“I’m going to be one of those crazy 75 year-old radical grannies going down to DC with picketing signs,” I said to Jon earlier this morning.

“You already are,” he replied.

And while I was smiling, he was not amused. I was trying to make light of the slightly embarrassing scene I had just caused in security at Boston Logan (and get ready, what I’m about to write may flag me for the no-fly list).

Boston recently installed full-body scanners—delightful new security devices that enable security personnel to see everything (and I do mean everything) about you. Although I fly pretty frequently, my first encounter with them did not happen until this week. On Wednesday morning going through security for a flight to DC, I was pulled aside from the metal detector line and asked to go through the full body scan. I looked at the security guard quizzically, “Do I really need to?” I asked out of genuine curiosity. They were not sending everyone through them, rather picking and choosing. I was already wearing a form fitting shirt and skirt and didn’t really see how I could be concealing much (it was work appropriate, just not some big, baggy outfit). 

The security guard said, “You can go through the full body scanner or have a full-body pat down.”

I contemplated the possibilities—hmm, either have someone see literally every inch of my body (and let me tell you it really is every inch) or have someone feel my body. Neither was appealing. And frankly, neither felt warranted.

“Is there any reason why I have to go through either?” I asked nicely.

“It’s standard protocol,” the guard replied.

“I don’t really feel comfortable with either one of those, can I just go through the metal detector?” Not only did I not want someone feeling or seeing everything, the line for the full body scanner was quite long and I was already running late for my flight having waited in the security line for 20 minutes.

“Sure, go ahead,” the guard said and I whizzed through the metal detector and was on my way.

Given the experience on Wednesday, when presented with the same situation at Logan this morning—and an added long line for the full body scan—I once again asked, “can I go through the regular metal detector?” This time the security guard not only didn’t look as friendly, he was in no mood for my question.

“You can go through the full body scanner or you can get a full body pat down,” he said brusquely.

I was confused. As Jon and I had placed our carry-on items on the security belt, there were five people waiting for the full body scanner. It was quite the line. As I asked the question, another guard had taken four people ahead of us out of the long line for the full body scanner and sent them through the regular metal detector. So I thought, makes sense to shorten the line and I don’t like the invasion of privacy…a win/win.

Apparently he did not agree. “Take off your watch and your bracelet and hold them in your hand.”

So I objected again. “I really don’t feel comfortable going through the full body scanner or getting a pat down.” The male security guard kind of looked annoyed and turned his attention to Jon, while a female security guard came toward me from the full body scanner and said in a brusque tone, “you can choose: either the scanner or the pat down, which would you like to do?”

“Well, I don’t really want to do either. Can I go through the metal detector?”

She looked at me sternly. “Scanner or pat down?”

“Fine, I’ll do the scanner.”

So I stepped into the space between two walls of machinery.

“Place your feet on the indicators with your hands above your head.”

Excuse me? The position indicated was the equivalent of a Law and Order criminal frisk. My legs were spread, my hands moved to my head to a vulnerable position. I felt exposed on a multitude of fronts.

“I feel like a f*&%ing criminal,” I said under my breath, albeit a little louder, as I tried to take a deep breath. Stay calm.

Well, the female security guard really didn’t like that. “Do you want a pat down? Stand still!”

Ah, yes because there’s nothing like being ordered around to make one feel comfortable when their private regions are being exposed via live feed to the security guards watching the monitor and standing spread eagle in front of an airport full of people. Awesome.

“I really don’t understand why this is necessary,” I said again, clearly agitated as the security guard moved me from the scanning device to a holding pad where I was told to wait until given the-all clear.

I couldn’t hear and didn’t notice if anyone else was upset by this whole process, all I could think about was the burning in my face and the frustration I felt at our system.

As we grabbed our bags, Jon was visibly annoyed at my reaction. ‘Why did you have to do that,” he asked.

