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Ah yes, now I remember...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Posted by Courtney E. Howard

Now I remember why I do not often travel. It can be a living nightmare. I know people say that; I say that quite often, in fact, but I really, truly mean it this time, from the depths of my being.

I was a victim in an armed robbery once (stay with me, I promise there is a point to this tangent), when I was in my early twenties. After the terrifying ordeal, I sat in the safe confines of a NH state trooper's vehicle, recounting the event three times: verbally while the officer took notes, verbally while being recorded, and then committing the harrowing tale to paper in my own hand.

I recall it now like it happened last week, and the worst part of it for me was the complete and utter sense of helplessness. Two men held guns to my head while I knelt on the cold, hard floor of a convenience store covering my face with my hands, so as not to see the man who I thought was surely going to end my life.

I feared for my life then, but what was most frightening to me was that at that moment I had absolutely no control over what happened to me. I felt and witnessed a similar helplessness rampant at the Northwest Airlines areas of multiple airports this week. (Now I know why it has earned the unfortunate "NorthWORST" moniker.)

I am no shrinking violet; rather, I have been described as "outspoken," "strong," and at times, "resilient." Yet, a--let's say--less-than-helpful Northwest agent/supervisor (P. Freeman in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you know who you are) let me know that, in no uncertain terms, she was in control of my destiny that rueful day. She was without question the worst airline representative I have encountered in more than 20 years--no small feat. She reveled in her power over travelers from all walks of life, who were forcibly corralled and slowly shuffling along like farm animals being led off to slaughter.

What did this agent do with her power over the 20 or so of us unfortunate enough to be ushered into her line (by pointing at us with two fingers and grimacing, mind you)? What she did for me, specifically, was reduce me to tears, opt against re-routing my checked luggage, rule out the meal vouchers other agents were handing to stranded passengers, and put me on "puddle-jumpers" to such fun locales as Newark after a nice, lengthy stay in lovely Minneapolis, where the temp was a balmy two below zero. Little did I know, that was just the beginning.

I had no way of knowing that I had just embarked upon a trip that would involve: four airports, three delayed flights, two hours sitting on the tarmac, one cancelled flight...and a partridge in a pear tree. Wait, I'm not done: add to that one long stint in a holding pattern, ridiculously long lines, numerous phone calls, several pathetic (but not apathetic) agents, watching Monday Night Football among stranded travelers in Newark, and luggage that has yet to rear its head--all to get from one coast to the other. It was not even accomplished in a full day.

This agent who I thought hailed straight from Hades is not alone, sad though it may be. I would not be writing this blog if she was acting alone. No, I'm sorry to say, there are many others like her who seem bent on making travelers' lives miserable during their commute.

I have long witnessed the same horrible distemper and subsequent mistreatment by TSA personnel, who often don't even use words, opting instead to point at us and then at the spot where they want us to be. Many airline and airport personnel do not even deem us worthy of eye contact. Who thought I would miss the days when they barked commands at us, rather than pointing at and directing us with two fingers? Not me.

Most times these days, travelers are reduced to the stature of a preschooler upon just entering the airport. Perhaps that was an unfair analogy--after all, even preschoolers get a free snack.
When did things go awry? We are the customers. We spend the money that pays their salaries. What happened to "the customer is always right"? Are we not entitled to friendly, helpful customer service? What happened to this industry? When they put someone through hell, why don't they feel compelled to make things right or, at the very least, pretend to care? No wonder few people list "travel" as one of their favorite hobbies. I have had it with planes. Bring on the trains and automobiles.

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Welcome to the lighter side of Military & Aerospace Electronics. This is where our staff recount tales of the strange, the weird, and the otherwise offbeat. We could put news here, but we have the rest of our Website for that. Enjoy our scribblings, and feel free to add your own opinions. You might also get to know us in the process. Proceed at your own risk.

John Keller for MAE
John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Courtney Howard for MAE Courtney E. Howard is senior editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine. She is responsible for writing news stories and feature articles for the print publication, as well as composing daily news for the magazine's Website and assembling the weekly electronic newsletter. Her features have appeared in such high-tech trade publications as Military & Aerospace Electronics, Computer Graphics World, Electronic Publishing, Small Times, and The Audio Amateur.

John McHale for MAE John McHale is executive editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, where he has been covering the defense Industry for more than dozen years. During that time he also led PennWell's launches of magazines and shows on homeland security and a defense publication and website in Europe. Mr. McHale has served as chairman of the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum and its Advisory Council since 2004. He lives in Boston with his golf clubs.