Millions of words have been written — including some on this blog — about the increasing annoyances and unpleasantries involved in air travel. But one thing has gotten easier: the ability to preprint boarding passes from your home or office computer. While I miss the high-touch aspects of flying as it once was, where passengers were catered to rather than hassled, the ability to get some of the mechanics out of the way does make things a lot easier at the airport. You might say that I’m conflicted.
First came self-service check-in kiosks at airports: dip your credit card or frequent flyer card into a terminal, up pops your itinerary, confirm or change your seat selection(s), enter the number of bags you are checking in, press again, and out comes your boarding pass. Take any checked bags to the counter to be tagged and hopefully loaded onto your airplane, and you are ready ready to deal with the security line. I don’t know about other airlines, but using United‘s on-line check-in adds another 500 miles to my MileagePlus account.
Not only do I miss the high-touch elements to air travel in the past, but I really am sorry for the downsized airline employees who used to do for us what are now self-service tasks. Still, I have to admit that high-tech has made it all a lot easier. I am flying out of Denver (DIA) for Boise (BOI) this morning, and along with my photo ID, I’ll leave the house, ready to park my car and check in.
Denver International Airport will soon become more international. Lufthansa, the national airline of Germany, will start Denver-Munich nonstop service on March 31, 2007, joining its existing Frankfurt-Denver nonstop. This is great news for travelers from Colorado and other states. To fly overseas, many of us in the middle of the country have to change planes — and airports we are forced to use are incredibly delay-prone: Atlanta, #1 in delays; Chicago, #2; Dallas Fort/Worth #3; LAX, #4; Phoenix, #5; etc. These cities are are not only hubs for U.S. airlines with international service but also host foreign carriers. Denver actually ranks #7 on the FAA’s list of airports with the most flight delays, but often the problem isn’t home-grown but is caused largely by delays on the other end: either Denver-bound aircraft that can’t take off or outbound aircraft asked to hold here.
Denver and Munich are a natural pairing. Both cities are not in the mountains but very close to the mountains. Both are vibrant cities with a young active population. Both, in the context of their respective countries, are beer capitals. And both have modern new airports out in the country, replacing older ones that were closer to the city but smaller and more congested. The one thing that Munich has that Denver does not have yet is a railroad station right at the airport.
A bit over two years ago, my husband and I flew to Munich to attend the wedding of a former exchange student at the University of Colorado. We planned to spend a few days in the city before the wedding, but arrived without reservations. We did the usual Europe: went to the information and reservations desk in the terminal to book a room. We requested a three-star hotel near the main railroad station (Hauptbahnhof). No problem. We had our Eurailpasses validated at the airport and boarded a train right there. Trains to the city depart every 20 minutes and reach the railroad station in 45 minutes and wheeled our bags around the corner to our hotel. That easy airport-city connection by rail remains something that we still look forward to here.
On Nov. 5, I posted my thoughts about the Transportation Stupidity Agency on this blog. More recently, the far better-known and wa-a-a-ay more articulate Anna Quindlen wrote about the same thing in Newsweek. “Osama bin Laden could get through the line if the name on his license was the same as that on his ticket and he wasn’t packing Oil of Olay,” was the call-out subhead for her column.
She told of scooping half-an-ounce of face cream from a 3.5-ounce jar so that it wouldn’t be confiscated. “Is this any way to run an airline?,” she asked, articulating my complaints of just a few days ago. “Between constant delays and nonexistent services, flying has become the modern version of seafaring steerage accommodations. But nothing has made it seem worse than the long lines of bedraggled and beaten-down travelers at security checkpoints, pouring their change into plastic tubs, standing in stocking feet as their shoes are scanned, proffering zip-lock bags full of face creams and foundation.”
And in a great leap to big-picture analysis that I never thought to post, she wrote: “This is not merely an inconvenience. The whole cockeyed system has become a symbol of the shortcomings of government programs and responses. It’s expensive, arbitrary and infuriating; it turns low-wage line workers into petty despots. And instead of making Americans feel safer, its sheer silliness illuminates how impotent we are in the face of terrorism. The hustle and bustle at U.S. checkpoints is window dressing, another one of those rote, unthinking exercises that are the hallmark of bureaucracies, like ‘Bleak House’ with luggage.”
Read her entire column at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15562940/site/newsweek/ — and don’t forget your one-quart zip-lock bag when you head for the airport.