Sunday, May 7, 2017

You're Now Free To Move About the Country- if you can get through TSA.


While I enjoyed flying in the Navy immensely, flying commercial is probably one of the least fun things to do fully clothed.  And it wouldn't be any better unclothed.  Not that I would know personally of course.  The airlines tend to frown upon naked people on airplanes. Now actually flying a commercial airliner would probably be fun, but flying in it is what sucks.  Almost nothing to do with commercial airline travel is pleasurable, unless you’re paying for some serious sucking up, AKA Business or First Class.  And even that only makes the seat more bearable and customer service a bit kinder and gentler.  There’s always a premium on the customer service that everyone should be getting.

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Sure, it wasn’t always that way.  Flying used to be quite enjoyable.  My first flight was from Medford Oregon to San Diego (through SFO), a ticket on United Airlines, purchased by the good old U.S. Navy to transport the 18-year-old me to San Diego for some sort of swearing in ceremony.  Memorable since it was my first flight of course, but also because the plane was almost empty.  I think I had the whole row to myself, both sides of the aisle.  This was before some significant airline consolidations around the country and somehow they could justify flying routes that were half full.  I suppose it was what led to the consolidations- undercutting the widespread competition was a race to the bottom, and none of it filled their airplanes.  PSA or Pacific Southwest Airlines, along with Horizon Air- a regional airline for Alaska Air (through Portland and Seattle) were the only three options out of Medford.  None of them really went to the same place with the same routing, but the prices were still low.  I flew home for Spring Break in ’87 on PSA and paid $109 round trip.  You can’t get on a short flight for double that fare now.  After the merger of PSA and US Air, they pulled out of Medford, leaving United as the sole choice for getting around the country, and the prices started to climb.  That same flight became far too expensive for my mom so I only went home at Christmas or Summer Break, and that was by Greyhound or hitching a ride with classmates.

Image result for greyhound bus

The one Greyhound trip I made took almost 48 hours.  And after meeting some of the strangest folks on earth, I vowed to never do it again.  I got a ’71 Bug a year later and drove the 1800 miles round-trip a couple times.  Flying?  Not on my own dime until I got that full time job with the Navy, and infrequently after that.  It was always somewhat exciting though since it was a rare occurrence.  There was also the joy in traveling fast- getting to the destination in a matter of hours what would normally take 2-5 days.

There was one flight to San Diego from Newport RI (Providence actually) which was in an oversold situation.  I took the offer of a later flight, a free flight voucher, and first class on the next leg which was quite enjoyable.  The guy sitting next to me learned that it was my first time up front and told me two things that are memorable.  He asked me if I knew why first class costs so much.  “It’s because it’s worth it”  He then advised me that when the flight attendant asks you something, the answer is always yes.  “Would you like dessert?”  Yes. “Would you like another drink?”  Yes. “ Would you like a deep tissue massage?”  YES!  Ok, the last one never happened, but if it does, I know what to say.

But this was before the world changed.

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After 9-11, with modes of travel having been turned into weapons of mass destruction, all excitement and joy was quickly sucked out of airline travel.  I understand the need to protect the flying public, and those on the ground from the flying terrorists, but that doesn’t mean I like it.  In their defense, TSA has a thankless job, but their bedside manner could use a lot of work.  Before they came around, flying was easy.  Now it’s one of the biggest pains in the arse this side of flying a triple-cycle recovery tanker mission without a seat-cushion.



When I fly for business, it’s often to the east coast which takes most of day and means early flights.  Waking up at zero-dark thirty, getting to the airport too damn early, which you can only be sure it's too early by getting there early enough to realize it.  If it wasn't too early, I'd be stressed out which makes it late in my book.  Then waiting in line for TSA can be frustrating because there’s never enough of them checking IDs and boarding passes.  Or you see a dozen in or around the gate, doing seemingly nothing.  Could it be that they’re scanning the crowd, looking for nervous passengers, trying to pick-up the tell-tale signs of the next shoe or underwear bomber?  Possible, but I just don’t see these folks as trained counter-terrorism experts.

   

Once you get past TSA’s ID check, you wait for the inevitable traveler who either is on their first flight ever, or has forgotten every rule that has been pummeled into our heads from news stories and by the TSA agents yelling out the rules: “PLEASE REMOVE ALL LIQUIDS FROM YOUR CARRY-ON, REMOVE LAPTOPS AND PUT THEM IN A SEPARATE BIN, TAKE OFF YOUR COATS, SHOES AND BELTS. REMOVE EVERYTHING FROM YOUR POCKETS.”  Then they wait a minute and loudly REPEAT THE WHOLE THING OVER.  Most folks have it down, but there’s always one who doesn’t, and that person is usually right in front of me.  

