Western Airports and Airlines Suck

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I fly almost every month. In the last 12 months I have visited almost 15 different countries. Air travel is a core part of my lifestyle. I love traveling and it’s one of my greatest joys.  The problem is that much of the travel I do is in the Collapsing West. This means I often have to encounter some of the biggest examples of Western collapse that can personally affect my life.  

-By Caleb Jones

I’ll give you a few examples of this from my recent trip to Europe with Pink Firefly. What I’m about to say may sound so incredible that some of you may think I’m making it up, but what I’m about to say is 100% factually accurate and I’m not exaggerating anything. This is exactly what happened and how it happened. (You may think this article is about me bitching about airports and airlines. It’s not. I have a much greater point that I’ll make clear at the end.)  We were in London on our way to Berlin. We flew into Heathrow Airport, which was more or less okay, but on our flight out of London to Berlin we had to use Stansted Airport, which I didn’t realize is one of the worst airports in the entire world. I was about to be educated. 

Being an experienced traveler, I made sure to show up to the airport 2.5 hours before the flight left, as I always do to account for the usual delays and incompetence standard in most Western airports and airlines. I was confident we would not have to rush to our flight if we got there 2.5 hours early. Boy, was I wrong.  There was no way to print boarding passes or tickets online, so we had to get them at the airport. We arrived, lugging our bags around, trying to find the British Airways desk so we could check our bags and get our tickets.

There is no British Airways desk, anywhere in this entire massive airport. We go to the information counter and show them our ticket info and ask where the BA desk is. We are directed to a desk on the far distant side of the massive airport.  Okay. We lug our bags allllllllllll the way down there, look for the BA desk. There isn’t one. The desk we were told was for British Airways is some other airline. I ask them where BA is. They tell me I’m in the completely wrong part of the airport and that the BA desk is right by the information desk where we just came from.

Great. We lug our bags alllllllllll the way back to where we just were. Again, no BA desk. The desk numbers we were given show empty desks with blank screens. I ask some of the attendants there directing traffic. They inform me the BA desk doesn’t open for another hour. Confused, I show them the departure time of my ticket, and tell them that the flight will board literally 40 minutes or so after their desk opens. Isn’t that cutting it a bit close with going through immigration, going through security, and taking a tram to another terminal? They just shrug and look at me.

So, PF and I stand there and wait. For an hour. Now we’re going to have to rush as fast as we can to catch the flight even when we showed up 2.5 hours early. In a few minutes a security guard comes over and barks at us that we aren’t allowed to wait where we’re waiting (right in front of the desks that will become British Airways in a while) because we’re blocking traffic or something.  

We lug our bags over to the food court area to sit down… only we can’t because it’s too crowded. There is nowhere to sit down, so we just stand.  After an eternity, the BA desk opens up. We wait in line, check our bags, get our tickets and go to security. (Side note: You might be wondering why we were checking bags. I never check bags when I travel because it’s too inefficient, but I was with Pink Firefly who is a girl. The bags we were checking were hers.) 

We enter the security room and it’s a massive line that is barely moving. Great. The clock is still ticking on the boarding time for our flight. We wait in the security line forever. PF grows more and more nervous that we might miss our flight and she’s not wrong to be concerned.  We finally get up to the front. I do what I always do and start immediately pulling out my laptop, charging brick and small microphone out of my bag to place them in the tray. I do this because I know most airport security systems flag these items. When they’re out on the tray, I never have a problem.

A security woman sees what I’m doing and immediately tells me to put those electronic items back in the bag (except my laptop). I explain to her that my bag will get probably get flagged if I leave them in the bag. She gets agitated, raises her voice and tells me more forcefully to put them in the bag. I know better than to fuck with airport security, especially when I’m in a hurry, so I put the items back in the bag hoping that maybe I’ll get lucky this time and they won’t flag the bag. 

I put my liquids, in their usual large Ziplock bag, in their own tray. Another security staffer comes over and grabs the bag and tells me it’s too big. She hands me these tiny Ziplock bags and tells me to put all of my liquids in there instead.  I’ve traveled through scores of airports all over the world with my Ziplock bag and never had a problem. Starting to get irritated, I walk over to another desk (where I’m directed), pour out all of my liquids and start putting them in these stupidly-tiny Ziplock bags. The clock on my flight is still ticking. More time is being wasted. I go through the security scanners and wait for my bag. My heart sinks when I see the robot arm flag my bag and pull it aside; flagged for inspection just as I knew it would be.

I glance over at the line of security staff who are going through flagged bags. It’s huge. I’m going to stand here for at least another 10 minutes, for no reason.  15 minutes later, they finally get to my bag. They explain to me exactly what I already know, that the two pieces of electronics were flagged. I tell them their own staff forced me to put them in the bag when I wanted them out of the bag, and they don’t have any answers, because they’re all thoroughly incompetent.  Finally, after getting our bags, we now have to RUN to the tram to switch terminals to get to our flight, which is boarding right now. PF isn’t very fast, especially when she’s carrying her carry-on bag, so I’m constantly pestering her as I’m racing through the airport.
We get to the train, wait for the train, get on the train, go the other terminal, leave the train and RUN with our bags through the airport. Perhaps we can make it before missing our flight (since usually flights close the doors 10 minutes prior to departure).  We were the last ones on the plane. We barely made it. Exhausted and frustrated, we finally sit and relax. We did everything right, yet we had to rush through the airport almost missing our flight. 

You’d think that was our worst travel experience on this trip. Wrong.  It’s our last day in Paris and tomorrow we fly back home to Portland using Icelandair with a long layover in Iceland. I purposely try to do three-hour minimum layovers on all international flights, to again, account for the usual security delays, late flights and other incompetence. I had a three–hour layover in Iceland on the way to Portland so I figured I was in the clear.   I was wrong.  The day before the flight I’m informed that the entire flight has magically switched from Icelandair going to Iceland and then Portland to an Air France flight going to Washington DC then a United Airlines flight going to Portland.   What the fuck?  There is no reason given for this sudden and massive change. (Later, when my assistant speaks with Icelandair they won’t have any explanation.)