I tried to explain how invaded I felt. How ridiculous it seemed. Given the early morning and my only 5 hours of sleep, I don’t think I was articulating my point very well. But it seems to me that this level of investigation is unnecessary in this age of information and frankly, a level of Big Brother with which I just do not agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support security measures to prevent terrorist attacks and to keep Americans safe. My question is, is the extra level of security that full-body scanning provides really worth forfeiting an American value of personal/private space? And in addition, are there not better ways to prevent terrorist attacks? In an age where we have unparalleled technologies to track movement, compile data and analyze behavior, you are telling me that our security teams don’t already have a pretty good idea of who would be a threat before they even get in the security line? If they don’t, then Houston, we have a problem.

I suffer under no delusion of privacy. I know that American Airlines (the airline I fly the most, but really any airline) and the American government have huge amounts of data on my travel, personal history, and perhaps even this blog. (And this is no conspiracy theory notion—working in online media I can attest to how much information you can gather about someone with a few clicks. And frankly if you’re a business, why wouldn’t you because you want to be able to target a customer so the more information you have on them, the better—and that same information can be passed on for security.) To ensure our security and the American way of life, we have given up a lot of our rights to privacy. So the question becomes, when is it too much? And when should we stand up to it?

Jon said I should just go along with the body scan—everyone else was doing it and they need it to see things that wouldn’t already be detected. Ok, sure. I get that—kind of. I could possibly understand it if someone gave them a reason, or provided cause (Jon said I provided cause by asking to not go through it). However, I am just left rather dumbfounded as to why people with no record and no indication of a threat are subjected to invasive procedures when people who have been identified as threats (ie, the young Nigerian fellow whose own parents had called the US Embassy to warn about) skip through unnoticed.

So I would like to US Government security officials:

  • How much safer are the people on my flight because the security guards at the airport got to see me naked?
  • How much more information do these scans really provide? If someone has a gun hidden somewhere, won’t that set off a metal detector anyway?
  • Is there a way to be smarter, more effective, and more efficient with our security so that we can be safe and at the same time not jeopardize core American values?

I’m curious to know what others think. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I should go along. But as the silent masses piled through security this morning disrobing, de-shoeing, un-buckling, without even an eyebrow raise, my inner radical grannie just couldn’t be silenced. And I think maybe America might be a little better, and a little safer if there were a few more raising their inner grannie voices as well.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Bookmark and Share

New York in 24 hours on Tuesday/Wednesday followed by an 8:25am flight to San Francisco on Thursday morning makes for a busy week of traveling.

There were signs that this morning might be an issue. It could have been the blazing migraine and incredible dizziness and nausea Wednesday night—hopefully not from the Hotel Pennsylvania—or the fact that I was overwhelmed with all the things I hadn’t done that I was supposed to for this trip and the trip next week to Tanzania…but things were definitely off.

At 7:15 AM, pretty much packed, but not close to exiting the house, I said to Jon ‘Ok, I’m ready when you are!’ He came in and asked if I had any stamps. I did. I handed them to him, ‘Ok, ready to go?’ I asked. He nodded and walked into the other room. At 7:20, I asked again. He said he was ready. At 7:30, we finally left the house—I should say  I was also dithering about.

In the car Jon asked what time my flight was supposed to leave. I said ‘8:24, I’ve got plenty of time.’

Did I? Actually I wasn’t sure what time we left the house and looking at Jon’s car clock didn’t help—it moves faster than time and is generally somewhere in the range of 15-25 minutes ahead of the time.

When we arrived at the terminal, I saw a bizarre sight: a snaking line outside of the First Class/Priority Check-in. That’s usually the area I breeze through utilizing the computer check-in and move through the priority access security line. Both were backed up like I’d never seen at Logan.

I walked up to the computer but was intercepted by a woman keeping track of the line. ‘What’s your flight?’ she asked. ‘San Francisco,’ I replied. She looked at me wide-eyed. ‘What?! You gonna missa your flight! Come with me’ and she indicated I should follow her to the front of the line.

This did not go over well with the other passengers waiting in the line. ‘There’s a line for a reason!’ ‘My flight’s at 8:45 I’m not gonna make it.’ ‘Are we penalized for coming early? Maybe I should show up minutes before and get special treatment too!’

Apparently there was a cancelled flight—shockingly not mine—and it was causing a lot of angst, anger, and rescheduling. And rescheduling takes a lot of the American Airlines desk attendant’s time apparently.

