sick that for 9 hours, I could do nothing except sit there trying (and failing) to sleep and focusing on not throwing up. No reading, no writing, no movies. Just 9 hours of nausea. Thanks to my kind seatmates who offered me aspirin and Tums, I managed to make it through the flight and started to feel a little better as we were disembarking.
Then came the cattle call of Customs.
Wait–let me backtrack for a moment. When I was booking my flight home, I had exactly two choices for layover times: One and a half hours or six hours. (Thanks for the crappy flight schedule, United.)
I knew I did not want to have to kill six godless hours at Dulles. Next to O’hare, it is my least favorite airport on Earth; it has the worst dining choices ever and absolutely nothing to do to keep entertained. But being the pragmatic person I am, I knew it was unlikely I’d make a one and a half hour connection if I had to go through Customs. Ding ding ding—boy was I ever right! It took the entire hour and a half to get through Customs, collect my suitcase, recheck my suitcase and go back through security again. I never would have made it to another terminal and gate.
I totally forgot about having to go back through security again. I got caught with a nearly full bottle of water on me that I of course had to throw away because God forbid, it might have contained nitroglycerin or something (which makes no sense at all, because if I were a terrorist who had smuggled nitroglycerin onto an airplane, wouldn’t I have used it before we landed for maximum effect???), and then I had to buy a whole new bottle of water once I got past security.
If there’s anything about the TSA that really burns me, that’s the one: The liquids ban. I don’t mind having to take my shoes off, and I thankfully have yet to be molested in a pat-down, but I hate having to throw away perfectly good water! There are people in this world who don’t have clean drinking water and are dying because of it, and every day, scores of travelers in the US are being made to throw it out as we pass through airport security lines. That wasn’t even the worst of it. No, the worst was to come. Because apparently, at Dulles, it doesn’t pay to follow the rules.
I was probably the 50th person to enter the long, snaking line at security after exiting Customs. Everyone who saw the line groaned, because we were all tired, cranky, and just wanted to get where we were going. But rules are rules, and we all got in line like good little sheep.
Then some smartasses coming up at the back of the pack saw the empty lane that’s reserved for flight crews to go through security. They decided they liked the looks of that empty lane much better than the long line the rest of us poor fools were standing in, so they took it. Guess what happened to them?
They got through security before the rest of us, that’s what!
None of the officials at security stopped them, or told them they were in the wrong lane, or made them turn around and go to the back of the line where they belonged. They just cut ahead of us and got away with it. Naturally, that led to a flood of people coming up from behind who followed suit. Pretty soon, there was a long line of people who were suspiciously not wearing flight crew uniforms, but were using that lane to get through Security faster than the rest of us.
If there is one thing I despise, it’s a line cutter. Line cutters are narcissistic jerks who think the rules apply to everyone except them. I even saw three priests in the line cutter lane! (Way to lead by example, guys! I’m sure God would be proud.) But if you think I hate line cutters, you should have seen the guys ahead of me in our long, laboriously slow line. I thought a fistfight was going to break out.
These guys started confronting the people in the line-cutting lane, telling them what jerks they were for cutting the line. The line-cutters didn’t even have the decency to feel guilty. They basically passed the buck by blaming the airport personnel for not stopping them.
Can you believe that? I mean, really? Can you imagine using that defense in a court of law? “Hey, it’s not my fault I killed that guy. It’s his fault for not stopping me!” How do you think that would fly with a judge?
At this point in my long, long day, I didn’t have the energy to get as upset as the other people in line. I was going to be stuck in this godforsaken hellhole of an airport for the next six hours anyway, what did I care? But oh my God, those guys ahead of me in line were fuming. They were on a tight timeline for catching connecting fights as it was, and it was made worse when all these other people cut ahead of us in line. When we finally got close enough to the airport personnel to say something, they got an earful. You know what their response was?
Seriously. They did not give a damn.
So, Dear Airport Manager at Dulles or whoever-the-hell was in charge of those apathetic zombies: Your staff sucks. I think it’s high time you send your employees to Disney University to learn a thing or two about customer service and crowd control.
By the time I got back to Vermont, all I could think of was: Thank God I don’t have any more trips until September. How sad is that?
I guess my travel innocence has been lost. Gone are the days when the airport was my “happy place.” Gone is that joyful little lift in my heart when I see a plane taking off for parts unknown and wonder what sorts of cool adventures those people are headed to. Now all I can think about is whether or not my flight will be canceled or delayed, whether my luggage will be lost–or stolen by someone who works at the airport–and how many new ways the TSA will come up with to violate our civil liberties and dignity. My excitement about flying has been squashed like a bug on a windshield.
I still love exploring new places, it’s the getting there that’s become unbearable. And because I have limited vacation time to travel, driving or taking the train isn’t usually an option for the places I want to go. So here’s a plea to all the scientists out there: Please for the love of all that is holy, invent those transporters from Star Trek already! I’d rather have my molecules scrambled like an egg to get me to my destination (as long as they’re put back together afterwards, thank you) than put up with airports any more.
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I feel so much better now.
How do you feel about the airport/flying experience? Have you managed to find a Zen place for those days when you’re traveling by plane–and if so, what the heck is it?