Oh, Airport Where Art Thou?

Oh Airport, where art thou?

The Automated Airport

As a frequent traveler I spend a lot of time passing through airports. I’ve noticed a trend and it’s alarming. The humans are disappearing!  In an airport there is increasingly no human contact.  Foreshadowed by the disappearance of the inbound customer service reps, airports are starting to do away with humans. Most of the time now it’s just you, the machine, a credit card or a passport; and those automatic check-in kiosks are for people who couldn’t or didn’t bother to check-in online. And forget the boarding pass. Printed boarding passes are passé.  Every airline (even budget carriers like Southwest) have a mobile boarding pass.  I still print out my boarding pass, by the way. Call me old-fashioned.

The check-in counters almost seem nostalgic now; an oasis for infrequent travelers to get reassurance that there are actual human beings running the show.  The only real reason to check-in with an actual human being is if you’re checking bags.

Baggage, we don’t need no stinkin’ baggage

Airlines seem to discourage it.  JetBlue has finally fallen and as of this month will now be charging fees to check bags.  Notably, only Southwest is remaining true to their “Bags Fly Free” mantra. Might make it worth not having assigned seat. Airfare watchdog is a great place to check to see how much it will cost you if you plan on doing something outlandish, like changing outfits during your travels.

So your first real human contact usually takes place at security. For some that means an actual pat down. Getting frisked in fluorescent lighting is never fun, so note to everybody, get TSA pre-approved.  This is like a VIP list for travelers and those on it get the luxury of keeping their shoes and belts on. Imagine that.

Once you’re through there, there’s no need for human interaction until you get on the plane, unless there’s a problem: you’re on stand-by, you’re late or you’re trying to move your seat or waiting for an upgrade. You now have to deal with…the Gate Keepers.

The Keepers of the Gate

These guys are important – they’re your only hope in most cases, and they know it. So it’s in your best interest to treat them kindly. A great article about gate attendants in WSJ really struck a chord with me the other day. It’s worth a read because it shows the behind-the-scenes of how gate agents juggle passenger requests.

People complain that the gatekeepers are hard, impersonal and tough to communicate with, but it’s not an easy gig. I have always found 100% of the time that the nicer you are, the better things turn out. These are the guys that control everything except the plane itself: the closing of the plane’s doors – you better hope you’re on the right side of it when they do! They can upgrade you, keep you where you are or frankly bump you off if the flight is oversold. Like Santa’s elves, they know who you are and they know how much you paid for your ticket.  Trying to negotiate a free upgrade on a ticket you got on Priceline is probably not going to happen. And copping an attitude with a cheap ticket and you could be left behind. In fact, you deserve to be left behind!  As we tell our kids all the time, attitude is everything.


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