Saturday, August 27, 2005

I Knew That Would Happen...
A few days ago I wrote in this space that I had the feeling that I was about to have some trouble when it came to traveling. And I was right.

It all began innocently enough --- buy a ticket for Orlando, show up at the airport and get on a plane, That was the plan at least. Until I ran headlong into federal regulations regarding air travel.

When I reached the Delta Airlines counter at Newark airport, all ready to check in, I was unaware of the potential disaster in the making. Like a lamb to the slaughter, I suspected not thing one about what my day was to bring. It was 5 a.m. (you have to show up at 5 for a 7:30 flight, one of them thar new regs. It gives the TSA time to have the dogs sniff your luggage, apparently), and I cheerfuly walked up to the ticket agent in anticipation of getting my boarding pass and then spending the next two and half hours eating rotten danish and abyssmal airport coffee.

The ticket agent asked me for identification and I obliged, turning over my passport, a trusty document that has not failed me for any reason, from buying liquor to cashing a check, for the last 10 years. Little did I know that I was about to cross paths with the Fed'ral Leviathan.

Apparently my passport had expired three days previously. I had no idea (because I never looked at the expiration date). This is a problem since the Fed'ral regulation requires current identificaton, proven by a document issued by said Fed'ral entity or a similar document issued by a state agency.

I don't drive, therefore I do not have a drivers license, but I do carry an old identification card from my days at Smith-Nazi, and it has my picture on it. Not acceptible, or at least it would have been had I not shown an expired passport first. That expired passport is the the root of all the evils that followed.

I was then asked to present any of the following: Social security card, state identification card, student ID from a state university, Medicare card, and the one that struck me as totally eggregious, a library card.
What did you say? Yes, I thought it strange too. I couldn't get on plane because I presented a passport issued by the Fed'ral Gubmint, but at that very moment, in an airport somewhere in this country, the minions of Osama were merrily getting on flights with a library card. Alas, having none of the above, I was told that I should go home, get new identification and then return for a later flight.

And so I hopped a taxi back home. It cost me $50 to get to newark, and now another $50 to go back. Once home, I furiously tore through my belongings seeking aything that had an official seal with no expiraton date that could be used as identification. I found my borth certificate, which is acceptible, but which seemed thin to me. So, I called Delta's reservation number to see if one of the friendly customer service reps could help me out with regards as to what constituted proper idenitifcation.

Which was my second mistake of the day. If you thought I was aggravated by missing my flight, the prospects of three $50 cab rides and the fact that I'm now functioning with little sleep, you ain't heard nothing yet.

I explained the situation to Disinterested Foreigner #1, or tried to, since he wouldn't shut up. I'm sitting here with an expired passport, a work photo id, a borth certificate and a wallet fullof insurance and credit cards, but apparently none of it is useful. You require two forms of photo id or two forms of non-photo id, all issued by some government body, noneof it expired, or a combination of both. I was getting nowhere in terms of help, and so I hung up on the man.

I called back and got Disinterested Foreigner #2, who spoke better English but who was only of slightly better utility. So, in frustration, I began to think that perhaps I would not be getting on this flight after all. I asked for a refund. No can-do. Then reschedule my flight so that I have an opportunity to get the required ID. Again, no dice, unless I wanted to pay twice what I already had. I lost my temper and went into the whole "I'm an American citizen and have the right to travel in my own damn country, you foreign piece of shit" tirade. At this point, the man figured he'd better let his supervisor handle this.

Except that hs supervisor couldn't be bothered. I ranted some more and cajoled, pleaded and intoned, and eventually a supervisor did come on the line.

Shockingly, this man spoke perfect American English.

I explained the situation to him and the solution was shockingly simple: use the work ID and the birth certificate, deep-six the passport. So, taking a chance, I asked about the use of a library card and he told me, quite frankly, that whoever had told me that such a document was valid ID for getting on a flight was dead wrong. He was surprised that someone would have even suggested it.

So now, I'm back in business. Back to Newark at 10 am to catch a 1:30 flight, another $50 cab ride. Walk up to the Delta ticket counter and present a work ID (for a job I no longer have) and my birth certificate. No problem, here's your ticket, sir. Begin to walk away from the counter and the woman who had me banished earlier that morning is still on duty. She recognizes me and asks if everything is straightened out now. Yes it is, no thanks to you, and did you know that a library card is not considerd valid identification? She does now. I'll bet she's worried sick that she probably let some ill-intentioned Middle Easterners on flights in the past because she was under the impression that a library card carried weight. Let her lose sleep, the idiot.

Anyways, a few things that I noticed hanging around the airport. To begin with, there were an absolutely huge number of people getting on or off flights that required wheelchairs. Not one flight that was announced at the gate area had fewer than four people in wheelchairs on it. The announcement of "Delta airlines flight number so-and-so requires a customer service representative with a wheelchair" merely became part of the background noise. I wonder, what happens in an emergency when a sizable number of passengers cannot get out of their seats or save themselves because they require wheelchairs and why are so many put on the same flight?

I should add that my flight was actually quite good. The plane was operated by a Delta affiliate called Song Airways. I'd never heard of them before, but I can tell you that I would gladly fly them again. The plane was quite clean, the seat the most comfortable I've been on in quite some time. The plane was decorated in a sort of 1970's motif: bright colors reminiscent of the patio furniture in the Brady Bucnh -- tiel, soft pinks, lime green, it was quite unusual. The inflight entertainment was tops --- 24 channels of satellite TV (caught the Cubs-Marlins game on ESPN). The food was quite good, and served in a most unusual way --- the stews came by with a cart and you purchased what you wanted from a rather large selection. I enjoyed the cheese, fruit and cracker selection, with a Diet Coke, for $5. Not bad.

The plane's safety announcement was not the tired, dull pantomime usually performed by stewardesses. Instead, the stews went through the motions to the sounds of an instructional tape (with salsa music), narrated by a man with an outrageous and slightly comic Spanish accent. It was actually something fun. Everything on the airplane was designed or intended to be fun. If this is an indication of the future of air travel, then I'm buying stock in Song Airways. It was a hit with all the passengers.

Let's see how much fun I have on the way back home in 10 days.

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