The woman ‘wo-manning’ the line asked for my credit card and bustled off to check me in on the computer. I watched nervously and unsure why she needed to do it and not me. She returned a few minutes later with my boarding pass. I eyed the people talking to the agents—who had been the same for the past 15 minutes. Finally there was a break in the line. I jumped up to check my bag and then sprinted to the security line.

At first it moved like molasses. I checked my watch. 8:05…still time. I made it through. I even made it to the Dunkin Donuts to get a bagel before the flight. Here’s where I made the critical error. Instead of just asking for a bagel, I asked for a bagel, egg and cheese—and paid. I checked the time, 8:10 and no boarding calls. Except, wait, was that my name being called? ‘Passenger Fowler to gate 35 for final boarding. Last call for passenger Fowler.’

I made a scramble to grab the attention of the Dunkin Donuts employee. ‘Excuse me, can I grab my bagel?’

 ‘Which bagel?’

‘The egg and cheese bagel.’

‘We’re out of eggs.’

‘What?’

‘We’re out of eggs.’

Out of eggs between when I ordered two minutes ago and right now?

‘My flight is calling my name, can I just get a bagel?’

‘No eggs. You can get in line?’

Ugggggghhhh. Seriously? How difficult is this?!

‘You can keep my $3 thanks!’

I sprinted down the corridor to Gate 35. Another woman was waiting at the gate telling the gate attendant that her other party members were on their way. Did I have time to go back and claim that bagel? I decided against it. Given my travel karma, it was too much to temptation to be left on the wrong side of the closed plane door.

I handed over my ticket, walked down the gangway, and was the last person to join the exit row, much to the chagrin of my seat mates. There was a smile between to two other seated passengers. I laughed, ‘Hoping I wouldn’t make it? I do that all the time when there are free seats.’ And sat down, appreciating that I would make it on time the best Bachelorette Party ever, but really hungry and craving that bagel, egg and cheese.

Snow at Logan December 20, 2009

Stop the snow, stop the snow, stop the snow

I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to air travel. For the last several years I’ve had status on American Airlines. Once you have status, it’s hard to travel on airlines you don’t. Here’s a quick example…

Our flight to Denver has been delayed three hours. We arrived two hours early (just to make sure we had confirmed seats given how many other flights have been delayed thanks to the Storm of the Century). The line at the regular counter was insanely long. The line at first class was nonexistent. On American, I can pop up to any counter because of having status. With status (or priority access), you get to breeze through check-in and go through an extra-special security line (which isn’t all that super special, but they make it seem like it is so that you feel better).

Today on United, no status, no breeze-through, which meant, wait in the long line. Ok, not so bad right? I mean, we did have a five hour wait till our flight so why worry about waiting in a long line? Because I’m spoiled. And because frankly, there is no reason to wait in an incredibly long line if you don’t know whether all the other people are waiting to check in, or waiting to reschedule flights (I suspected the latter given all the delays).

I wanted to cut the line and go right to the computer check-ins. My travel partner, we’ll call Mr. K, did not agree. He wanted us to wait in the line. Everyone else was waiting in line, thus we should too.

But as I mentioned, I am spoiled. I walked up to the agent managing the line and inquired as to whether this line was for rescheduling or check in. She said it was for people waiting to talk to an agent. I said we were just checking in. “I’ll pull you from the line when you get closer,” was her response. Closer to what? There were 50 people waiting to talk to an agent, and 10 computers open with no one using them. We were about 45 people back…didn’t it make sense for us to just go use the computer now? Mr. K again disagreed and convinced me to be good and wait in the line.

Five minutes passed, ten, then fifteen. Did it matter? That meant we still had four hours and forty-five minutes till our flight. For me it did. I asked Mr. K to hold my bags and did the limbo under the ropes to get to the computers. I started the check-in process. We didn’t need an agent, we just needed our bags checked and our boarding passes printed.

I finished pressing all the right buttons, and Mr. K was convinced. He jumped from the line with our bags.

We checked in. Only four and a half hours left to wait! Hurrah.


Add to Technorati Favorites

Bookmark and Share

Convio welcome banner in Austin

Welcoming the Summit attendees to the greatest city in Texas.

