A forest of towering tail assemblies dominated the horizon when I looked out my airplane window this afternoon, while my plane was cruising down the tarmac of the Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C.
Posts Tagged ‘airports’
How many times have you looked out the window and seen this scene? The sun low on the horizon, the shimmering tarmac, the airport control tower etched black against the yellow sky . . . you could be at any airport in the world, ready to leave or just landing. (In the case of this photograph, it’s Houston.)
Business travel seems exciting when you’re a kid, but eventually you come to feel that overwhelming sense of sameness, deep in the marrow of your bones.
Back on the road and in the skies today. More time for me to appreciate the wonders of air travel, the sturdy beauty of our modern jet aircraft, and the inner workings of airports, with their finely timed dance of baggage handlers, runway workers, and cockpit crews. More time for me to consider just how many people work for the TSA, and how much all of those blue-shirted uniforms and shoulder walkie-talkies cost, anyway. More time for me to appreciate the simple joy of sleeping soundly in my own bed again, with my lovely wife beside me.
Normally I pay little attention to the ads on the walls of airport terminals. On Tuesday, however, an ad in the Philadelphia airport stopped me in my tracks.
It was for LA Boxing Gym, and it featured a guy readying the hands of a trim blonde woman for some boxing. She’s giving him a curious look. The text says: “Do your customers look this good? They would if you owned an LA Boxing Gym.”
Needless to say, this ad raised some questions.
Is it supposed to appeal to men who want to meet attractive women, don’t know how to do so, and have enough money to invest in starting up a franchise boxing operation to do so? If so, that seems like a pretty small target population to me. And are there really legions of attractive female boxers out there, looking for a gym? Most male boxers aren’t exactly paragons of classical Greek beauty — getting punched repeatedly in the face will do that for you — so how many gorgeous female boxers can there be? If you were a wealthy but lonely guy who wanted to start a business that would help you meet fit young women, wouldn’t you open a yoga clinic or pilates studio?
And if you were a female boxer looking for a gym, would this ad make you want to go to an LA Boxing Gym? Do female boxers want a real trainer at a real gym, or some desperate guy who started a business just so he could try to hang out with attractive women customers? Or, do most women boxers secretly hope to attract the romantic attention of their trainers?
And finally, why the Philadelphia airport? I’ve never seen this ad anywhere else. Is it some kind of special mecca for potential boxing gym owners? I guess Rocky Balboa would be proud.
1. I get no sleep because I’m worried that, despite setting countless alarms and requesting a wake-up call, I’ll oversleep.
2. The only coffee packets for the hotel room brewpot are decaf.
3. There is no readily apparent gas station within a five-mile radius of the airport at which I can gas up my rental car.
4. The rental car return scanner-clerk is irritatingly cheerful.
5. The concourse and gate from which my flight is leaving are as far as possible from the airport entrance and look out on virgin forest, unspoiled since the glaciers receded.
Apparently everyone who flies commercially in America these days is either a supermodel, an elf, or a child under the age of nine.
I say this because, without fail, when I finally plop down into my seat on the plane and fish out the seatbelt buckle halves from under my butt, I need to significantly adjust out the seatbelt straps. My God, what stick figure could have used this seat on the incoming flight? I always end up feeling a surge of shame that my middle-aged spread is grossly out of step with the rest of the country.
Interestingly, visual observation of American airports does not indicate that most air travelers are members of the fairy kingdom or just returning from the photo shoot for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. No, the people hitting the Sbarro and TCBY stands with such gusto seem to be about as beefy as your standard American.
That means there may be another, more nefarious explanation. Perhaps American exercise clubs, diet food manufacturers, and weight-loss supplement suppliers pay the crews that clean planes between flights to tighten every seat belt to 28-inch waist size, to encourage Americans to vow to lose some weight and use their products?
Last night we met Richard at Port Columbus as he came home for Thanksgiving. This morning we’ll meet Russell there, too.
Normally airports are not happy places. People are tired and frustrated. Tempers grow short during the wait in the security line. Travelers grow irritated as they hurry through the clumps of people standing at the gate. In a typical airport setting, you see bored, anxious, and hard-set faces.
But not when you are at the airport to meet an incoming passenger at Thanksgiving. As we waited for Richard to arrive at the entrance to the A concourse last night, we saw members of our military returning to their spouses and children, college students meeting their parents and girlfriends, and families hugging and squealing. Faces lit up as happy reunions occurred, and a feeling of joy was heavy in the air. We experienced it ourselves when Richard walked into view, and our Thanksgiving started two days before the official holiday arrived.
The more I travel, the more I have come to value airports and hotels by the availability of free wireless access to the internet. For airports, the availability of plentiful plug-ins also factors into the mix.
