Time & Attendance
By Rick Bell
May. 16, 2016
I’ve only missed one flight in my life. And it was totally on me.
Chicago to Zurich to Athens to … oops, I fell asleep in the Athens airport.
Airport person: “Are you Richard Bell?”
Me (coming out of a deep, unintended hourlong slumber): “ … Zzzzz … ”
Airport person: “Mr. Bell?”
Me: “ … Zzzzz … uhhh, yes?”
Airport person: “Your flight to Kefalonia just left.”
Me (fully, completely jarred wide awake now): “What? WHAT?? How did that happen? I’m 20 feet from the gate! … ”
I could go on, but ultimately it was my fault. And no surprise here; people miss flights. You doze off at the terminal (OK, I doze off at the terminal). The dog is puking, a kid is wrapped around your leg begging you not to leave and your cousin is a no-show to drive you to the airport. It happens.
Or, the TSA check line stretches from the agents’ bank of kiosks, up the walkway, past the arrival/departure board, out the terminal door, into a hallway adorned with children’s drawings of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods and an Adler Planetarium display of the heavens, finally ending a stone’s throw from the CTA’s Orange Line stop.
For those of you who’ve never flown out of Chicago Midway International Airport, that’s not normal. But if you’re like me and fly out of Midway on a fairly regular basis, you hear that, your jaw drops to the floor like a Daffy Duck cartoon and you say, “Thufferin’ Thuckatash!”
Or, if you’re Sean Hoffman of Eugene, Oregon, you whip out your phone, record the gut-wrenching 2½-hour wait to board your flight home and more accurately call your little video, "TSA, Are You (expletive) Kidding Me?" Not surprisingly, the video went viral before Sean even landed and now is closing in on 3 million views.
Watch below; disclaimer: language
The 34-year-old Hoffman barely made his flight. He was one of the lucky ones, according to several reports, which on one hand makes me feel bad for those folks who followed the rule of thumb by arriving at the airport a couple of hours early, but also … Sean Hoffman, why were you three hours early? I think Midway is a swell airport, too, but seriously, how much time can you legitimately kill in Hudson News?
Hoffman’s diligence aside, what’s scary is that three hours is quickly morphing into the new two hours of airport arrival time.
Reports continue surfacing that the TSA is severely understaffed, and Midway’s snail’s-paced marathon is just one symptom of the agency’s poor personnel planning. Images mirroring Hoffman’s video continue to pop up across the country.
Yet, as the crisis deepens, it’s curious to watch the airlines — an industry with chronically surly and aloof attitudes that consistently plumb the depths of poor customer service — play the “not our fault, guys” card while piling on TSA.
One spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune that 1,000 American Airlines passengers had missed their flights at O’Hare International in March because of “excessive” TSA lines.
“TSA is our No. 1 problem right now, and it’s only going to get worse,” the spokesperson said.
Industry association Airlines for America is attempting to goose the TSA with its social media hashtag #hatethewait. And the Tribune also quoted a Chicago spokesperson responding to Hoffman’s Midway video as saying it’s “a TSA issue.”
Yes, TSA this is squarely on you. But goofy hashtags mocking TSA won’t solve the personnel crisis and board passengers any sooner. Even though the TSA is pledging to boost overtime and add nearly 800 new inspectors, travel this summer could be a total bummer.
The agency’s woes will quickly trickle down to the airlines and airport agencies, and, ultimately, the Hudson News and Au Bon Pains of the airport malls. Putting traveler’s previously well-laid plans in the unpredictable hands of the TSA could soon transform a routine business trip to L.A. into a videoconference instead. Vacationers also will find alternate ways to get to Grandma’s or avoid the hassle completely and take that weeklong trip close to home.
So with Hoffman’s video in mind, industry officials might want to drop the hollow platitudes and sarcasm and ring up the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to see how they can help. Because as we all know, no one is boarding that flight to Oregon or anywhere else for that matter if there’s even a hint of a threat to our safety and security.
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