Yesterday I flew from BOS to AUS to attend the Convio Summit. Possibly one of my favorite things about working for a nonprofit that utilizes Convio is that they hold annual meetings in the greatest city in Texas, and arguably one of the greatest cities in the US.

The tricky part is getting here.

From Boston there are very few direct flights. The only one I could find was on JetBlue and it only goes once a day. So I opted for American (always close to my heart and even closer now that I’m inching towards reaching status again this year). That of course means a layover in Chicago or Dallas. Big D it was.

On my 2.5 hour layover I got a chance to navigate the bus system of DFW and have lunch with my parents in the new Grand Hyatt at Terminal A (something I highly recommend). (We chose that because it’s among the only spots not past security where I could meet them.) I also got a chance to rekindle my love-affair with Texan apparel. Being born and bred in Texas, there is something magical about stepping into DFW and becoming part of a glorious maze of cowboy hats, tight jeans, and boots complimented by ‘I love Texas’ stores, big blonde hair, and Sonny Bryan’s BBQ. I may not take advantage of any Texan clothing on a daily basis in Boston, but I have to say, I miss it.

I also miss the weather. During the lunch in Dallas, dark clouds were rolling in. Not a thunderstorm but a cooler front of air. Landing in Austin an hour later it was still warm, but the breeze was picking up and you could sense a change in the air. This morning, the temperature had slipped into the mid-50s with a strong breeze. The trees bent and swayed as flags around the capitol buildings snapped in the wind.

The trip down here ended up being long, but pretty pleasant (and shockingly no delays). Now it’s time to enjoy Austin, learn a lot at the conference, rock out during my presentation on Wednesday, and not think too hard about the 6am flight back on Thursday…

Add to Technorati Favorites

Bookmark and Share

Rocking chairs are not new to Logan, but tonight—the first time I’ve actually snagged one while waiting for a flight—I realize their true meaning: rocking away your frustration at waiting for a flight that threatens half hour by half hour never to come.

Rocking chair in Logan, sans rocker

Rocking chair in Logan, sans rocker

My colleagues at work this afternoon were nervous that I was going to miss my flight. At 5:15 I was still sitting at my desk, pretty calmly addressing some last minute needs (despite the fact that my bag was still sitting unpacked on my living room floor a few miles away). “Shouldn’t you leave now?” a few of them asked when I told them that my flight was scheduled to depart Logan at 7:30—“scheduled” being the key word. “Are you heading straight to the airport?” another asked. “No,” I replied, I still had to head home to finish packing. I received a rather shocked look in response.

But I had no fear that on a rainy, Friday night, after receiving updates that my mom’s flight from California to JFK was delayed a few hours, that my tiny Embraer flight from Logan to JFK on American would almost definitely be delayed.

As soon as I left the office (a very generous colleague offered to drive me home to avoid the delay of the bus), I received my two hour pre-flight call from American letting me know that my flight was “scheduled” to take off at 7:30. Surprised, I had a brief moment of panic—maybe I wouldn’t make it. As I hung up, I turned to my colleague to express a brief moment of concern. Then my phone buzzed again. American Airlines. They were sorry to report that my flight was now “scheduled” for departure at 8. I hung up and returned to my conversation. A few minutes later, a third call. American’s electronic voice recording was again sorry to report that my flight was now “scheduled” for 8:30.

Thank god.

Now I could actually pack. And find my international charger. And figure out international calling for my phone. And set my out of office messages. And attempt to pick up my bag with my right hand, left hand, and back and forth to guess if it was actually under 40 pounds (ok, yes I could have put in on a scale, but it wouldn’t have been as fun).

