The Airline Problem

While I am not a frequent flyer, I have been flying for a couple of years now. After today’s incident, I think it time that I vet my concerns. The ability to fly is a miracle, but the system around it is terrible. And that is unacceptable in this day and age. We have cars that can (mostly) drive themselves, but we can’t figure out an efficient way to manage a large pool of people to get from point A to point B?

And, honestly, I don’t think it isn’t something we can’t figure out. I truly believe it to be a problem of lack of interest. There are two major categories (speaking from the point of view of a US citizen). That is: national vs international flight. I have, on multiple occasions, almost missed my flight just trying to get through security on a national flight. That shouldn’t happen. Ever. This write up is more leaned toward national because I don’t fly internationally enough to have a decisive opinion.

On the flip side, I did miss my connecting flight (FLL to EWR) on my way back from a vacation abroad. Thanks so much to US Customs, TSA, United, and FLL Airport for making this happen. Here is the timeline of events:

  • We arrive at FLL on time (around 3:25PM EST). Our next flight leaves 4:35PM.
  • Due to the location we were arriving from, our flight had to park since it was so small (less than 10 people). However, we sit on the terminal for 10 minutes because, apparently, FLL doesn’t know where to put us. How this happens is beyond me because it is FLL’s job to coordinate incoming flights.
  • Once we park, we have to wait another 5 minutes for a bus to come get us so we can be taken to Customs. At this point, it is 3:40PM. Not bad, but we can still make it to our gate right?
  • Wrong, US Customs isn’t remotely close to any terminal, so we proceed to go through it. We have to fill our the paperwork again, digitally (even though we already have a paper copy) and are sent to another room with three long single file lines.
  • We remain in this room for 20 minutes, so now we are past 4PM, and our flight is boarding. The entire process of this room was so that the guy at the booth could look at our passport, look at us, and stamp a piece of paper (which I assume means “yeah we looked at them, all good”).
  • We are ushered to a baggage claim, which is useless for us because we have no baggage to claim. We then proceed to another line where we have to give another Custom’s agent the paper that was just stamped as well as our passport. They wave us by without issue (time is now about 4:15PM, we are pretty sure we are going to miss our flight).
  • Immediately after that (read, within 30ft of the last check point) we have to hand off this stamped piece of paper to another Custom’s person so that we can then head into the actual airport. At no point where we ever checked on any of the points we stated (which, in this case was nothing because we had nothing to declare). Yet, we were still asked to go through 3 different rooms just to get a piece of paper, have it stamped, and then nodded at twice.
  • But wait, there’s more! We then have to re-enter the airport, so we have to go through TSA at this point. But to get there, we have to take a tram because nothing is connected. Thanks FLL. Great planning there (sarcasm). At this point, we have started to call United because we are going to miss our flight.
  • The phone call with United was so much more aggravating than it should have been. First off, the voice recognition machine you call into is terrible and can’t parse my mother’s voice. Luckily, I know that cursing or pressing “0” will send you straight to a rep. So we do that. My mom explains the situation (that we are late due to no fault of our own, and would like to have the plane held or have a new ticket issued). My mom is asked 4 different times for the confirmation number, and the woman on the other end of the line can’t seem to wrap her head around the fact that we are in the US and just late. When my mom is about to loose it, I get on the phone (while in line for the TSA) and spell it out for the woman on the other end of the line. Within minutes she is all of a sudden able to issue a new ticket, no charge, not a problem. How convenient.
  • At this point, it is 4:30PM, and we are at the front of the TSA line. We have already flown once, but apparently are required to go through security again because this airport has no sense of flow.
  • We end up waiting two more hours for our new flight, and finally make it home.

So, now that you see why am compelled to write this, let’s move forward shall we?

This should not be so complicated, and yet it is. I need to get to the airport two hours before the flight boards. Airlines say this time is so you can check in, check bags, and get through security. In my experience (knowing full well I embrace the digital world I live in) the majority of this time is spent getting through security. That’s because my number one rule of flying is don’t check bags. I don’t trust anyone with my stuff, and I can live with one week of clothes. Second rule of flying is check in online. That means the 2/3rds of what I am allotting two hours for is done before I get to the airport. Thus, the only reason I am getting there early is so I can get through security.

It is no secret that the TSA doesn’t do its job. And yet, it still exists. Some may tell you “well, pay some money, and you can do TSA Pre Check”. No. I refuse. On the basic principle that they don’t do their job in the first place. Why would I pay you to move me quicker through something if you can’t do it efficiently before hand?

So, forgoing the excuse to skip the line, I am left waiting in line so that two things can happen: I can be violated by radiation Get my body scanned. As well as have my bags examined. This shouldn’t be a hard process, nor should it take long. Yet, we are still being moved like sheep and yelled at about what to do. I have to unpack my bags, and put them into a bin that is too small, and then push it through a machine that doesn’t move as fast as the line is moving (which normally nets me being told how a conveyor belt works). There are so many hang ups, and hick ups, and people standing around here that just wastes time. This process could use restructuring.

For example, why is it we have a no fly list for people believed to be dangerous (they get on that list for free by the way), and yet we the public are required to pay to be on TSA Pre (which really isn’t all that much faster). Why don’t we have a “Ok to fly” list, for people that fly constantly and we know have zero security concerns? This would mean things like stripping removing shoes and such would be unnecessary. So would unloading my bags. Just throw them on an automatic conveyor belt and walk through a detector. This would eliminate a number of slow downs in line processing, as well as remove one officer from duty since they won’t have to stand there barking orders at you.

I’m not saying my system is perfect, but I refuse to believe the current system is any good (or sustainable for that matter). In addition, it is very clear from my time flying that certain companies get favored by TSA, and hence their terminal checks are way more efficient. For those of you who fly from Newark, I encourage you to see the difference between the Southwest TSA Gate (Gate A) and the United TSA Gate (I believe it was C?). It is night and day how different they are. The government may enjoy the highest bidder in most cases, but this is a public service in my eyes and should not be favored. Everyone should be treated equally when getting cleared to fly.

Written on January 19, 2017