Monday, July 18, 2005

MIA, AA, & the TSA

I’m a frequent flyer. My job calls on me to travel a lot. San Antonio last week, Los Angeles this week, Boston in a couple of weeks. I thought I’d share a rant with you about the pathetic state of the air travel business.

Let’s start with the buffoons that work at the security checkpoints at most airports. Miami is probably one of the worst, in terms of the quality of the personnel but they are all pretty bad.

I was in San Antonio, about to catch a flight to Dallas and I was wearing my “traveling shoes”. These are comfortable shoes that are all leather so as not to trip the metal detector at the airport. The thing is that they are Kenneth Cole boots. Not like cowboy boots, but they go up a little higher than regular shoes. They also have a pretty good-sized heel. Most men’s shoes nowadays do. Anyway I’ve worn these shoes on dozens of trips. But the TSA agent in San Antonio tells me “I advise you to take off your shoes.” I say “there’s no metal in them, I wear them on flights all the time.” He repeats and says that if I don’t remove them I’ll be subject to further screening. I assumed he meant that if the metal detector beeped, he’d have to give me additional screening. So I said fine and walked through with my shoes on. And of course the machine did not beep. He then told me that I had to submit to the additional screening. I asked why. He said because I refused to take off my shoes. I told him that I’m pretty up to date on the regulations and that nobody is required to take their shoes off. He said I was right. Of course the loophole is that they can require additional screening of anyone they like. So even though they can’t “make you” take off your shoes they can make your life a living hell. Luckily I was early for my flight and I submitted to the screening with a smile that let agent know that even though he had the temporary power to cause me a slight inconvenience, I’d be on my way to my real life and he’d be collecting plastic bins long afterwards.

But let’s look at the problem of airport security seriously. When the attack of 9/11/01 took place everyone was shocked. The 9/11 Commission concluded that those responsible for keeping us safe had suffered from a “lack of imagination” and could not foresee such a low-tech attack being so catastrophic. Well I’m a semi-imaginative guy and I can tell you that we are not safe at all when we fly. For one thing, that army of TSA “Agents” that clogs up your access to the planes is made up of what are essentially glorified baggage handlers and what’s more they are completely unarmed. If 3 or 4 Al Qaeda types really wanted to commandeer an aircraft, they wouldn’t need much firepower to do it.

Another thing that really worries me is how vulnerable commercial airliners are when they take off and land. I’m surprised that none has been knocked down by a shoulder-fired missile (SAM) or a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). I remember right after 9/11 they had some poorly trained minimum wage goons search in and under cars as they entered the airport parking garage. If I were a terrorist and wanted to blow up a parking garage, I could find plenty of them with zero security like the local shopping mall.

Setting security aside, the Miami International Airport is a joke. When visitors arrive they get a terrible first impression of our fair city. The place looks a like a ghetto. The worst thing is terminal D. There are more than 50 gates in that terminal and not a single moving sidewalk, no tram or trolley, nothing. Put your walking shoes on buddy. The airport also gets a lot of deserved bad publicity regarding its fiscal mismanagement. From the new air traffic control tower to the new American Airlines terminal it’s just one giant mistake after mistake cost overrun after cost overrun.

Since American Airlines is currently spread out over 4 terminals you never know where to park to minimize the walk, unless you call ahead. But remember, “Gate assignments may change so check those monitors.”

Here’s a real life example of how retrograde the Miami airport is. Let’s say your American flight is scheduled to depart from gate A-10. You can’t just park near terminal A and go through security (unless you printed your boarding pass at home) because there is no American counter or electronic terminal near terminal A. So you have to go to terminal D, get your boarding pass and then schlep it all the way to terminal A.

Since I fly a lot, I have what American calls “Platinum status.” And there are definitely some perks. One of the best is preferred service at the aforementioned security checkpoints. At most airports there is a separate line for passengers flying first class or with Gold or Platinum status. Most. Of course, MIA is the exception. They have the sign for the preferred lane but the reality is that anyone can get in that line. Now you may think I’m elitist, but unless you have to fly a lot for business you don’t know how awful it is. Business travelers tend to have a plan. They already have their boarding pass out with their picture ID; they have their metal items in their carry-on. In short, they’re ready to go. And there’s nothing more frustrating than being stuck in line behind the fat lady from Michigan with her 3 kids and the box of rum and Mexican sombrero that she bought in Cancun on her cruise, who’s in no hurry to get home.

3 comments:

Robert said...

Conductor,

Agree with you about MIA. We need an airport authority really bad.

I referenced your post at the end of my latest post about our buddy DeFede.

gansibele said...

dude, you had to bring up the sombrero thing?

Songuacassal said...

Man I hear you. Two weeks ago, as I was leaving Miami on American, aside from the impossible parking situation, I went through the most impossible maze to get to my flight trying to appease a maze of confused TSA agents/MIA employees who had no idea where I could check in my baggage. And not only that, but when I finally got to the metal detectors I was asked to take off my freaking low heeled CHANCLAS.

I secretly hoped that the smell of my bare feet would knock out one of the TSA agents.

Y por FIN when I finally get to the gate, my flight was delayed 3, yes THREE, hours. I got back home at 2:00am.

MIA: Come fly the ghetto skies.

Oh, and I was wearing my sombrero. Not the mexican-cancun kind, but the bad-ass-Cuban-American-Miami-Mafia-say-hello-to-my-little-friend-and-don't-f*ck-with-my-colada kind.