Ok, here’s my take on flying. In general, I like it. You go hundreds of miles an hour and get where you need to be fast. This is a good thing. But there are several things that bother me about flying. Surprisingly, those things tend to be other passengers. Let’s break down the process.
- Checking in. Most airports and airlines now have a thing called “self-check in.” I consider this a major break through in check in technology. You stand in line, wait for an open machine, put in your credit card, and get your boarding pass. Agents behind the counter come by, put the tag on your baggage, and then move it to the conveyor belt, thus allowing them to serve many customers in the time it used to serve one. The problem with self-service is that it relies on the customer to be “self-sufficient,” and this is a problem for a large portion of the public. Manifested in the self-check in procedure, this issue arises first when people get to the front of the line. You really have to be a go-getter to make this work. You see an open machine, get over there. Most people get to the front of the line and need a personalized invitation to approach the machine and start the process. Also, people assume that an unoccupied machine is a broken machine. The airline could solve this problem very simply by having an agent stand at the front of the line and direct people to the next available kiosk. The second problem is that people don’t know how to use the machines. I’m not sure how this is possible because they are touch screens with the instructions in giant letters, but every time I’m at the airport one or two people need an agent to guide them through the four step process: 1) Insert credit card, 2) Confirm destination and seat assignment, 3) Indicate bags to check, 4) Take boarding pass. This should not be a source of delay.
- Security. Since 9/11 we have a slightly more thorough security check. I suppose delays at the security checkpoint ultimately lie with the airport. First, there is little consistency from airport to airport as to what’s expected. Some places are adamant that you take your shoes off, while others aren’t. At some airports, you must show your boarding pass and/or ID multiple times to get through security, and others are less stringent. These procedures should be standardized. Secondly, this information is not posted anywhere. There should be a sign at the beginning of the line that says, “Shoes and jackets must be x-rayed.” So while some issues are reconcilable by the airport, stupid customers also play a role in unnecessary delay. These clowns don’t realize that in 2005 you need a government issued photo identification, i.e. a drivers license or passport. Once I actually saw a woman try to use her Sam’s Club ID to get through security. (More disconcerting is that she was allowed to pass). Also, they don’t understand the job of a metal detector. It detects metal, moron! It will consider keys, change, and watches to be metal. You’ll be forced to repeat the process until you remove all the metal on your person. Finally, while it would be nice if customers would listen to the security personnel, who quite often have valuable pieces of advice like, “Remove your shoes and jackets; They must be x-rayed,” or “Remove all change and keys from your pockets and take off all watches before passing through the metal detectors,” or “Hold your boarding pass and ID in your hand so I can check them again.”
- Boarding. I really shouldn’t be complaining about the major problem with boarding, but I will. In fact, the problem isn’t so much boarding as it is pre-boarding. When I was growing up, the first people allowed to board the plane were those who needed extra time to board, e.g. parents with small children, the elderly, and the disabled. Now the first people allowed to board are those in first-class and the airline’s club. On Continental, these people are called “elite,” but I’ve also heard “premier” or “VIP” or other various descriptions of greatness. Now I don’t really have a problem with the airline letting first-class (they paid extra) or their superstar customers (they pay frequently) on the plane first if that’s what they want. However, half of the plane is pre-boarding! I’m not sure why anyone would want to sit on the plane for an extra half hour, especially when those same people are going to be fighting to get off when they reach the destination. The way I handle this situation is to sit in the reasonably comfortable waiting area seat and read my book and let these suckers fight it out to be the first on the plane. Half an hour later when the gate attendant announces, “Boarding all customers, all rows,” I’ll saunter up to the jetway and board.
- Stowing carry-ons. Ok, now I see why everyone has to be on the aircraft so quickly. These people want, no, need to get space in the overhead bin. Why? Because they have suitcases that absolutely can not be checked. Because the airline might lose them? Well, partially, but for a non-stop flight the percent chance of losing a bag are close to the number of inches between my knees and the seat in front of me. The real reason is that these people don’t want to wait at the baggage carousel. That’s right. They’ll spend 30 minutes on the plane so they don’t have to wait 10 off of it. Fine. I’m happy to stick my bag under the seat in front of me. I’ll donate the overhead bin space that I don’t need to compensate for your impatience. However, could you do me a favor and put the suitcases in wheels first so they fit most efficiently? Wasted space just bothers me. The flight attendants used to alert people to this fact, but nobody listened, so now they don’t even try.
- Flying. Maybe in the movie about safety there could be a short section on proper usage of the reclining feature of the seatback. Yes, the seats sit a little too upright in their native state, but they also move back a bit too far. I’m 5′ 11″ which is slightly above average for the male population. A seatback in its fully reclined position makes contact with my knees. For anyone my height or taller, this is unacceptable. Look, the sleep you’re trying to get isn’t going to be restful anyway, so let’s be a bit more courteous and cut down on the reclining.
So there you have it. My analysis of flying. I know you were dying to hear it.