Greetings from Minnesota

[Previously “friends only”]

Even you haven’t been on a plane since September, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that the entire experience was awful.

It started at the airport, where less than half the check-in booths were staffed, and even the e-ticket counters had a long line of people. The terminal had been rearranged, and new walls added, to funnel everyone through one security checkpoint. Naturally there were only two scanners operating, resulting in more long lines. In addition to scanning, I was patted down, checked with the metal-detector wand, and my bag was drug-tested.

When they started boarding the plane, they checked everyone’s paperwork and ID cards a third time, and used the metal detector wand (again) on a few randomly-selected victims. Naturally they only had one person checking, and didn’t allow any extra time for the process—just the usual fifteen minutes. Hence the plane was guaranteed to be late taking off.

Leafing through the in-flight magazine, I learned that for security reasons we wouldn’t be served a meal, or coffee. Presumably it’s just too much of a risk that someone might take over the plane, armed with a plastic fork and a flimsy polystyrene cup of hot liquid.

When we arrived in Minneapolis, there was another twenty minute wait for the baggage to be unloaded. When it finally appeared, it appeared a few bags at a time, stretched over another twenty minutes or so. After a long time, it became clear that one of our suitcases wasn’t going to turn up. We joined another long queue to talk to the lost baggage staff, and gave them the relevant details.

We then tried to leave the airport. More than half of the exit ramps from the car park were unstaffed, and we had to sit in the car, inching forwards, for another twenty to twenty-five minutes.

The common element, of course, is drastic cost-cutting and massive understaffing—the result of the huge layoffs after September 11th. You might be given to wonder what happened to all the bailout money we (the taxpayers) gave the airlines—the tickets weren’t any cheaper than usual, clearly they didn’t spend it so that they could keep adequate staffing levels, and none of it went to the people laid off, so the only possible conclusion is that it’s going straight into the pockets of high-level management at the various airlines.

The next day, I called to see if they’d found the missing suitcase. The automatic voicemail message said to press 1 if I was calling about baggage I’d left on a plane less than five weeks ago, or to press 2 if I was calling about baggage I’d left on a plane more than five weeks ago. Conspicuously absent was an option to push if the damn airline had lost my suitcase.

Calling the local airport in Rochester was more successful; it has such a small staff anyway that presumably there wasn’t anyone they could lay off. We got to talk to an actual human being, who said my case was there. We went and collected it. They’d given me a voucher worth $25 off a flight, but only if spent before May. Gee, thanks.