Remember flying before those full-body scanners?  I’ve lost track of how many times I saw some lady with either an armful of bracelets or an ear full of metal forgetting to remove them, causing the airport traffic jam.  I always seem to find myself behind someone who doesn’t know the rules, or forgets what they have in their bag- a bottle of water, their Costco-sized shampoo, a loaded Glock, or my sunscreen.  To the terrorist that started the “no liquids over 3.5 oz” rule- screw you.  After having a long history of skin cancer, I either have to try and sneak a bottle of sunscreen in my carry on, or pay $25 each way to check my bag.  Sure, I could pick up another bottle at my destination, but then I have to pay $8-12 for a bottle I’ll only use twice.  I’ll gamble on getting one past the ever-watchful TSA. Which I usually do.



It’s not just the newbie travelers of course.  The TSA isn’t exactly the DMV, but they’re no speed demons either.  There must be some pretty high turnover in that agency because it always seems like the person viewing the X-Ray scanner is under training, and trying to do extensive image analysis on whatever innocent item they see in someone’s bag.  I’m fortunate to be a government employee.  As such I have a “Known Traveler Number” which always gets me into the TSA Pre-Check line while traveling for business, and at least 50% of the time when flying for pleasure.  TSA Pre-Check is like flying before 9-11- just put your stuff on the belt and walk through the metal detector.

Empty TSA Pre Check line in San Diego

My wife and I flew to Savannah last weekend to visit the Teenangster for Parents’ Weekend at her college.  Somehow she got TSA Pre-Check and I had to line up with the rest of the cattle.  How’d it go?  Read back a couple paragraphs.  It doesn’t get any easier once you’re at the gate.  With the airlines being the money-grubbing capitalists they are, nobody wants to pay for bags which inevitably slows the boarding process as far too many folks try to carry on their luggage and hope for an overhead space.  You’re Boarding Group 5?  Good luck.  I’m glad I got on way before you!

I don’t fly a lot, but enough to board right after the nobility and Active Duty in uniform.  So you wait at the gate, wait on the jet-way, wait in the aisle.  This is because everyone has to hold up for somebody who inevitably (choose all that apply) gets in the wrong seat, gets in the wrong row, has to unpack all their stuff before sitting down, then attempts to find a spot for their bag.  Then you find out that person is sitting in the window seat after the aisle and center seat have already been occupied. 

While all this might make me sound like an impatient person, I’m really not.  I’ve learned to just go with the flow, as my impatience isn’t going to actually effect anything.- with TSA, with other passengers, with the weather.  I also arrived at the airport at zero-dark-thirty so I’m stress free!

The recent videos of bad airline customer service and passengers acting like whiny victims has taught me something though.  If they want to bump me, it could cost them as much as 10 grand.  Unless I really need to fly or I really need the money, I’ll hold out until they bring out the wheelbarrows full of cash.  If so, maybe my next flight will be up with the nobility. 



“Sure, I’ll have another drink!  Don’t forget my massage.”


P.S.- I learned from an airline buddy that your ticket is really only for passage.  The specific seat, the time, and even the day are up to the airline.  Sure, they have to compensate you, but usually somebody will accept voluntary compensation before they have to up the ante to the levels required by law.  They'll also pull some BS like telling my friend who bought two first class seats, one for her toddler, that her daughter had to be held on her lap.  This was to try to accommodate an elite last-minute passenger.  There are no rules requiring any child to be held, only when they must have their own seat (2 and up).  This might be one of the issues with this flight recently in the news.  In general, I abhor bad behavior by customers who are creating a scene (the Doctor on the United flight), the family at the link.  Sure, there might be poor customer service involved, but screaming or posting a video (when you're in the wrong) is also wrong.

20 comments:

  1. From what I'm reading, your buddy forgot one factor: according to the feds, once your butt hits that seat, you own it. They cannot force you off.
    That doctor had patients to see, so he was not interested in United's offers. Those idiots seem to forget that they are operating in the internet age. That video already cost United near 3/4 of a $Billion Dollars in stock value. They should have hired a private jet to shuttle that crew, and fired the scheduler that may have screwed up. Hell, for what this mess is ultimately going to cost them, they could have BOUGHT a business jet, and still been ahead.

