What It's Really Like To Fly Right Now
(November 1, 2001)
What can you expect when you
check in for your next flight? Long lines…really long lines. I found
this out the hard way when I flew from Pittsburgh to Washington DC's
National Airport in mid-October.
Once Upon a
I took a late afternoon flight. Big mistake.
Although I arrived at the airport exactly two-and-a-half hours
before departure, the lines were massive and snaked through the
majority of the ticketing section. The whole scene was worse than I
anticipated. As the line moved—ever so slowly—I studied my fellow
line captives. Many were in zombie-like states with glossy-eyed
stares, while some read books or chatted on cell phones.
took an hour and fifteen minutes to reach the counter when I showed
my ID and finally took possession of the all-powerful boarding pass.
The ticketing agents handled everything efficiently, and I became
euphoric, thinking I'd have time to stop for a latte before the
My elation quickly
turned into despair as I faced another long line. What a difference
an hour makes. The security screening line was relatively short when
I first entered the terminal, but it has since grown into a
nightmarish sea of congestion. I had to walk five minutes just to
reach the end of the line.
It's safe to assume that flights
were missed because of this line. I thought I'd miss mine, and began
questioning the wisdom of flying right now. Is it worth the trouble?
Technically, I could have driven to Washington DC in a little over
Forty-five minutes later, I finally reached
security screening. There I noticed armed National Guard troops. In
a way, their presence made me feel safer. On the other hand, I found
it to be a sad reminder of the freedoms travelers have lost. An
agent scrutinized my boarding pass and ID and them told me to step
in another line for luggage screening. Panic was beginning to set in
as I only had twenty minutes to catch my plane.
signs everywhere telling people to remove loose change, keys,
glasses, and laptops from cases, and then place them in plastic
containers. Of course, the guy in front of me didn't empty all the
change out of his pockets, and the metal detector kept beeping. I
began to lose it and started laughing—sometimes you just have to
laugh these days or you'll go nuts. Thankfully, I didn't set off
anything or get my bags torn apart. I jumped on the train to the
airside terminal and glanced down at my watch. I had only fifteen
After reaching the
concourse, I rushed to reach the gate. I was sweating, my feet were
killing me, and I was even madder because I passed Seattle's Best
Coffee where I had hoped to sip a latte before the flight.
reached gate A5 eight minutes before departure, but had to wait in
line for my seat assignment. I showed my tickets and ID to the
agent, and then placed my ID back in my purse so I wouldn't loose
it. Right before boarding, I handed my boarding pass to the agent
and he again asked for my ID, which I struggled to retrieve from the
deep abyss of my purse. The agent got testy and said, "Ma'am, we are
in a hurry." I barked back, "I am doing the best I can," and gave
him a look that reflects the mood of someone who has had it with
standing in lines and flashing IDs for over two hours. Forget about
road rage or sky rage, I was close to terminal rage. Finally, I
fished out the ID and proceeded down the Jetway. I collapsed in my
seat while glancing at my watch: Four minutes to spare.
If there is one word to describe
flying right now it's "tense." There's tension in the lines, tension
at security screening, and tension at the gates…it is everywhere.
Talk to anyone who has flown since September 11 and you'll probably
hear the word "hell" in the conversation. Flying used to be fun for
people like me, but not now when the overall journey consumes three
hours or more before the flight even takes off. If the process
doesn't become more efficient, people will avoid airports like the
plague…rightfully so. The airlines should be afraid, very
The New Rules
If you are planning on
flying, here are some golden rules to
E-tickets: Check with your airline for
its e-ticket policies. Most major airlines are requiring passengers
to carry the paper receipt for their e-tickets, if not an actual
paper version of the ticket. Don't wait until the last minute to
turn your e-ticket into paper and get caught waiting in line at the
airport ticket counter.
Check-in Times: Allow
at least two full hours to check-in for domestic flights and two and
a half hours for international flights. Two- and three-hour waits
are common, particularly at the busy mid-morning and mid-afternoon
Checking Baggage: Check your luggage at
the airport ticket counter. Some airports have resumed curbside
check-in. Many airlines recommend that passengers check all their
bags (including carry-ons) to avoid longer
Carry-on Luggage: Minimize your carry-on
luggage as much as possible. You are limited to one carry-on bag,
plus a purse, computer, briefcase, etc. But be prepared to undergo
random searches and expanded x-ray/metal detector scans—the more
stuff you have, the longer it will take.
(ID): Bring a valid state-issued license, identification
card, or passport. Remember to keep it within reach at all
times—you'll be asked to show it a lot.
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