The flights leave and arrive at more or less the same times, so that’s no big deal. The problem is the layover; it’s only one hour and 40 minutes…on an international flight. Jesus, that’s cutting it really, really close. Nothing can go wrong with a time frame that narrow. I’m skeptical but A) there’s nothing I can do about it this close to the flight; B) I figured we’ll just have to fucking run through the airport yet again. Sucks, but if that’s what I have to do, fine. 

We check our bags at Charles De Gaulle Airport and get our tickets. They don’t have seat assignments. We are told that we’ll get them “at the gate.” Okay.  We go to the gate and there are several massive lines waiting to get onto the plane. There is no way to get to the gate desk since all these lines are in front of it, because airlines are thoroughly incompetent. I have to push my way through five lines, ducking under separator tape just to get to the desk.  

When I get there the woman tells me I just need to get in line and my seats will be assigned when I enter the plane. Huh? I’ve never seen an airline do it this way. I ask her if she’s 100% sure and she assures me she is.   Back through the lines, PF and I wait in line. It slowly starts to move. Halfway through the line my name is called, and I’m told to go to a different desk to get my seats. Great. I leave PF in line with our carry-on bags, run over to this other desk, wait in another line while PF is still moving closer and closer to the plane. 

I get our seats and run back to the first line just before PF gets on the plane.  We fly to Washington DC. I explain to PF that we may have to fucking RUN through the airport at DC yet again, even though we’ve done everything correctly, because we only have one hour and 40 minutes for our layover and Dulles is a big, slow and typically American incompetent airport. 

We land in Dulles and leave the plane. We round the corner to passport control (yet another line we need to wait in before boarding our connecting flight) and then we see it. Imagine a room the size of a Wal-Mart filled with one gigantic line weaving back and forth filling the entire room with people. This is the line we need to use in order to get our passports stamped before we can get on our connecting flight home.  And the line isn’t moving.  Immediately I know we’re going to have a serious problem, but I don’t tell PF yet because I don’t want to worry her. We stand in this massive line. And stand. And wait. And don’t move. The line piles up behind us, actually going out of the room and wrapping around the hallway we just left, all the way back to the plane(!). 

The line barely inches forward. I check my watch. We now have 92 minutes before our flight boards. We continue standing. After 30 minutes we’ve barely moved.   We’re going to miss our flight home.  I get on the phone with my assistant, tell her what’s going on and have her check for other flights we can take to Portland this evening so we can get home. She gets on it. 

I tell PF that we’re probably going to miss our flight and if we can’t find another flight, we may have to fucking stay in Washington DC overnight at a hotel because airports are thoroughly incompetent. She immediately panics… her checked bags. What will happen to those? They’ll be on the plane to Portland that we’re going to miss. How do we get those? Also, all of her stuff is in those bags. If we spend the night at a hotel she won’t have any clothing or bathroom stuff.   Fuck.  I call my assistant back and tell her to get on the phone with Icelandair (or United Airlines, or whomever, since now it’s really fucking complicated) to have them instruct someone in Portland to grab the bags before they hit the conveyor belt so they won’t get lost or stolen. She gets on it. PF is now extremely stressed out, nervous and agitated. On top of all that, jetlag hits us and we start to get drowsy.  
Feeling like utter shit, we keep standing in line forever. Eventually we make our way closer to the front. I see the problem. There are 15 security desks here where staff could stamp people’s passports but only four of them are actually staffed with security personnel because the American federal government is thoroughly incompetent.  As we near the front of the line, I check my phone. Our flight has left. We missed it because of this fucking line. We’re stuck in DC and PF’s bags are on their way to Portland.  Dejected and angry, we stagger into the Dulles terminal, an airport we were never supposed to go to. (I purposely chose a long layover in Iceland to avoid this very problem.) 

I get back on the phone with my assistant. She tells me that Icelandair can offer us a flight tomorrow night at 5pm and they will pay for a hotel. Unacceptable. I have her check for any other flight going to Portland tonight. She does. There is none that don’t have stops and long layovers.  She checks tomorrow. Again, there is none. The least-bad flight we could take is tomorrow at 7 A.M. to Portland with a layover in Dallas. I tell her to go for it. I pay $1,100 for a ticket for both of us. I also tell her to get on Icelandair’s ass to get a refund for this entire flight. The fucking airlines know that 100 minutes is not nearly enough time for an international layover. They know this and they shoved me on this flight anyway. Unacceptable. 

The odds of me actually getting a refund are less than about 30% since airlines are thoroughly incompetent, but I tell her to do her best to try anyway.  PF and I are angry, half asleep and just wanting to be home. We take a taxi to the hotel and try to make the best of having no clothes or bathroom items that night only to have to wake up at 5 A.M. the next morning (getting a few hours of sleep because of the jetlag) to head back to the airport and go through this all over again.  There are many more problems we experienced with the airlines and airports on this trip and these kinds of things are not unusual. 

Now let me make something clear. These were all Western airlines and Western airports. I literally never have any of these problems when I fly in Asia. Never.  Let me repeat that because it’s the entire point of this article. I literally never encounter problems like this with any airports or airlines in Asia. They only happen when I fly Western airports/airlines.   If all airports/airlines were like this all over the world, that would be one thing. But they aren’t. This is just a problem with the West (although second and third-world airports/airlines have their issues as well).   When Asia does all of this correctly and the West is full of massive and non-stop problems like this it tells you something.  It tells you where the West is going.

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