A Chaotic Travel Day

Aug. 10, 2006
New security procedures went into effect this morning.

As I approached the counter of the convenience store near my hotel this morning, I couldn't believe how expensive the little bottle of eye drops in my hand was. But I needed it since I was leaving the hotel at 4:30 a.m. to go to La Guardia airport for a 7:00 flight to Washington, D.C.

It was 4:15 as I waited in the hotel lobby for my ride. The lobby TV was tuned to CNN, and I noticed a headline that said "Terror Alert Raised." I listened for a few minutes as they reported that the alert level had been raised to red for international flights and orange for domestic flights. I sure was glad I was planning on arriving at the airport two hours early for my flight.

As I approached the ticked counter at the airport, I saw a very long line and knew something was wrong. A United agent was walking passing out a document to all the passengers. As I read the document, I realized why the line was so long. It said that passengers could no longer carry any liquids past security or on the airplane. I looked ahead and realized that a lot of the passengers in line were checking carry-on sized luggage that they normally would have taken on the airplane. The line was large and moving very slowly.

After I got my boarding pass and checked my bag, I proceeded to the security line for my gate. As I approached the security line, the line I had just gone through at the counter didn't seem so long after all. The line was about 100 yards long. I looked at my watch. It was 5:30. We wouldn't be boarding for another hour or so. I can still make it, I thought.

I was wrong. The line was barely moving. After an hour in line, I had only gone about half-way through the line. I started to wonder if I was going to miss my flight.

As I got to the front, I realized part of the reason the line was moving so slowly. An American Airlines gate agent was moving American passengers up front as their flights neared. Great for the many passengers she moved up the line. Great for American Airlines because their flights could possibly make it for on-time departures. But it was bad for all the other airline passengers. Bad for all the other airlines that followed the rules and let the line move normally. It was even bad for American Airlines. Let's just say that there were some vulgar words thrown at the agent as she pushed her passengers ahead of all the others. The atmosphere was tense. Her unprofessional actions were pushing the crowd toward a breaking point. If she would have just let the line progress normally, we would have gotten through a little quicker. Her actions not only slowed the line for everyone else, it made for some very angry passengers.

As we got closer to the security gate, there was a wide variety of liquid bottles lying on the floor and by the windows as people remembered other items they had in their carry-on luggage. I ended up giving up my just-purchased eye drops and a bottle of lens cleaner that I forgot to stuff in my carry-on. They joined bottles of water, toothpaste tubes, expensive perfumes, and many other items.

I got through security and made it to my gate a little late at 7:15. As I had hoped, the airline was still at the gate and hadn't even begun boarding yet. We ended up boarding the aircraft shortly afterwards. All eight of us at the gate quickly boarded the CRJ. The captain walked in the cabin and told us that United had decided to hold the departure until the passengers that were still stuck in line made it through. Good for United, I thought. I think all the passengers shared my opinion. We were amidst the chaos at the security checkpoint earlier, and were patient enough to let our fellow passengers make it to the plane for their flight.

We arrived at Dulles about 1 ½ hours late. Considering all that was going on this morning, I guess that wasn't that bad.

In case I didn't make it clear earlier, the American gate agent acted in a very un-professional manner and added to the chaos of the morning. As the United gate agent said, this was against airport policy. If the American agent was doing this on her own, she should be reprimanded. If it was a company directive, the hundreds of upset passengers from other airlines may end up financially reprimanding the company.

Thanks for reading.

Joe Escobar