Friday, March 28, 2008

Southwest continues to flummox travelers, big and small

So here I am blogging from the Tom Bradley International Terminal in lovely LA. It's spring here - eucalyptus is fragrant, the azaleas are in bloom and the airport workers are spending their lunch time sprawled out under the palms. But more on LA later.

Taking a local carrier over to an international connection raises the stakes a bit - no one cares if your connection is blown or if your bag is lost. For a less than intrepid traveler, this makes it a tiny but more stressful and the delay to my first flight of the day raised the stakes even further. But it worked out and the delay was only 15 minutes or so.

I've spoken about Southwest's not so new boarding process a few times in the past. 7 foot steel poles with the boarding groups painted in bold black letters. To make it doubly simple, the numbers are painted on both of the poles that bracket you group. Like 31-35 with arrows pointing to the left and the right.

No matter though, because this complex math continues to stymie my fellow travelers. The best thing is that you can now sit until the last possible moment. The second best thing is watching 8 people line up in the space for 5. My group had just that this morning, 5 individuals and a mom with 2 kids. Making it interesting was the quiz show the little boy was running for his mom and sis, today's topic being "world's largest bodies of water".

"It's not in North America"

"It's close to Europe but not in Asia"

Etc.

I knew right away that these were the culprits but I followed my regular routine of waiting until someone flashed their boarding pass offering me the opportunity to politely steer them in the correct direction. Am I the only Good Ssmaritan out there? Does anyone else care about this stuff?

Finally the little girl asked what their number was and mom said "41, 42, 43".

Aha! I had them!

I politely mentioned that they were in the wrong space and mom told me in no uncertain terms that they were not. They were in fact standing in the 41 to 45 spot. I pointed to the poles, she looked and then made some comment to the effect that it really didn't matter anyway. While she moved back in line. The guy next to me said "it's the alphabet and numbers, what do you expect?"

The flight was quick and easy and marred only by the 15 minute wait for a parking place. The guys in the seat next to me were blithering on about semiconductor manufacturing, something I know a bit about but I decided one intervention today was enough.

Picked up my bag once Southwest decided which of the two carousels it wanted to use and I was on the hike to the other terminal. Today's learning - it's easier to walk with two wheeled bags, one in each hand, than it is to stack them up.

One great thing about LAX, the helpers they place at the terminal doorways. If you look confused, they will offer help without being asked. I availed myself of one today, asking how to get up from the lower level (shadier down there for the hike) to the ticketing level above.

Found m way to the Aer Lingus check-in area and I was faced with two options - a long sweaty serpentine line or the completely empty Gold Circle check-in. Now, I am a member but I have not achieved any status having booked only 2 previous flights, but I figured "what the heck" and went for the empty line.

I've discovered that a little bluff and bluster goes a long way in international travel. This though is very much in conflict with my normal "Swiss" demeanor in following rules, signs and regulations. I still recall the dread I felt when Auntie Jean Russell barged right past the ticket kiosk at Biosphere when we went out there to find some friend of hers. Throughout the entire stolen tour, I was in mortal fear of the moment when the Terranaut Police would ask me to kindly step out of line.

The agent called me up and asked me if I was holding a gold ticket. I handed her my passport. She told me she couldn't find my gold status in the computer. I whipped out my phone and read her my membership number, wisely stored in my "contacts". She asked me if they had sent me a card yet. I told her I'd been a member for a lone time. In the end it didn't matter, because she gave me my boarding pass and sent me on my way.

The Bradley terminal serves to remind one just how far we have not come in terms of airport security. Like so many others, the security area here is makeshift, built in the only logical area where people can be pushed through a funnel. It went fast though and the big surprise didn't come until I was inside - the place was under construction and the services were scant to say the least. Dashed was my dream of a crusty panini sandwich, the one and only food outlet was Build-A-Dog, and its menus options were twofold - a $10 hot dog or a $10 sausage. The thought of those choices rattling around in my gut on a 9 hour flight led me to a chocolate chip scone and a diet coke. I figured I'd wait for dinner on the plane.

I understand improving the infrastructure, but trapping people downstream from security and limiting them to Build-A-Dog seems somewhat cruel and unusual. At least somewhat below what you'd expect from the international terminal at the airport in our nation's second largest city.

Ah well, next stop - Dublin.

Source = Blackberry

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