Patience, courtesy are new keys to flying
Patience and courtesy are two accessories every air traveler now needs. It also helps to be flexible, in terms of departures, arrivals and travel time. Following the events of last week, commercial air travel got back in operation over the weeken...
Patience and courtesy are two accessories every air traveler now needs.
It also helps to be flexible, in terms of departures, arrivals and travel time.
Following the events of last week, commercial air travel got back in operation over the weekend, though for a variety of reasons it will never be quite the same.
Foremost of course is security, followed by convenience, passenger attitude, airport atmosphere and the health of an industry whacked by the recession, then hit by terrorism.
Everyone said, "be there early," to travelers trying to use Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Like many others, I'd been trying to fly out since Wednesday. Fortunately, I was only stuck at home, unlike those stranded in the middle of vacation, business or personal trips.
Northwest Airlines was quickly rebooking reservations as the flying situation remained uncertain. The result early Saturday morning was thousands of passengers carrying hand-scrawled itineraries hoping to get on a flight.
The lines had started about 3 a.m., according to a disheveled women who had slept in the terminal. By 4:20 a.m., hundreds of groggy people with luggage were converging on the ticket counter.
Until I got in the terminal, there were few visible security differences at the airport. There were no buses or taxis around, and drivers were quickly moving on as soon as they dropped their passengers off.
There was no close-in parking, but plenty of space in the remote ramps. There was also no curbside check-in and no outside skycaps.
Several uniformed police wearing reflective vests were watching the traffic flow. It was early enough so they were still polite when answering questions and giving directions.
Inside the terminal, the crowd was growing. It seemed everyone had taken the "be there early" warning to heart. However, they hadn't been told that the ticket counter wouldn't open until 4:30 a.m., and then with a skeleton crew.
By 5:30 a.m., the place was a sea of people, many wondering if they were in the right line. Faces in the long lines ranged from those who had spent too much time in the terminal to families with impatient kids, to seniors and everything in between.
There was very little grumbling and a lot of "I'm trying to get to ..." stories. And people were overly polite as they shuffled their bags along. Many talked on cell phones.
About that time they added a few more ticket agents and the security gate was working. A NWA announcement said there had been a security breach the day before, which caused the delay.
Now people who had their right tickets and only a carry-on were shunted to another line. That worked well for a guy I'd been talking with, and he was on his way to a plane after only a 40-minute wait.
But if you had to check bags, pick up tickets or do anything else that required counter help, you were in for the long haul.
They announced e-ticket machines were working, but only for those with firm, unchanged reservations. A soldier ahead of me, worried he'd miss his 6 a.m. flight, blamed himself for not getting in line earlier.
He had driven a rental car overnight from Devil's Lake, N. D., to make it but fell asleep when he got to the airport and was now deep in line.
There were frequent security announcements but no flight updates. Near the security gate were two uniformed officers and a plainclothes Globe Security agent.
Passengers could take three items. We were told we could check two and carry one, though it wasn't rigidly enforced. Checked luggage had to be left unlocked for possible searching.
We were told to have a government issued ID out as we approached the counter and show a ticket or itinerary if we had it.
It was soon clear that many of us would miss our flights. I reached the counter after an hour and 55 minutes in line. The ticket person asked the usual questions and smiled knowingly when she heard my familiar predicament.
Rapidly tapping her keyboard, she quickly came up with a list of options for getting me to Jacksonville, Fla. She explained a connection through Memphis, printed my ticket, and I was off to the next line.
By now they had opened another security gate, and the line was moving fast. It was the standard -- put your bag on the X-ray belt and walk the metal detector -- which seemed more sensitive.
As a result of setting off the alarm, I emptied my pockets of pens and change, took off a watch and my metal frame glasses.
I went through it again and moved forward to a security woman who had a metal detecting wand. She wasn't shy with her probe as she ran it over me, giving a disapproving look every time it went off.
After two sweeps she was satisfied, and I could collect my stuff and go. The process took less than 10 minutes. I didn't see anyone physically inspect any carry-on luggage, as they did later in Memphis. Instead, travel bags, purses and other stuff went through the X-ray machine and piled up at the end of the belt.
After being cleared by the hand scanner, passengers were sent back to get their carry-on from the pile and their personal effects from a stack of baskets.
In the main terminal, most of the shops opened, but it's clear they will suffer as only ticketed passengers can access that area. Uniformed police patrolled the concourses on electric scooters.
Looking out on the apron, it was surprisingly quiet. No extra security was evident, and with no cargo permitted yet, there weren't the usual caravans of containers being towed from plane to plane.
Activities at the gate were normal, and I boarded a jumbo jet that would fly half empty to Memphis. Among the passengers were at least eight pilots and several flight attendants being shuttled to other airports. Some were contacted en route as their assignments changed.
They had to pass through the same security as the passengers but appeared glad to be back in the air. On Saturday, NWA was expected to fly about 20 percent of its schedule.
Whether from relief, worry or sheer exhaustion, the other passengers seemed unusually quiet.
Once the hub of the now defunct Southern Airline, the sprawling Memphis Airport was also quiet for a Saturday. The only flight activity appeared to be NWA and Federal Express, which is headquartered there.
Most people in the terminal watched the overhead TVs for ongoing news on how the nation was coping with last week's events.
Check-in security was similar, and several told me it took less than an hour.
At the gate came the announcement passengers dread: "We're looking for another flight crew member; y'all be patient with us."
The same person made another announcement apologizing for the delay and delays of the past few days.
But it was a short delay, and I was soon on a less-than-full DC-9 headed to a nearly deserted Jacksonville International Airport. As my flight plans had changed, I'd rebooked a rental car several times only to find they had no record of any of it.
However, there were plenty of cars available, since this airport had been hit by a lack of incoming flights.
Monday, an NWA agent said they were nearly back to normal schedules. She also repeated, "Come two hours early, bring photo ID and patience."
But now, NWA and other airlines must contend with lost revenues and more security costs while anticipating fewer fliers. Some layoffs have been announced, and airline stocks are down.