If you're traveling by air, the last place you want to spend any time is at an airport. You want to get on your flight, make your connections, and arrive at your destination with a minimum of hassles. But the best laid plans….
Right now, there's a viral video out that's been getting a lot attention over the last few days. Richard Dunn got bumped off two consecutive Delta Airlines flights, and spent the night at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Armed with an iPhone, a lot of ingenuity, and plenty of time, he created an epic video with the Celine Dion cover of "All By Myself" for a soundtrack. http://vimeo.com/...
At five minutes, 20 seconds, it's both more compelling and better crafted than "The Terminal" - and a lot quicker to get through. Follow me past the Orange Omnilepticon and prepare to share tales of airport doom.
The whole idea of an airport is that you'e just passing through. There are modest creature comforts - shops, food, seating areas, etc. - but you're not expected to linger for too long. You can't casually go out and go elsewhere if you've got time on your hands, not without having to pass through security. There's also the infomercial effect: most airports are seen as marketing tools for their communities, attempting to entice you to local attractions and businesses, or divert you with exhibits of art and such, usually with a local theme. And it's usually wrapped in architecture that invokes the intimate warmth of a shopping mall, albeit with more windows and planes parked outside. If you want or need some personal space for any length of time, good luck.
To make it even more fun, odds are if you are flying anywhere, you'll have to go through several airports on your trip because of the hub and spoke system. Usual procedure is, your flight will arrive on one side of a massive, sprawling terminal, and your departing flight will be on the opposite side - with minimal time to get there. If your connecting flight is there at all, that is. Anything that interferes with traffic to and from the hub to anywhere can quickly affect everything else that connects to the hub. (Another name for a hub is choke point… Also, see domino effect.)
Recently, I and my traveling companion had the 'pleasure of overnighting at Washington National in D.C. because of weather. We got in okay, but our connecting flight out got canceled while we waited - and they'd already put our checked bags on the last plane that was going to that airport. (You and your bags don't always fly on the same plane! If there's anything critical you need, carry it on with you. And pack some survival gear, like a change of clothes and minimal toiletries if you can.)
There's one thing about Washington National - the D.C. Metro goes right past the terminal. We hopped on a train and were quickly at Arlington National Cemetery where we spent a few hours walking around. We could easily have seen the rest of the city, but things were shutting down by then so we went back to the airport. We couldn't get back in to the secured areas, because an item we'd bought as a gift just before boarding our original flight wasn't permitted back in! We hadn't realized that, when we had gone out. It was only thanks to the kindness of a volunteer at the military courtesy room that we didn't have to throw it away - he mailed it ahead for us.
We ended up spending the night on hard wooden benches in the minuscule multi-faith chapel. At least it was an enclosed space, and didn't have the automated messages blaring away every few minutes. ("…Do not leave your luggage unattended. Passengers should stay in touch with their belongings at all time … If you or someone traveling with you has been given a package to carry by someone…) We figured a few hours in a hotel wasn't worth it, not with having to scramble back for an early flight out. We eventually caught up with our luggage, which apparently had an uneventful time of it.
And of course, we got stranded overnight at Washington National on the trip back.
In some ways it was not quite as stressing as a flight we made to England some years earlier. IIRC, we arrived at Heathrow just after it had had a massive melt down. Torrential rains had canceled hundreds of flights across the country, and Heathrow's baggage handling system had been swamped - including hundreds of bags that had gotten left out on the ramp in the rain. We got our flight out, but our bags didn't catch up with us for nearly a week - and were delivered NOT to the address we had requested. The airline had given us a small allowance for necessaries, but it was not fun. Again - anything you can't live without, keep it with you.
The modern era is slightly tempered by smart phones, tablets, and laptops. IF you can get an internet connection or a phone signal, you can keep in touch with people who have to know where you are, look for travel alternatives, and find out stuff the people at the airline counters don't know or can't tell you.
The problem is, connecting to the Internet can be problematic. Increasingly airports seem to regard WIFI access as a cash cow. You may end up having to pay through the nose for access - if you can find a hot spot. It can be pretty risky too, as this NPR news story reports.
Despite the fact that every major Internet provider has added some kind of encryption to its services over the past year, tracking your online traffic is easier than you think.
And you don't have to be the target of the hacker or the NSA for your traffic to be intercepted. There is a hole in mobile security that could make tens of millions of Americans vulnerable.
Unsecure Wi-Fi networks have been a well-known vulnerability in the tech industry for years. They can let even the most unsophisticated hacker capture your traffic and possibly steal your identity.
There's a number of related stories here at NPR, all of them worth a look.
So, it's not just your luggage you have to worry about losing these days - it's also your identity. For a lot of people, one of the hard parts about traveling is being out of touch, never more so than now in the information age. One more thing to worry about.
So, have you got any airport horror stories to share? Amusing anecdotes? Survival tips? Feel free to pass them on in comments. While you're at it, you might want to consider signing up with these guys - because it's always good to have a Plan B available. And you might want to do something about these idiots before they cripple the country further.