By these two crucial measures, Port Columbus fares pretty well. The seating areas have lots of plug-ins that allow you to recharge your collection of electric devices after a long day on the road. The wireless is free and seems to be available throughout the airport — or, at least, at the gates I’ve used. The free wireless is advertised through a corny campaign that invites airport patrons to visit “Wai-Fai Beach” and features a little grass-skirted hula dancer figure, but I don’t care. I’ve used the kitschy surfboard as a plug-in point when the seating areas are filled, and I appreciate the service.
It’s gotten to the point that I become irked if I can’t find lots of outlets and free wireless at airports or in my hotel room. It’s bad enough when there is no wireless, but it is even worse when you have to register and pay for it. I really feel like I’m being nickeled and dimed to death. I’ve started to ask my secretary to check to see if the hotel has free wireless. If it doesn’t, and I can free wireless at a competitively priced alternative, that is where I am going to take my business.
I’m not saying I’m entitled to free wireless, but if Port Columbus and many hotels can provide it, why can’t everybody?
My aging BlackBerry is giving up the ghost, and dealing with its slow-motion expiration has been painful.
I’ve liked the BlackBerry. I don’t use it for much other than phone calls, e-mail checks, random textings, and the occasional foray onto the internet. I haven’t loaded it down with apps because I don’t care to make my phone the center of my very existence.
It has been easy to operate and reliable through years of regular daily use. But the key word in the last sentence is “been,” because the BlackBerry has now become as temperamental and unpredictable as a spoiled feline. The battery has run down to the point where only a few minutes of use will drain the charge, and then all bets are off. Sometimes the BlackBerry screen will just go black, other times error messages will occur. And nothing says “professionalism” like a randomly cut off business call and a later, fumbling explanation that your handheld device is on the fritz.
It particularly sucks when I am on the road. In airports I relentlessly prowl the gate areas for plug-in points, eyes glued at ankle level, looking like a dog roaming the house and sniffing for food that may have fallen the ground. In older airports, you’ll find me standing at the few, odd areas, always located far from any seating, where you find electrical outlets. As soon as I unplug and head to a chair, the power bars start to flicker and the power draining begins.
It’s time for a new BlackBerry.
I’m here at the Akron-Canton Airport, waiting for Russell’s AirTrans flight to arrive.
Why the Akron-Canton Airport, you ask? Because Russell’s flight to Columbus was first delayed, and then cancelled, and there were no other flights from LaGuardia to Columbus tonight. So we did some quick internet searches, saw an AirTrans flight to Akron-Canton that was open, and grabbed it. We figured we were coming up north for the reunion anyway, so why not just come up a night early? And, therefore, here I am.
The Akron-Canton Airport is probably like a lot of small, regional airports at 10 p.m. on a weeknight — that is, dead. Everything is closed. There is almost no one here, and no TV or other distractions to help pass the time. The only people you see stumble past like the dazed, misguided souls being led in the wrong direction after the ship capsized in The Poseidon Adventure.
Probably because there is nothing else to do, I can’t help checking the monitor repeatedly, where I see that Russell’s flight information is blinking — which means another delay. Arrrgh!
Help me! I’m in hell!
1. Don’t bring luggage you can’t lift. Saturday I saw a common sight: a petite woman struggling with a monster bag on the baggage carousel. She grabbed the bag, could not lift it off the conveyor, didn’t let go, and plowed into the people next to her until someone helped out. This will no longer be tolerated! If you are going to check a bag, do a test at home and confirm that can actually lift it come baggage claim time. If it is a carry-on, be sure that you can lift it overhead without it falling and knocking out an innocent fellow passenger.
2. Respect my baggage claim space. Nothing bugs me more than finding a place around the baggage claim carousel that provides good sight lines, then having multiple johnny-come-latelys wedge in front of me and block my view so that I can’t see my bag until it appears, in motion, in the tiny gap right in front of me. To quote Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame, when it comes to baggage claim, “Spread out!”
3. You must take a long, hot shower before you travel by air. Let’s be reasonable. You are going to be in very close proximity to total strangers, so let’s respect their interest in not being assaulted by your unseemly body odors. I don’t care if you felt that you had to get in a workout right before the flight. And the penalty for violating this rule would be tripled on a trans-Atlantic flight.
4. No abrupt stopping is permitted when you are walking through airports. Unless you are in the gate seating area, recognize that everyone around you is in motion. If everyone maintains their pace, the traveler rushing to get to their gate can calculate gaps, adjust their gait accordingly, and weave through the traffic. But if a family walking four across suddenly stops in the middle of traffic, havoc ensues. Treat the walkway areas like an interstate. If you must stop, first move off to the side.
