Saturday, July 11, 2009

And they're off

Boys were successfully transported from San Francisco to New Hampshire yesterday via American Airlines. To confirm their receipt on the other end, I have gotten one call from the camp who retrieved them at the Boston Logan last evening and I have photographic proof that at least George the Younger is actually at camp. He was playing basketball. I do not have photographic proof that Henry is there, but I feel I can safely assume that if only one had arrived instead of two, I might have gotten a text message at least.

Since a large part of my day was spent at San Francisco International Airport, let's talk about US airports for just a moment. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Really ashamed. What a miserable experience travel is. And, for the lion's share of it, we need to blame the people that are responsible for it.

I had a little observational experiment yesterday. I wanted to see if there was one single person who I encountered during my visit to the SF airport who (and I set the bar pretty low) could actually muster up a smile while they were working. Not surprisingly, the number of people who were able to squeak out a grin was only one solitary individual - - the waitress who served us lunch. And, I am nearly ready to disqualify her from the experiment, since she actually sort of prostitutes herself trying to get tips - therefore the smile is not a sincere gesture. The smile was there in mouth only. It did not affect any other part of her face. How sad is this? What a bunch of grumpy, displeasing people are there to provide "send off". And they wonder why stewardesses get punched in the face? I propose that the poor thing is just the final no-cutomer-service straw to a wretched travel experience that began the minute that person pulled up to the white curb that was for loading and unloading only.

But, listed in no particular order were the other things that plagued me yesterday:
  • I COULD NOT manage to get a luggage cart. At least not one in the "honest way" that you are supposed to. "Honest", meaning that I got a brand new one out of the little cart dispenser. In most international airports (and I'm trying to think of an exception, cause I am sure there is one, but...) luggage carts are free. Yes, free. What an amazing convenience concept. In SFO, they cost $4 - that is, they cost $4 if the machine will actually accept your bills. The two that I tried would not accept any bills, not even the pristine non-wrinkly kind. They didn't take cards either. The second one I tried was occupied with a nice Spanish lady who was practically in tears when the machine repeatedly spit out every single bill she inserted. She was talking to the machine in what I can only assume where Spanish curse words. I backed away just in case she should turn her frustrations on me, the only American in sight. In the end, I trolled the parking lot looking for an abandoned cart. I found one hidden between two SUVs. I think people though I was looking for a car to steal.
  • I had to deal with a nasty "red coat". In my vernacular, a Red Coat is the guy who first greets you and tries to determine how to "help" you on behalf of the airline. It dawned on me yesterday that there must have been a change to this job description. I will check wikipedia. My experience went like this: We approach the check-in line. I have two boys and a luggage cart with two large rolling duffel bags and two large stuff sacks on the stolen cart. Red Coat says, "Go to Kiosk" (just that, nothing like good morning, please or nuttin). I say, "I need to fill out some paperwork so that they can fly unaccompanied". The Red Coat says again, "Go to Kiosk" and points in that direction. I respond with "I am already checked in, but the children need to fill out some paperwork REQUIRED by American Airlines" And then the Red Coat(no kidding) responds with an audible sigh of disgust/revulsion/annoyance and just points to the other line. An American Airlines customer service hallmark moment.
  • We wait in undesirable line. We are handed paperwork to fill out while we are waiting. A flimsy form in quadruplicate with no pen and no surface to fill it out on. Boys finally get checked in by James. James does not make eye contact or murmur any conversational tidbits such as "welcome to AA, can I help you?" Basically he held his hand out for the e-tickets, the flimsy red and white unaccompanied paperwork and the passports. I think Henry wanted to know if he was a mute. After some sour faced punching of buttons, and the single request of "how many bags?", he did (without looking up from his 9 keyed keyboard) ask for my credit card to pay the $100 unaccompanied minor fee and $40 each for the boys extra bags. Mr. Charming. I'm gonna request him specifically next time I make it past the red coat kiosk Nazi. Please send me right over to the sullen, aphonic ticket guy...he's a regular feel-good-kinda-man....
  • We get our boarding passes with out a single bit of information on them - as in what gate are they leaving out of or what time they are boarding. Must have been the specific kind of ticket that is issued to parents bringing their children to fly unaccompanied. You know, just the airline's special way of making an already stressful situation a little more so. I heart them.
  • Finally a 30 minute wait in the security line and we are right up to the x-ray machine. Boys are shoving their stuff in to the bins and when this stewardess (I know you are supposed to call them flight attendants - but what a crock...they are still waitresses in the sky who have been trained to inflate slides) butts right in between us. Slaps her suitcase on the belt and,without a "how do you do" or a snide smile, inserts herself in between me and boys and just sails through the electronic gateway that obviously can determine whether or not you have any items necessary to take down a 747. I get that they should have the "right" to cut in line. I mean honestly, can you imagine standing in the security line every time you want to go to work (although, come to think of it I have never seen an Orange Julius worker have the right to cut the line, but maybe I just didn't notice them in their uniforms and they do it all the time). Still, what I don't get is the absence of those two little words of common courtesy...EXCUSE ME. Man that's a tough one to enunciate. Easy to get why she didn't say it. George the Younger says that if she was on his flight he thought it would be funny to spill his coke on her "by accident"! See what I mean? To a 13 year old, it would be funny to spill a coke. To someone older - a punch in the face might seem reasonable. I'm just saying it's not too hard to imagine this happening or having oodles of empathy for the person that did it.

I suspect that every one complains about their airports. The foreigners probably do it too - it's just that you can't always understand what they are saying, and of course everything sounds better in a foreign language that you can't understand. But, when you are there and the carts are free - well at least you've got that going for you.


Chris said...

This boils down to one thing: common courtesy - the lubricant of society. The only way to engender it is to do it yourself. It's hard, but worth the effort. Say "Hi" in the elevator, "Good Morning" with a smile instead of the eighth-grade nod of acknowledgement.
Teach it by example, point out the offenders and try to make your little patch of the world a little more civilized.
Good luck

Molly said...

I have come to the conclusion that all airport employees attend asshole school until they get it "just right."

So except for the baggage pick up cops - you know, the guys who act like they have real authority to tell you to move along when you've only been waiting for your loved ones for 45 seconds or less who I try to run over when they touch my car - I just kill every surley ticket counter guy or security grump with a smile and a "have a nice day." Well, until they make me toss out hair gel for being had an ounce over. Then it's not pretty.