I relaxed at home. Guacamole was made. Final travel needs addressed. Then a leisurely trip down the rain soaked Pike to Logan. Bags checked (weighed in at 43 pounds!), security breeched and then passed. And then waiting. And rocking. And waiting. And listening to announcements saying the flight is again delayed. And waiting. And rocking. And relaxing because I’m on vacation. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

PS- Once I arrived at JFK, we taxi-ed around the tarmac for about 35 minutes–or more than half the time it took to fly to New York in the first place. At one point we pulled up to a gate, then suddenly did a 180. Apparently it was the wrong gate…overall, fun times 🙂

Add to Technorati Favorites

Bookmark and Share

Friday night was an example of travel as it should be. I was heading to Dallas for a weekend helping my family move and I was on a tight schedule. A 5:40PM flight down south on American, two days of intense moving, and a 6:35AM flight back to Boston Monday morning (to be back in the office by 11). I hadn’t left myself a whole lot of room for error.

I’m not sure if it’s just that my expectations are just so low at this point, but I was bowled over by how smoothly everything moved along. I left the office at 3:40, was home by 3:51, in the car with my bags by 4:02, and at the airport by 4:20. Having printed my boarding pass earlier in the afternoon, I was through security and incredulous that there were no delays by 4:30. What to do with myself?! So much time! No delays!

I meandered through the new American terminal in Logan where I ran into a work colleague on her way to Italy. We commiserated over Alitalia lost luggage horror stories as she nodded at her carry-on holding two weeks worth of clothing. I nodded at my carry-on holding my weekend of clothing—they were the same size.

Marveling at her deft packing abilities, I continued my lazy walk around the terminal, ears attuned to the loudspeaker, waiting for the inevitable announcement that my flight was delayed. I glanced at the departing flights teleprompters and noted the glowing red of other delayed flights. In fact, the Dallas flight after mine was delayed. Yet mine, remarkably, was still listed as on time.

Silently I scoffed. Surely, on a busy Friday night, with rainy weather up and down the Eastern seaboard, we would have some kind of delay? I watched the rain softly spreading itself over the tarmac, creating pools of shiny wetness. Still, planes moved along with no signs of slowing their gliding patterns of take off and landing.

By 5:15, I was on the plane with unfries, some kind of new healthy yogurt (Uberry I think?) and a delicious feta, cranberry, nut and mixed green salad in hand. And amazingly, the plane was a 757! Almost every flight recently I’ve taken on American (no matter the length) has been on an MD-80. Don’t get me wrong, MD-80s are fine. But for flights longer than 2.5 to 3 hours, MD-80s can get pretty boring. On American, MD-80s have no TVs, and are generally older. I had the fun experience on travelling solely on MD-80s back and forth to California in April and no matter how much you love reading, writing, doodling, creating Excel spreadsheets, napping, and playing every game imaginable on your computer, eventually your computer battery dies, napping gets old, your eyes go cross-eyed from the reading, and you are left staring at the back of the seat in front of you.

I was thrilled, thrilled to be on a 757 with more leg room….and movies! Then, almost as if American was intentionally playing with my heart, I discovered after take off that not only are there TVs, American has now partnered with NBC Universal to provide in-flight entertainment. Goodbye CBS “Eye on American,” hello SNL, The Office, The Today Show, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, and more! [This actually began in March, but given the fact that I have been stuck in perpetuity on MD-80s, I missed the announcement.]

I was shocked. What sort of parallel reality am I living in? The flight is on time, it’s on a bigger plane, the in-flight entertainment has ramped up in all kinds of fun ways, I’m not in a middle seat, and I discovered a new delicious yogurt in the American terminal!

Then it happened. They shut the door of the plane on time, but as they pulled the ramp away, the plane didn’t move. We sat. Oooooook, here it comes. The routine I’ve grown to know so well. I waited for the announcement from the pilot to let us know what sort of delay we’d be facing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Fifteen minutes of nothing as I nibbled my unfries. Still no announcement from the pilot. The flight attendants had run through their security announcements, but no word about the delay.

Then we moved. So slowly at first, I don’t even realize we were pulling away from the gate. And then speed. We lumbered with determined swiftness toward the runway. No planes ahead of us. In the blink of an eye, we were in the air, bursting through rain clouds as the plane struggled to get above the storm.

Despite a few bumps as we reached cruising altitude, the weather did not affect the flight at all. In fact, midway through (as I reveled in the enjoyment 30 Rock), the pilot came on to announce that in fact we would be in Dallas early. What?! I pulled my ear buds out to see if I heard correctly. Early?! Not possible.

