Showing posts with label airports. Show all posts
Showing posts with label airports. Show all posts

09 June 2016

It's a Hard Road Home

by Eve Fisher

In case you're wondering, my husband and I went on vacation - a Mediterranean cruise, from Venice to Barcelona.  It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful...

And then we tried to come home.

Carbinieri on parade -
Now, I know security is tight everywhere.  The carbinieri were all over Venice, Naples, etc., and they walk around everywhere with light machine guns.  (Just have another glass of wine and don't think about it...)  And I expect to go through security checks and customs and all the rest.  But this trip... was something else.

We got up in Barcelona at 6:30 a.m., which is the equivalent of 12:30 a.m. in the US.  A last great breakfast on the ship, and then off to the airport.  First we had to find the American Airlines desk, which was tricky, because you're supposed to check the screens to find out what aisle, etc., your check-in desk is at, and the screens go by flights, and our flight wasn't up on any screen yet.  Eventually we found it - on the other side of the airport, of course - and checked in.  Answered questions galore, about our cabin number, our address, who we were, etc.  Checked our bags, got our boarding passes, and headed off for security and then Gate 62A.

Got through security.

Walked about a mile to Gate 62A, where the gate was blocked off and there was an endless equivalent of a cattle chute.  Two carbinieri stood there, blocking any entrance.  30 seats for 200 people; no snacks, no vending machines, no water fountains, and no toilets.  We all creaked down to the floor and waited for an hour until finally someone came and eventually we were put through the lines and questioning again.

A nine hour flight to Philadelphia.  Coach, of course (writers are rarely millionaires...).  I had a happy chuckle over the in-flight magazine that reminded me to "drink plenty of fluids" and "walk around the cabin whenever the seatbelt sign was off."  Sure, in an alternate universe.  First, of course, I'd have to climb over all the bodies to the right and left of me to even get to the aisle.  (The lady next to me, with her mother, had not flown in 20 years, and was practically in tears...)

We landed, and hiked the traditional mile to baggage claim, got our stuff, and then went through customs:  2 hours (endless cattle chutes...), again, no snacks, vending machines, water fountains, toilets, or seats of ANY kind.  Plus a brand new kiosk to manage so that we could take our own photos and get a receipt to match our passport.  After being up for some 24 hours, this was an excruciatingly slow part of the process.  Throughout, various airport employees tried to hurry us up by yelling at us (to be fair, if they hadn't yelled, we'd never have heard them), which only made some people lose track of where they were on the kiosk and start over.

After we got our receipt, we then go through another line to hand all this to a customs agent.
Then we went (because we had a connecting flight), BACK to baggage check, and through security again.
Then we hiked to our next gate.
Another 2 hour flight, and we arrived in Chicago.  Back to baggage claim, and arrived at our hotel looking like zombies on a bad day.

Basically, we were up for over 24 hours, and during this were repeatedly put through situations where we were not allowed to fulfill any of the most basic human needs (water, toilets, food, rest), other than breathing.  Why there are not more outright riots at airports I do not know, other than sheer exhaustion.

And I was exhausted.  I was also severely dehydrated by that 24+ hours.  I didn't realize that at the time, but five days later, I collapsed, sweating profusely, nauseous, dizzy, and Allan took me to the emergency room, where they ran tests, pumped me full of fluids, and sent me home feeling much better and even angrier at the system that had done this to me.

Chicago as seen from a commercial flight 14.JPG
Chicago O'Hare International Airport from the sky -
I know that we need security, I know that the TSA is understaffed, and I know that this is going to continue, because there isn't the money and fixing it is not a priority.  (I am a realist.)  But I also know other things:

(1) Airports are not designed for actual human beings, especially the rapidly aging.  There are (usually) no carts to move you across these huge spaces from one terminal to another, from one gate to another.  And there is an ever-decreasing number of seats where you can actually sit.  The last flight we had, the Chicago gate had perhaps 50 seats for a plane that held 100.

(2) The screening process itself is not designed for actual human beings. The constant lack - for hours - of toilets, water (fountains or vending machines), and seats is crippling.  And dehumanizing.  And wrong.  There has got to be a better way...  but I don't think anyone's looking for it.

Meanwhile, I'm staying home for a while.