Saturday, July 26, 2008

Airport blues

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.


6 Generations said...

David, In 2005, my family and I returned from a 17-day trip to England, landing at the George H. W. Bush Intercontinental Airport for a 9 p.m. or so connecting flight to Killeen, Texas. After waiting for some time, we were moved to another gate with no explanation. Our confidence plummeted when we overheard the pilot on his cell phone demanding to know where his plane was. No one knew, evidently.

moos said...

I drove to Billings to pick up my brother at Logan several summers ago, and had the same thing happen. Didn't have cell phones at that time. It was an afternoon arrival. None of the employees could help me. Security does not allow the release of passenger names. This was before 2001. His flight HAD come in, but he wasn't on it. Had he missed the plane in Minneapolis? I ended up calling my mom in NY to see if she knew where he was. She did. He was in Minneapolis with no flights departing for Billings until after 9 PM. I checked the board - no - no sooner scheduled arrivals from MSP. I checked my watch - and decided to go home with the groceries. I walked through the door and the phone was ringing. It wasn't even 6 PM, and he's at the airport and I'm outside of Belfry.

At least they're consistent.

Mark T said...

Didn't things work better before deregulation? (hush!)

KIrk Dooley said...

When I flew up to Billings in 1994, I had to change from a Delta flight to a Big Sky Airlines plane in Salt Lake City. The trouble is that I had 15 minutes to change planes, and Big Sky was on the other side of the terminal from Delta. (The return flight was better in that the time between flights was three hours.) Then in 1998, I took Greyhound up (for my mother's funeral), but because I got sick (the doc at the Billings Clinic said it was the flu, even though it was July), my Dad sprang for a plane ticket back. At Logan Field, it was announced that the plane was overbooked and the airline (Delta all the way, this time) was looking for volunteers to get bumped. When Pops suggested I take them up on the offer, I replied, "No way. I want to get back to Phoenix someday, and the way these jokers operate, I could be here for weeks."

Ever since, I drive up (and will be doing so in a little over a month). The scenery is nice, and I don't have to worry about leaving my pets behind or in a crate in the cargo hold. (The baggage people get double bonuses for losing that kind of luggage.)