Texas sunset from a window seat

Texas sunset from a window seat

Indeed. We began our initial descent at 7:30 (Central) and were taxi-ing to the gate by 8:05. Then, to cap off the perfect travel, a final unbelievable moment—sunset. As we moved toward the gate, a magnificent spread of open prairie sky with fierce blazes of crimson, yellow and orange set off the outline of DFW. I gasped. I forgot how much I love the vast open sky over Texas. I struggled to get my dinky phone to capture the beauty of the moment. Alas, it’s measly camera feature was not up to the task. But the memory remains. The perfect flight. The perfect homecoming.

(Unfortunately the return trip was not so perfect…stay tuned.)

Add to Technorati Favorites

Bookmark and Share

Earlier this week, I received the following mind-blowingly boring email about carry-on regulations from American Airlines:

Dear Jaime [Argh, I have a double name!] Fowler,

We know that for many of our customers it is very important to know what to expect while traveling so that they can better plan their trip. Thus, in advance of the busy summer travel season, we are providing the following information regarding American’s carry-on baggage policies.

One key aspect of an airline’s carry-on baggage policy is that it must be consistent with the policy officially filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Our carry-on baggage policy is summarized below and can be reviewed in its entirety at www.aa.com/travelInformation/carryOnAllowance.

In addition to being in compliance with the FAA, it is important to us and our customers to avoid last-minute delays related to checking baggage at the gate. With that in mind, we have placed baggage “sizers” at curbs, check-in counters, and security access points to assist customers and our airport employees in determining whether or not certain belongings may be carried on board in accordance with our policy. Please note that overhead bins on some of our aircraft may accommodate differently sized baggage; however, the size of the carry-on item as specified in the FAA filing is the key factor and the “sizers” are designed in accordance with those specifications.

We value our customers’ time and travel experience. The carry-on baggage policy is intended to maximize convenience while satisfying the FAA’s requirements. We hope that you find this information helpful and very much appreciate your cooperation on this important matter.

Thank you for your business.

American Airlines

Tip: For greater accessibility in flight and upon arrival, and to maximize the availability of space on board, aim to use the bin over your seat for your larger carry-on bag, while reserving the space under the seat in front of you for a personal item.
Policy Summary: When traveling within the United States, each customer may carry on one bag plus one personal item, space permitting. The carry-on bag must not exceed 45 inches when adding length plus width plus height. A personal item is a smaller item such as a purse, briefcase, laptop or similarly-sized bag or tote. Bags and personal items that fit in an American Airlines baggage sizer will comply with FAA-approved policy.

I have to say despite the fact that I flew United, I think this email may have been in direct response to some of the people I saw traveling this past weekend. On Sunday, when going through security on return, I saw all kinds of people trying to get bags that were too big through X-ray machines or walking through the sensors not realizing they had wallets, cell phones, keys, or other random pieces of metal in their jeans. One woman directly behind me put a full-sized Dasani water bottle on top of her laptop in one of the security bins and was saying to another passenger “I’m so glad they allow water now” as we passed a trashcan full of water bottles, soda cans, and other banned liquids.

In my head a flutter of questions: Seriously? You understood that you needed to take out your laptop and disaggregate all of your makeup, but you thought a full bottle of water would be a good idea? Something that for years has not been allowed on planes? What memo did you think you received that liquids are now allowed on flights? Did you see the 15 signs on the way from the entrance to security?

Don’t get me wrong, I know this stuff can be confusing. I myself have almost had it out with numerous security personnel over everything from whether “cream cheese” is a liquid (according to Monterey airport it’s not, but San Jose it is) and whether when you have your wallet in your hand to show your ID it’s considered a third bag—don’t even get me started on that.

So I appreciate that sometimes it helps to test the system—why not see if this bag marked ‘over-size’ goes through the X-ray machine? Why not try to bring your personal gallon milk jug through security? But there are some basics that if you travel frequently enough, are just no-brainers. And for those that missed the posted signs, the questions at check-in, the announcements from security personnel,  and the death stares of other passengers as they judge your filled water bottles (i.e., me), there are always friendly, albeit mind-numbing reminders from American.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Bookmark and Share