Sunday, April 3, 2011

Oh, the joys of traveling

I just flew back to the US. On this trip I got a direct flight, to avoid problems.

When I got to Heathrow airport, I followed the signs to Step 1: a machine that asked me to put my passport under the scanner, left me waiting a while, then instructed me to go to Step 2: the bag drop area.

At the bag drop area, the woman who was checking my bag said I had not checked in in Step 1. I said I had, but she repeated that I had not checked in, cut short my explanations, asked for my address and routine information, and then, as she gave me my boarding pass, said once again: "Why did you tell me you checked in? You did not check in!"

I was slow to catch on and realize that she believed, not that there had been a malfunction, but that I was lying. After leaving the counter, as I thought about that unhappy exchange and wondered why she had repeated her complaint *after* checking me in, it occured to me to look at my boarding pass: my seat assignment had been changed, and I now had a middle seat on the last row of the flight! Clearly she had punished me for lying by giving me the worst seat possible.

Why do I have such bad luck when flying? The frequency of my bad experiences suggests that I may have an attitude problem. The airline and airport staff hold passengers in their power and are free to control their travel in whichever way pleases them. I lack the instinct to apologize profusely when an incident happens such as a malfunctioning scanner. I tend to consider that it's their problem, not mine -- and that shows in my indifferent, carefree responses. Obviously, I need to be punished so as to correct that arrogant attitude. Wise passengers know to adapt to the situation, show their constant worry that they may accidentally have done something wrong, and display appropriately submissive humility. But I am a slow learner.


  1. Claire,

    Being a frequent flier on one airline and managing most of your flights through them helps. Then, at least, the airline has incentive to treat you nicely. (This was made explicit to me one time when my family checked in -- it was like when my name came up there were special instructions to be nice. :) )

    Of course, this won't stop issues with TSA agents. I recall one time there was almost no line, my family walked up, and the TSA agent started chastising me for not having our IDs out and ready. I pointed out there was no line and we had three kids plus associated stuff to manage, and the agent started yelling, asking if I was getting sassy with her. With family, I just kept quiet and got us through the line, but in other circumstances I would have called a supervisor.

  2. I second Michael's advice. Being even Silver Elite on Continental (25,000 miles flown a year) makes a huge difference. You have access to better seats, faster/dedicated check-in lines, a different number to call if your flight gets cancelled, the potential for free upgrades, and in some airports a dedicated security line (Logan I think? Definitely Newark). Basically your checkin process is guarenteed, on average, to go much more smoothly. Also you don't need to only fly one airline, since, for example, any "Star Alliance" airline generally let's you credit your flight toward your frequent flyer account on any other Star Alliance airline.

  3. Sorry Mike, but I think that you have the same attitude problem as me. Those arrogant profs in your case) with their condescending "observations" and their sassiness!