So I had to pick my wife up at the airport at 11:17 p.m. Friday. The plane was late, if the word even has meaning anymore with respect to the airline industry. Airplanes in the 21st century do not arrive on any known schedule.
I got there at the scheduled time but couldn't find her. Maybe I am just an idiot, and everybody else has figured this out, but I could find no way to learn what the status of the plane was: in the air, on the ground, crashed into the Bighorn Mountains. The ticket counters were empty. The security check-in was empty. The arrival screen showed no flights earlier than about 9 a.m. Saturday.
A guy at the car rental counter didn't seem to be aware that planes even landed at the airport. He suggested I ask a cop. Sound advice, no doubt: Got a missing airplane to report? Tell a cop. But I couldn't find a cop.
Back in the luggage area, a woman told me she couldn't help me unless it was a United flight. It wasn't. Otherwise, she said, I would have to go to the ticket counter, but the ticket counters were dark and empty and appeared likely to remain so for at least another five or six hours.
I hung around for an hour, then gave up and went home. There was a message on the answering machine from my wife telling me her flight would arrive late -- at just about the time I heard her message.
She says there's an 800 number you can call to find out when airplanes arrive. So I guess the operating principle is that if you want to know whether an airplane landed in Billings, Montana, you can't go to the airport and find out. You have to make a long-distance phone call to another state.
Maybe I'm just being picky, but it seems to me that if you were in the business of landing airplanes, you would keep track of that event. And it seems that if the airplane contains passengers, you would want to make that information available to people who might come to the airport to pick them up. Few people arrive at airports with spare vehicles stashed in their luggage. On the other hand, it was a good deal for the airport, which made $3.50 for the parking time I used while trying to find out whether an airplane had landed.
Driving home for the second time that night, it occurred to me that we really have finally solved the problem of security on airplane flights. We have made flying on an airplane so miserable an experience that not even a terrorist would want to be caught on one.