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Air travel offers bumpy rides, even before takeoff

Passengers wait in a security line at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Ten years after 9/11, there seems to be no relief to the inconveniences of flying.

Associated Press (2010)

Passengers wait in a security line at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Ten years after 9/11, there seems to be no relief to the inconveniences of flying.

It's merely idle speculation, but I'm reasonably convinced the major airlines each have a super-double-secret senior executive vice president whose job is to come up with new and exciting ways to turn the lives of passengers into one long, oozing trail of stomach-churning hopelessness, dread and doom — all for an additional fee, of course.

The Sunflower of Sparta is a seasoned flier, whose years of business travel have made her quite accustomed to changing flight reservations. So it came as something of a shock when she was informed by one of the few "customer service" agents available at the United Airlines counter at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport last weekend that her return ticket to Tampa had been arbitrarily canceled.

A few days earlier she had rebooked a flight into Chicago with another carrier, but she had been assured by, let's call him Peggy, television's clueless central casting hirsute customer service representative hunkered down in the snowy tundra of Waziristan, that her return flight was just hunky-dory only to have the reservation disappear after she hung up.

She was, to put it mildly, not amused.

Chances are you too have had the pleasure of dealing with an airline ticket agent, who at the first sign a passenger is about to turn into Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction picks up a phone and for the next 15 minutes says nothing at all. Then they inform you afterward that while they are so very sorry, you are absolutely, completely, 100 percent toast.

After all, they too, have been on the line with — Peggy.

Because of the foulup, the Azalea of the Aegean: A) had to purchase a new ticket and B) was delayed a day in getting back to Tampa.

As fate would have it, my ticket had not been lost into the dark hole in the friendly skies. But there was still the Transportation Security Administration security line, which stretched out longer than a line to see Gov. Rick Scott at the Villages.

O'Hare is one of the world's busiest airports, so it should only make sense that with hundreds of passengers attempting to make their flights you might need more than two lines funneling toward the full-body scanner.

Some 40 minutes later, I finally made it to the end of the line, but not quite.

Just a pinch of advice to the yahoo in the cowboy hat in front of me. It is probably not a good idea if you have a tendency to have your feet swell to wear cowboy boots that are almost impossible to remove. That is particularly true when there are legions of already-stressed people behind you trying to catch a flight while you try to explain your podiatry issues to an overwhelmed TSA operative.

This is Chicago. Dressing like you are on your way to a cattle drive should earn one a one-way ticket to a Guantanamo Bay solitary confinement cell on the grounds of being a national fashion statement risk.

After undressing nearly to my skivvies, I finally made it through the scanning and the X-rays to get to my gate just as the flight was boarding.

But first, an unpatriotism alert.

By this point my fellow airline passengers and I had navigated United's booking process — some more successfully than others. We also had to put up with a ridiculously slow security line that looked like a Depression-era breadline overseen by indifferent guardians of the border.

And of course, there was the bunion-challenged, foot-swollen Tex.

Shouldn't this be enough to endure simply to earn the right to be packed like galley slaves into a metal tube and charged for a bag of chips?

That would be no.

At the gate awaited two TSA agents — Aunt Bee and Fonzie — as they busied themselves randomly pulling aside passengers for additional baggage inspections.

What? Somewhere between the security checkpoint and the boarding area, 65-year-old women and hung-over men wearing Notre Dame windbreakers managed to become international terrorist threats who somehow managed to evade detection after going through a baggage X-ray and a full-body imaging scanner?

We're all in favor of security. But really now, assuming these folks interrupted from boarding the flight were Matt Damon's Jason Bourne cleverly disguised as a middled-aged matron, it's rather doubtful a TSA agent who looked to be older than I am would be hard-pressed to do much about it.

Yet, we all put up with the silliness. We just wanted to go home.

It would be nice to complain to somebody. But we would probably wind up with Peggy on the other end of the line.

Air travel offers bumpy rides, even before takeoff 09/19/11 [Last modified: Monday, September 19, 2011 5:31pm]
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