It all started with a bottle of sunscreen.
My fair, cancer-prone skin is photosensitive, especially now that even higher levels of UV radiation seep through our increasingly depleted ozone. A painful rash, unfortunately, is the hallmark of any of my sun-baked vacations, thanks to the slow, pharmaceutical-industry-compromised FDA approval process that has yet to approve the necessary UV-blocking ingredients at a high enough SPF. Thank goodness for Canada! Despite the largish carbon footprint of doing so, I now import my sunscreen from Canada, where the ‘socialist’ medical system has made Mexoryl (the UV-ass-kicking ingredient) available at SPF 45 for quite a while now.
Simple enough, right?
Importing your sunscreen from Canada means that, come vacation time, if you want skin protection, you’ve got to check a bag. Remember those ‘terrorists’? The ones who are out to get us with gels and liquids in containers over three ounces, in bags larger than one pint? Yep. Apparently they’re out to get my skin, as well.
Thanks to them (no liquids in my carry on) and the crappy FDA (no good sunscreen available in the US), I’ve now become a bag checker. At a minimum charge of $15 each way, no less, thanks to rising, out-of-control fuel costs (which occurred, by the way, while Exxon was raking in record-breaking profits).
So on my recent trip to San Diego, here I was, out $30 round-trip, wondering if my bags would make it the full way back to Madison, but glad that—for once—I didn’t come home with a raging, painful sun rash.
That elation didn’t last long.
Remember that Delta/Northwest merger of a few months back? You know, the one that sparked whispers of anti-trust concerns? The one that continued, though, unabated and unregulated? Yeah, well, that merger—along with the depleted ozone layer, slow FDA approval, the terrorists, and rising fuel costs—pretty much ruined my trip. Call me a conspiracy theorist.
When we got to San Diego airport for our 6:30am flight a good hour before take-off, we were in high but sleepy spirits. Until—wham!—we saw the Delta lines. The lines—for self-serve kiosks, for baggage claim, for any human contact at all—stretched out of the terminal. We, along with at least five hundred other passengers waited nervously in line, checking our watches, wondering what caused the hold-up. By 5:50am, we neared the Delta holding pen. Nothing seemed to be wrong. Just hordes of people trying to check in, but with confused Delta computers not knowing how to make sense of Northwest reservations.
By 5:58, we got to a kiosk to check in, just in time to be told by the curt attendant, “If you don’t already have your boarding pass, you’ll need to step out of line.”
Oh, no, she didn’t.
We snuck our boarding pass in under the gun, perhaps the last passengers on the flight to get one. It was 6:02, and the baggage check line still awaited. (Damn that checked baggage.) I sent Fresh through security (also disgustingly long lines) while I waited.
Twenty minutes later, I was still waiting. My line hadn’t moved. At 6:22, I saw a passenger, also on my 6:35 flight but in another line, check her bag and get ushered through security. There was still a chance. I ran over to the attendant and said, as politely as possible, “My flight leaves in ten minutes. I need to check this bag. I have a boarding pass. Please. Can you help me?” She said:
“You’ll just need to wait in line.”
You know, that line that hadn’t moved in twenty minutes?
Then Fresh called. “Where are you? That girl who was in line behind us just got on the plane. “ Still in line, I said, waiting to check baggage. “The gate agent is waiting for you. They’re holding the gate open. Hurry up!”
I ran back to the attendant. They’re holding the plane for me. Please, can I check my bags? Can you move me to the front? “You’ll have to ask every other person in the waiting area if you can cut in front of them. Otherwise, I can’t help you.”
I missed the flight. Or should I say, Delta missed my flight. I got back in line, stuck with my god damned sunscreen and out $15. For what?
I stood in line until 7:45. The same line. Not budging.
I went up to the counter, I tried cutting in line, I even found a manager. He just looked at me wryly and said, “You’ll just need to wait. This is all part of the process. You need to understand that.”
WTF?! It’s all “part of the process” that I miss my flight? That hundreds of other people have been in this same racket for three days straight? That when I am polite and ask for help—when I explain that the plane is being held for me, with the gate agent on my cell phone telling me this—I get told, “They don’t hold planes here. You just need to get back in line.” I looked at the woman next to him, who I’d been pestering for over an hour and a half, and said, “They held the plane for me. But nobody would take my bag. The other woman told me I just had to get back in line. Please. Can’t you help me???” She glanced at her supervisor, who shook his head, then looked at me and whispered, “I’m so sorry.”
A few minutes later—7:55, actually—I heard passengers checking in for the next flight to Minneapolis, where I fly through to get home. I stormed the counter again, this time near tears, knowing there were only a few flights home each day and watching the window to get on one of them slip by. I went back to the sympathetic whisperer. “Please. Can’t somebody help me? There is a flight to MSP in less than an hour that I need to be on. Please.” Her boss looked at me, rolled his eyes, and started to say again, “It’s all part of the process…” when the whisperer looked at him, looked at me, and said, “This poor woman has been waiting for over two hours. Come with me.” And she literally walked away from her boss to an unused counter.
Because, in case I forgot to mention, there were only four people checking in over 500 passengers.
She got me on that flight after wrestling with broken printers, busy call centers, and over-booked flights. She muttered under her breath about what a disaster the Delta check-in counter was, apologized, and sent me on my way. She gave me the customer service number for Delta and for Northwest and as I ran to catch my flight, she shouted, “Make sure they reimburse you for your baggage costs!”
Here’s the kicker: When I got to my gate, Alex—the gate agent who’d held the previous flight for me—was relieved to see me. He, too, gave me the customer service numbers and begged me to complain. Aside from getting compensated for what was clearly Northwest’s error, he said, “If people don’t start complaining, nothing’s going to change. Ever since we merged, it’s been like this. They added double the flights with no more ground personnel. Every time we talk to management, they grumble about costs and efficiency. They’re getting away with it.” His fellow gate agent shook her head, looked at me gravely, and said, “It isn’t right. What they’re doing, to the passengers and the employees, just isn’t right.”
You know what happened when we called? Nothing. The customer service rep told us he had no sympathy. If we could locate Alex the gate agent, then maybe he’d take action. But otherwise…we got where we were going. What’s the problem?
Like the gate agent said, it isn’t right.
Not the merger that threatens anti-trust laws and that has gone unchecked politically and corporately. Not the exorbitant prices and fees we’re paying to make up for rising costs that have gone straight to the pockets of Exxon executives. Not the obsession with terrorist threats with little meaningful action to change global dynamics (you know, aside from imperialist invasions). Not the political compromises made at the expense of science and health. Not the environmental degradation that put me and my body at risk in the first place. Not the powerlessness your average citizen like me experiences in the face of overwhelming corporate and political interests. It isn’t right.
Call me a conspiracy theorist. But none of it is right.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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