Thursday, August 24, 2006

Air Travel - 2010

Let's take a trip into the future, shall we?

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine- August 20, 2010.

My flight out of Jacksonville is a 7:10 AM to Newark.
So, to be at the Air Travel Screening Facility the required 3 hours before flight time, I have to leave my home at 3:10 AM...
I arrive at the JIA Perimiter Screening checkpoint at 3:40 and it takes me 15 minutes for the inspection of my car, and once it is pronounced "clean", I can then drive to the ATSF secure parking facility. My car is sealed in plastic for the duration of my trip- so no one can siphon the gas and make a molotov cocktail that might be used against the ATSF. We're still 4 miles from the airport, so that risk is not present.

I enter the Air Travel Screening Facility and begin the ritual-
I'm assigned a changing/screening cubical number and time, stall 145, 3 minutes at 4:17.
At 4:15 I get my travel smock and take up my positon at stall 145.
The door opens at precisely 4:17 and I jump in with my bag and smock and as the door starts closing, I hurridly remove all clothing and put it in my bag, and put on the travel smock and booties.

(The travel smocks are a paper-based gown, not unlike the dressing gowns found in hospitals... They are paper based because back about 6 months ago, some random TSA Internet-scanner agent program found a discussion on some nameless Internet forum that discussed the possibility of using the cloth-based smock as a weapon to choke another passenger or one of the flight crew- Even though it was just conjecture, Homeland Security's Dynamic Threat Department decided to issue a mandate to make the travel smocks out of paper so they would tear before they could bring enough pressure in a garrote-style attack.)

So- now properly garbed for my flight, the puffer goes off- and all manner of particulates are aerosolized and are sucked into the scanner and analyzed for trace nitrates and other elements that may or may not be on the do-not-pass list.

(A couple weeks ago, I was detained for traces of nitrates while leaving Dallas. It took several hours for the TSA to verify that I had actually been working at the golf tournament and that our offices were back near the groundskeepers area, where we had to walk through the path the fertilizer spreader traveled every day. They finally cleared me to travel after they secured signed affadavits from the tournament, our corporate office, and the local TSA investigative offices in Jacksonville and Dallas that I hadn't been reported for "suspicious activities" in the previous 18 months.)

Once screened- the inner door to Level 2 of the ATSF opened and it was on to the next part of travel screening- interrogation.
I was grilled for 30 minutes on where I had traveled in the last 6 months, any issues that had occured during that travel, with special attention to the previously-mentioned incident. They brought up my last 6 months of travel, cross-referenced it with passenger lists from the flights, examined the upcoming flight manifest... No overt pairings or coincidences...
They grilled me on any connection to any recent terror incidents, and also reviewed my last 6 months of Internet use... (One of the reasons I quit keeping my Weblog in 2008.)

The seemed oddly interested in the time is spent logged into www.zhongwen.com- a Chinese language site that I use for pinyin translation of contracts on some of my events... They finally decided that is was OK since they found the permission notations in my "upcoming travel" dossier for my trips to Shanghai in November.
(I guess it doesn't matter that I make this trip every year...they always get bunged up on anything China-related since the Yellow Menace bio-scare 2 years ago.)
They finally realease me to Stage Three- X-ray and Search...
The baggage screeners take my bag and run it through an x-ray scanner, then through a gas chromatograph screener. When it doesn't trip any alarms, it is taken off to wherever bags go until we get them back on the other end of the travel segment.
(No one really knows- the TSA keeps that secret so the Terrorists can't use the information to plan an attack... As far as anyone knows they could be on the same plane as the owner, or they might be going as part of a cargo flight or taking two or three flights before getting to their destination. The TSA only guarantees that you will get your bags sometime within 24 hours of arriving in your destination city, hence the large number of clothing stores and drugstores built near the ATSF in each city, for those who are too impaitent to wait for their luggage.)
I get my x-ray and of course they don't find anything- and then I spend 15 minutes signing all the releases, waivers, and the 22 other pages of paperwork required of today's air travelers.

I finally get to the first step of real "travel" now... more than an hour after arriving at the ATSF... I am assigned to my seat.
All the Newark passengers are taken to departure lounge 21R, where there are several rows of seats. We all shuffle in in our travel smocks and take a seat. There is a short delay af the TSA is performing a deep-background investigation of anyone who was scheduled for this flight but didn't check in by the appropriate time...
Once all missing travelers are accounted for and their cancellation fines are levied, we are cleared for travel. We all get fingerprinted and retina scanned for one last ID check...
I hear the DNA insta-scanners are nearing certification, so we'll have that to look forward to in the next year or so... When that happens, if you have any DNA tags in common with anyone in the do-not-fly registry, be prepared for even more invasive scrutiny.
(And word around the Internet is that if you have anyone in your family with any history of mental illness, you'll wind up on the same list for close inspection.)
The TSA medics apply the general anesthetic and once we are under, we are strapped in and the seats are taken by tram to the aircraft and loaded into the plane. The seats are in six-seat modules and it takes about 5 minutes to load the 20 seat modules on the loader racks and in less than 10 minutes all 120 Newark passengers are on and the flight is ready to go.
After several more scares in 2008 and 2009, the TSA decided the only way to make travel safe was for all passengers to be under sedation. The mandate was issued.
"Don't like it?", people were told, "Drive your car to LA. Take a train or a bus."
(Trains and buses aren't much better- but at least you aren't knocked out for the duration.)

The flight crew is released from quarantine and take their positions for the trip and since the passengers are all asleep, there are no more flight attendants- The most welcome change (at least to the airline industry) since the time the TSA mandated the cessation of all food and beverage service. At that point, the Flight Attendants only duty was the safety briefing, but now since all air travelers must be unconscious, they are considered superfluous, and the airlines laid them all off.
(A bill was drafted and passed that let the airlines terminate their employment without severance, COBRA, unemployment, or pension. A little-know feature of the Patriot Act made it possible to pull that off "in the interest of public safety". Personally, I think the next airliner that goes down will be at the hands of a disgruntled ex-Flight Attendant.

So... all 120 sleepers are whisked off to Newark- a 2 hour flight, and once the plane is at the gate at 9:15, the seating units are dismounted and we are taken to the Recovery Area in the Newark ATSF and we are given a stimulant and we wake up...
As we come to our senses, our AirTrav ID numbers pop up on the information screen for baggage claim- My number T933, shows 10:22am, claim 20.
Only an hour... I have some time built into my schedule, so I can wait for my bag... Someone is cussing up a storm... G34223 shows 4:43 pm. Boy, it must suck not being Platinum Level.

I get my bag at 10:30 and I'm dressed and out of the Newark ATSF and heading for my noon meeting... And just think- I get to go through all this again 2 days from now.

I'm getting too old for this crap.

Ok Sherman- Set the Wayback. Get us back to 2006. Let's enjoy the trip while we can.

Famous.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Don't get me started. I have been envisioning the same thing. I anticipate there will be a service created where you go online and book your flight, hotel, rental car, AND clothing and toiletries package. You click your sizes and choose from the available styles. The clothes and the toothpaste show up in your hotel room. Maybe I should quit and start this business...