    Why the nice words for TSA? Worthless bunch that does nothing for security. It's all just security theater, just for show. They have NEVER stopped a real threat, but fail every test that is run. Whole lot of people quit flying commercial due to their crap. I can't think of a more effective means to dissuade the public from flying, than to institute a hassle like the TSA entails. That group is an absolute joke. The passengers have stopped every cabin area threat since 9-11, in the US.

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    1. Yeah, they tried to BS her, but she didn't bite. Technically, they can force you off if they have a valid reason, but the compensation is required if so. Due to PR nightmares now though, they will just pay you to become a volunteer. TSA? Not really nice words- just understanding. They've been told to do what they do based on the threats. Doesn't make sense? Tell their bosses. As far as never stopping a real threat? What about the deterrent factor? The fact that they are there makes sneaking stuff through far more difficult than if they weren't there. A terrorist isn't going to try it since those scanners and the random checks make it difficult, if not impossible. Maybe they are a joke, and they fail on test runs, but the deterrent factor is still there.

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  2. There was a time when you received a genuine meal on a flight as a matter of course, and when they didn't hire flight attendants by the pound. (why hire a 110 lbs woman when a 220 lbs woman is also available?) You're right. It's a miserable experience. I fly for work quite a bit. There are a few foreign carriers who are worse than their USA counterparts. Air Guruda and Olympic Airlines come to mind. There are a lot that are better. The Russian airlines have prettier women as flight attendants and up in first class you get world class models serving you. I have a rule these days. If I fly for work, the customer pays for first class seating or I don't fly. If I fly on my dime, the frequent flier miles push me into first class. As you state (above), it's not good - but it's not as miserable as flying in the back, squished between two brick layers on their way to a rodeo with one kid screaming near you and another one kicking the back of your seat.

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    1. Fly Hawaiian and you get both a meal and a glass of wine! Emirates Air always had the Supermodels in my experience.

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  3. I hate all first class riders...smug rich pricks! Once on vacation coming home from Aruba, my wife led me to our first class seat. "What the?" "Happy Birthday, I used points to upgrade." The worst part of that flight was watching the "Little People" shuffle by going to their tiny cheap seats.

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    1. Not all of them! I flew to Bahrain 5 times in one year, pushing me into United Premier 1K, and I got upgraded to 1C on the next few flights!

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  4. In October of 2007, I flew out of the then Mid Continent in Wichita on United for the Eldest Son's wedding. When the TSA agent saw the US Navy Retired ball cap, I got head of the line privileges.......
    Seriously amazed.

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  5. I have actually had only a couple of bad experiences with commercial flying. Usually weather related causes delayed or cancelled a flight.

    While I personally have never been hassled by TSA, I know some who have. As in any line of work, you get the ones who are conscientious and actually good at their jobs, you get the complete assclowns who need a recording reminding them to breathe, and of course the vast crowd in the middle, the average.

    Commercial flying can be uncomfortable, it can be annoying but 99% of the time it gets me from point A to point B quicker than any other mode of transportation. If we want to be pissed off at somebody, look to DC. Again, no problems were solved by creating this check-in nightmare, but it had the appearance of of doing something. For the politicos it's all about appearances.

    And no flight I've had on a commercial airliner yet was worse than flying in the cargo hold of a transport.

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    1. Returning from Savannah wasn't without difficulty. The second leg was canx due to weather, but we got re-routed on another flight though LA. I'm lucky that I haven't experienced too much of the horrible-ness others report. Not flying in winter helps I suppose. The size of seats kind of sucks though- smaller than they used to be- and I'm no NFL or NBA star. I agree it's about the appearance, but I probably stops some folks from trying something. You just can't prove a negative.

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  6. As directed by TSA, I am standing in some machine that will reveal my inner thoughts, or find out that I have ignored Mom's advice about clean underwear. I look over at the TSA guy and say, "You know this didn't go so well for Jeff Goldblum." He furrows his brow for a few seconds and then he cracks up.

    You have to find the ones that are not cyborgs and forge a connection.

    My wife and I were flying home from the UK and we had just seen the sign board at Paddington Station announce that all trains to Heathrow were cancelled. (including our train with the bought in advance tickets) I watched the British Rail staff get abused by the irate stranded travelers and when the BritRail female was alone I approached her and asked, "Excuse me, I know you are having a tough day, but do you have the patience for just one more totally stupid question?" She laughed and said, "You want to know how you are going to get to the airport, right?" "I replied, "Yes please." She then pointed to the ticket agents and said they would refund our tickets in cash, then she pointed to the tube ticket machine and gave us directions to buy our Tube tickets and how to get to Heathrow.

