The Airports of My Dreams

Well, graduation weekend is basically over as I get ready to fly back home tomorrow. I’ve got a couple of blog postings in the works, but right now, the thing that really sticks out is the ridiculous hassle getting in and around airports has become. I know, it’s not exactly the most original comment ever, but every time I fly, the point gets driven home more and more. I fly fairly often for personal purposes, so I’ve got my process pretty optimized to get through security with the least amount of trouble (and if you ever have to travel with me, you better keep up). When possible and the weather permits, I prefer to fly in a velour sweatsuit to avoid the taking on/off of a jacket or coat. I wear flip flops for quick on/off through the scanner and in my carry-on, I’ve got my laptop (case with the zipper side up for easy access, of course) and all my 3oz. or less liquids in my little one quart plastic zip lock bag (for which I have a standing supply in my house just for this purpose) ready to be easily pulled out, put through the scanner, and quickly placed back into my bag. No getting practically half-dressed to walk two feet through the metal detector and no fumbling to then quickly gather your two or three trays full of things and hurry over to the little post-checkpoint chairs, awkwardly hurrying to put your shoes back in and hide that little plastic bag before strangers see what 3 oz. or less liquids you just had to have with you on that plane. And all this with the constant sound of TSA workers yelling, “No liquids, no knives, no lighters… all shoes must come off, all jackets… ” (I really hope they get more than two 15 minute breaks every four hours plus lunch because I think my head would explode if my job was to wear some rubber gloves and yell that all day.) No, none of that for me. I try to streamline the process as much as possible. I’m in and out. I am a leaf on the wind – watch how I soar.

But today was an even more interesting experience: we’re staying our last night at a hotel that’s actually attached to the airport (Hyatt Regency Pittsburgh International Airport— in short, pretty nice hotel, convenient for an early flight, but what else is really exciting about an airport hotel) and since the hotel restaurant was closed when we got in, we asked the front desk where was the closet place to eat. They directed us to go to the “AirMall,” a sort-of mall with restaurants, shops, etc., but since it’s on the airside of the airport, the hotel has a special setup to allow guests to pass through security without boarding passes. The process first began with the hotel issuing each of us a “passport” with our full names printed on them. In addition to the passport itself, the front desk then needs to call over to the information center at the airport letting them know our names and that we are headed over. Once over to the other side (and a little wandering around until we found the correct information desk), we then each had to fill out forms, providing yet more personal information about ourselves and our stay at the hotel, as well as provide ID.

Unfortunately, about halfway through this process, as I was reviewing the multiple page document explaining what I was agreeing to, I realized that if this whole setup is to help hotel guests pass through security to get to the AirMall, this also means that you have to abide by all of the TSA security regulations. I suppose this is obvious if you take a minute to think about it, but the woman the front desk didn’t really remind us about the safety restrictions, so it didn’t really dawn on me until then. Since we would be checking out tomorrow morning and all we really wanted to do was get something to eat, I realized going all the way back to the room to return the random lotions, lipstick and whatever else my mother and I had between us (ironically, all probably 3 oz. or less each, but no super-duper plastic bag to act as our magic key through security) just to get some airport food was definitely not worth it. So, in the end, our mission was aborted (the thought occurred to me aborting might raise some weird terror flags) and we just ate on the landside of the airport– airport food still, but without all the hassle.

At night, I dream of luxurious airports, staffed like five-star hotels, where polite, well-dressed people help you check-in and you always get the seat you want. Young, good-looking bellhops help you check your bags, bags that always make it safely to their destination. At worst, you have to pass through a metal detector, but the security staff is polite, reassuring and confident as they guide you through the security checkpoint. You feel safe and protected. Airport bathrooms are pristine oases with places where you can safely place your things while you use the toilet, wash your face, etc. There are soft towels and luxurious soaps to help refresh you after a long flight. And at the gates, there are always enough seats for passengers and they are comfortable seats at that– small lounges to relax while you wait for your flight, with couches and soft chairs, with little tables to place your drink on or to eat your sandwich or use your laptop. Power outlets are plenty, wireless is free and the signal is strong. Everywhere.

Unfortunately, this is closer to reality:

Read: Schneier on Security: On the Implausibility of the Explosives Plot
Schneier on Security: What the Terrorists Want