Not all is horror in US travel

3 12 2005

This weekend I’m travelling out to Pittsburgh to visit a friend for a few days. I normally enjoy travel a lot, though admittedly finding seats for a 6’6″ 260lb super-geek can be a challenge. I’ve learned a few tricks to iron over the rough spots. On the trip out I got to put a few of them into play.
First of all, don’t fly out of the major airports. Boston’s Logan Airport is a MAJOR airport, and small to boot. It’s always crowded, and the folks there are harried. Parking is extremely expensive (yes, I know there’s things like Logan Express, that has it’s own challenges). This weekend I’m flying out of RI’s “TF Green” airport. It’s about an hour south of me (5 miles south of Providence), and is mighty nice all around. Large, comfortable, not insanely crowded, and parking is $10/day.
Second trick is one appropriate for ‘largish’ folks. And I win in one respect because I’m large in a way that can’t be sneered at for overeating or something. You don’t get unusually tall by eating too many twinkies. I usually show up and check in at the automatic checkin whoozie early (an hour and a half early). This gives option 1 for changing my seat assignement to a bulkhead or exit row seat (most checkin kiosks allow you to choose your seat if any are available). If I don’t get a seat that’s good for me there, I try to show up at the gate before the staff arrives. When they first get there, quietly and politely go up and say hi, and ask if there are any bulkhead or exit row seats. I tend to be as friendly and open as possible here – Yes, I’m one of the biomass moving through the system, but recognize me as human, and then note that I’m a good head and a half taller than most people on the planet, and MAYBE you could see my reasoning for wanting a seat that won’t drive my kneecaps into the drink tray.
Generally, once the gate person recognizes my humanness and actual needs, they take the ‘extra effort’ to see what’s available. Here’s a hint. Almost all scheduled flights ‘block out’ 1-2 seats toward the front (bulkhead seats) specifically for crew or ‘unusual’ needs. They stay blocked until the flight fills up. I’ve been on 3 flights now that have had the gate operator say “They’re all blocked out” “Owait, one of these is blocked by the crew, but doesn’t have a passenger in it. I’ll give you that one.” Pleasant flights all.
But that’s not what I came here to tell you about. Another unusual thing happened while at the Providence airport. I had checked my bag (yes, I don’t mind checking bags. Carting 80lbs of luggage onto a small plane is not my idea of fun, even though it ‘technically’ fits in the bins. Myself, my backpack, and my jacket are enough, thankyouvermuch). At any rate, I had checkd my bag, it went through the X-ray thingamajig, and I was on my way over to the security check, when I had a total V-8 moment. I still had my Leatherman hanging on my belt, par usual. Despite stirrings about the TSA relaxing their idiotic requirements on carry-on items, the policy about ‘no pocket knives’ was still in effect. I had this same problem on a trip back from Florida, and ended up mailing my leatherman back to me (at a cost of $18 or so).
I went back to the TSA security guys (who were very friendly when I was there before) and asked if my bag was ‘gone gone gone’ having gone through the little chute already. “Yup, what’s wrong?” they asked. I explained my problem, and the fellow scratched his chin a moment, and he said “Well, just get a small box, we’ll put the knife in that, and just check that as checked in luggage.” “Hey! That’s a great idea! Do you have one? ” “No, but I bet the fellow behind the counter over there does.”
So off I go to the other counter where in fact, they have a small (small = 2x the size of a shoebox – a tad overkill, but hey, this is NOT costing me anything). I take a spare shirt out of my backpack, roll the leatherman in it to keep it fro mrattling around, pack it into the box, and sign it in as checked luggage. Fwoosh! Off it goes!
I thanked the TSA fellow profusely, and asked if there was a good word I could put in somewhere. He rattled off something fairly boilerplate, in a tongue in cheek phrasing, that anything given to him or offered could be considered a bribe, but he did say “After you go through security, there’s a TSA booth just after it. Just tell them something nice.” “Okay!”
So I did. After going through security, I stopped by the TSA booth. They were obviously expecting another abusive annoyed passenger, but I relayed my story, and commented how helpful the fellow had been, and how he had saved me a lot of hassle regarding the item. They were all sort of lost as to what to do, but thanked me for not yelling at them 🙂
The TSA folks in the airports are not hte ones making these ridiculous policy decisions. They’re just doing the job they were hired to do. Yelling at them is not going to help, and they get a lot of it anyway. Having a pleasant experience there was a nice change, for them, and for me.

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3 responses

3 12 2005
Lisa

That’s a lot of good info you posted! I always try to treat the TSA people nicely because if you piss them off, only bad things can come of it. I’m glad you figured out how to fly comfortably. 🙂

5 12 2005
Marty

Speakign as someone who has been in one of these “petty government bureaucrat” positions, there is a lot of room in the ever-increasing pile of regulations governing any government bureaucrat’s job for individual initiative. No matter what “the rules” are, there’s a way to apply them humanely and with discretion.
Your story is one of the very few times I’ve heard of someone from the TSA doing that. It’s far more common for them to do something like, say, tell the Chicago cop that he has to take the “throwing star” (his badge) out of his wallet so it can be immediately destroyed, and to threaten that same guy with arrest when he asks to see a manager. (This happened to one of the people I flew over to the UK with when we were mobilized: we eventually got a manager, but it didn’t happen without a lot of yelling on our parts.)
What they tried to do to Joe Foss’ Medal of Honor doesn’t exactly inspire my confidence.
So it’s good to know that there are times when TSA folks can act like human beings instead of robots.
I still want that agency disbanded. (Which will probably never happen, but hey, I can dream.)

5 12 2005
Lisa Hertel

When I flew to Florida, I went looking for my jackknife before the trip to stick in my luggage, but didn’t find it. On the plane, I found it in my purse (which I’d carried on). But I would have been quite upset to loose it, so I was careful to pack it away for the trip home.
So Logan still makes mistakes, which is another thing to think about when using a large airport.

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