5. Keep your charming kids to yourself. I like kids, I really do. I just don’t enjoy misbehaving rug rats in the gate area when I am waiting for my flight after a tiring day. On Saturday I was plugged into a charging station when a five-year-old came over to examine things in the uncomfortable, up-close-and-personal, touchy way that is common to five-year-olds. Give me a break! No one wants some hyped-up kid bugging them or racing around the gate area, shrieking while they play a game. I can tolerate crying kids — everyone knows that happens to overtired youngsters — but what really gripes my cookies is inattentive parents who don’t make their kids sit down or get up themselves and walk around with a child who has ants in his pants and can’t sit still.
Back in the days when the firm unwisely allowed me to interview law students, I would occasionally ask what they hoped they would do with their practice. Some of the fresh-faced, dewy-eyed students responded, with complete sincerity: “I’d really like to travel.” It was all I could do to avoid bursting into laughter at their ludicrous naivete.
Here is the scene that confronted us at Gate B77 at Bush International Airport in Houston this afternoon. Gate B77 is in one of those infernal pod areas, where about 8 gates are crammed into a circular area. The boarding area was packed with people and their carry-on luggage. Clusters of people were standing in the open areas, blocking easy passage. People were sitting on the floor, eating their fast food. In the distance a kid was screaming. At one point, a man walked by, carrying a live chicken under one arm and leading a goat.
Okay, I made that last part up, but the noisy, trashy, chaotic scene made me think of what the debarkation area at Ellis Island must have been like.
This, then, is the glamour of business travel!
Posted in America, Columbus, Travel, weather, Work, tagged air travel, airports, America, business, Business Travel, Columbus, Houston, modern culture, Port Columbus, Travel, Work on March 11, 2011 | Leave a Comment »
The modern world is a pretty amazing place. Yesterday morning I went to soggy Port Columbus, checked in, and boarded a Continental flight. Three hours or so later I was in sunny and warm Houston, Texas, in a conference room on the 41st floor of a downtown office building, looking at the view shown above. A few meetings, a conference room lunch of shrimp etouffee and red beans and rice, and a few phone calls later and I was back in a cab, zipping by in the taxi lane to George Bush International Airport. A few hours after that, I arrived in cold and snowy Columbus, getting home at a little after 9 p.m.
A few airports visited, two thousand air miles traveled, latitudes and longitudes spanned, enormous weather systems leaped, cultural divides crossed — and all in the space of a few hours. We tend to take these kinds of trips for granted, but perhaps we shouldn’t. It really is a pretty amazing thing.
Posted in America, Travel, tagged air travel, Airport security, Airport security screenings, airports, America, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Port Columbus, Transportation Security Administration, Travel, TSA on January 23, 2011 | 1 Comment »
This week I was in St. Louis overnight, so I went through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at Port Columbus on Thursday and the TSA checkpoint at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on Friday. I therefore must ask: why are the checkpoint procedures so different from airport to airport?
In Columbus there are separate lines for “expert travelers,” casual travelers, and families in order to improve the flow through security. In St. Louis everyone gets in the same, slow-moving line. In St. Louis you can’t put your shoes in the plastic tub, you need to put them on the belt separately. In Columbus, shoes can go in the tub with everything else. In some airports you seem to need to hold your boarding pass as you go through the scanner, in others you don’t. In some airports laptops need to be placed in their own bin, in others that is not the case.
Maybe the TSA procedures are ever-changing and that is the reason for the discrepancies, but I doubt it. It seems like every airport has its own special procedures, and I think that is a mistake. The TSA is a federal agency, and as a federal agency should enforce uniform procedures on a nationwide basis. Having different, seemingly weird procedures — like placing your shoes directly on the belt in St. Louis — just slows down the security check-through process. Passengers are already on edge because of the slowness of the process and the prospect of missing their plane, and it just makes them mad when they get yelled at by a TSA officer for not following a completely unknown requirement.
Is it too much to ask for some consistency in what is supposed to be an important security process?
Going through any airport in the United States is an experience in soul-deadening sameness. Every airport has the same features, the same stores, the same signs, the same walkways, the same arrival/departure boards — in short, the same everything.
Why is this so? Is it because airport designers and managers believe that most Americans are so immersed in consumer culture that they cannot exist if they ever get more than 50 yards from a Sbarro, a generic newstand, or a sticky, crowded food court? Is it because airport designers are engaged in a giant cover-your-ass exercise, figuring that if they create an airport that looks like every other airport the county board or city council that floated the bonds won’t complain? Or do they honestly believe that there is only one way that an airport should look, and feel, and that is all we are going to get?
Magazine ads used to feature mock envelopes with the address “Anytown, U.S.A.” Small towns, however, always had their own unique features, foods, and local stores. Airports don’t. Most pictures you take of an airport — like the picture accompanying this post — look exactly like every other airport. (In this case, it is Houston.) It’s sad, and makes you feel like you really aren’t going anywhere at all — just to another bland stop on the sameness express, where every airport has the dash and spice of a mouthful of phlegm.