With all this recent attention to airlines and flight safety, I thought I’d share my most recent flying experience.
It was June of 2009. My sisters, my mother and I were having some only-occasionally-productive talk at my mother’s home in Charlotte, NC. My mother left for her adult day care, and my sisters and I continued on, though I was trying to end the conversation at every opportunity.
One of my sisters was driving my daughter and me to the airport. She asked me the night before when I wanted to depart for the airport. I said that I wish to leave the house by two hours before the flight leaves. That would be 9:25 a.m. for an 11:25 a.m. flight. With a 20-30 minute trip to the airport, this seemed reasonable at the time for a domestic flight.
Except the talking continued, though I was no longer initiating any of it, but rather, periodically, whirling around my arm like an NFL field official restarting the clock. Finally, at 10:10, we left.
We’ve both been to the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport before a number of times, but somehow, this trip, we miss the exit. We end up four miles away and have to double back. I do not panic. I do not shout. I do, however, say, in the most rational tone I could muster “I am now officially concerned about this situation.”
She drops me off at the airport and suggests that I check my luggage in at the kiosk in front of the airport. I considered this a useful suggestion. The only trouble was that none of the kiosks were for Delta, my carrier. So that was not an option.
I go inside and go to the the first Delta counter. Unfortunately, and it was marked, though I didn’t notice in my haste, that first line was only for three cities, Minneapolis and two others. But not Albany, NY.
By then, my sister has parked the car. I am in another long line waiting to get to either a person or a check-in machine. By the time I DO get to the machine, I have no idea how to operate it. It is asking for my password. I HAVE A PASSWORD? Fortunately, some kind gentleman suggested that I ought to swipe any of my credit cards. Sure enough, that worked. Scary, but good.
Not so good was the fact that it was, by then, 11:03. As I said, our flight was at 11:25. So my daughter and I could get on the flight, our carry-on luggage could get on the flight, but our checked bag could not. Was there another flight I could take? Not that day.
What took then was probably very comical to watch. My sister and I are switching items from bag to bag in the TSA line. Books, dirty clothes and whatever else I were schlepping. I didn’t NEED my worn underwear at that moment, so that went into the suitcase staying behind, whereas some medicines, except for the liquid ones we knew wouldn’t get past the screeners, went into the carry-on. I think that any sense of possible mortification was trumped by panic and adrenaline.
At one point some TSA guy barked at me, “You’re holdin’ up the line.” I replied in kind, “No, I’m NOT.” Which I wasn’t, actually. Still, note to self: don’t yell at TSA screeners, even if they yell at you.
My daughter and I are running to our gate as they are calling our names at said gate, and we got home together in one piece. I did forget a couple things I wish I had taken, but we got them eventually, as my sister sent the suitcase to the Greyhound bus station, and I retrieved the bag when it arrived two days later.
Since I’m thinking about flying, I should note that I’ve been hearing a lot about the potential change of rules, but I’m not clear exactly what I that means, even after looking at the TSA website. Of the ideas that have been floating around, I particularly hate the idea of not getting up during the last hour of the flight to go to the bathroom. Do any of these people suggesting this have a five-year-old? It doesn’t make me feel safer; nor the “nothing on the lap” rule. And I must wonder: If the government can somehow create safe air travel, will this mean that the other forms of transportation are at greater risk? I have to think so.
Maybe I should just stay home? Nah, but air travel, which I’ve long described as a flying bus – remember the old days, when flying was considered special? – can only become less comfortable. What is the tipping point at which travelers will consider increased security and restrictions to be unacceptable trade-offs? I don’t fly enough for it to be a large issue for me personally. But I must believe that frequent fliers and the airlines that serve them must be worried what this will mean to the industry’s bottom line.