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    1. The bad attitudes never help, from either side. I watched some ticket agent get harangued by some customer one time. I was next in line and noticed she had a pin stating that she was an Air Force Mom. I knew she didn't deserve the s#!t she got from the last guy so I asked her how she's doing and thanked her for her son's service. I got upgraded to business.

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  7. Debra Reynolds (doorkeeper)May 7, 2017 at 7:44 AM

    Just got back from an international flight, vacation in the Caribbean (Grenada, my daughter is in the Veterinary school there). We flew JetBlue from Syracuse NY to JFK to Grenada, and back a week later. I wonder if my experiences are better because I start in small airports?? The only problem we had was a delay at JFK because our connecting flight (on the way home) was delayed, and that was from runway construction. 2 hours....in the middle of the night. With a 3 hour drive home, we just grabbed a cheap motel room and rested. BTW, there's no "first" or "business" class with them, only a small section of "even more room" seats, and we got upgraded on one of the long flights. They're nicer, but not hugely so. TSA gave us little problem, although they weren't real friendly at JFK (and I hate having to retrieve your baggage and load it yourself, when coming in from overseas!) The main adjective I'd use for flying is tiring.

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  8. TSA - thousands standing around

    All I know for sure is it takes a lot longer to fly anywhere today, compared to, say, back in the '60s, when I could just walk into the airport and buy a ticket from Sandy Eggo to SFO for $21.95 on PSA and fly home for the weekend.

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    1. "TSA - thousands standing around"
      I use another for TSA: Totally Stupid A**holes.

      Paul L. Quandt

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  9. It would not be so bad, if we could point to just one or maybe two examples of the TSA actually intercepting a terrorist- they seem to have endless stories of finding some schmuck who forgot to take his gun out of the briefcase, and great pride in pointing to the worlds biggest collection of pocketknives, but stopping an actual terrorist? Never heard of one- all the terrorists seem to be interdicted by the passengers when they ARE ALREADY ON THE PLANE. Of course all screening really does is displace the kill zone from the aircraft to the security line...

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    1. See my previous comments. Getting something through isn't easy so the baddies don't try. As for the shifting kill zones- that's probably better- you won't have an airplane flying into a building anymore.

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  10. Think of it! The ferdal gubmint took a legitimate crisis and ran with it to create two completely new pools of big-gubmint voters. People who were utterly unemployable before and who couldn't manage to break into the ranks of mallkops and warehouse security are now equipped with jobs-for-life, ferdal benefits, triple-double time-and-a-half for up to 40 hours and double-secret time-and-a-half thereafter, sixty days paid vacation in addition to the 40 days paid vacation for ferdal holidays, and the list goes on.

    TSA employees have been convicted of on-the-job human trafficking, rape, kidnap, illegal alien smuggling, drug smuggling, hundreds of millions in theft. They don't lose their jobs until they've gone through a multi-layered appeals process which doesn't begin until AFTER their conviction appeals have been exhausted. If their firing is upheld, they then get a severance package based in part on their time on the job, including the time they spent in jail before being finally terminated. This is pretty much the same model used by the va.

    The job title says security. I'm skeptical.

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  11. I remember one year when I was doing the commercial airline pilot thing and we just hanging around the terminal on a long break, my copilots and the two flight attendants who hung around, on a long break. There was one route that was always overbooked, honestly you could drive it in a few hours but the flights were often overbooked, but frequent (like very hour or more). The gate agent did the usual "We will give you a $200 travel voucher anywhere Acme Airways flies, and of course, positive space on the next flight! This woman stands up and says "what if the next flight is to some place I don't want to go". Yup, they are that stupid and they're in coach.

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  12. I have to second your thoughts on riding as a passenger. I hate it as I don't know what those SOBs in the very front seats will do; they could kill me. I am qualified to feel that way as I was a C-130 driver and have a card from the FAA that has ATP on it. There was one guy I knew of in the AF that got on with a major airline. He had been busted back to co-pilot from instructor pilot a couple of times for stupid things he did (and how he even got back to instructor baffles me). I swore if I heard his name as pilot I would try to figure out how to get off the plane. I found out later that the airline finally fired him.

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    1. A -130 pilot? Big fan here, big fan. (Even if it is like flying in someone's basement. Well, back in "coach" anyway.)

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)