Washington Reagan National Back Home
The day for me started way before early in Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada, where the clock is set to Atlantic Time. I had to catch a 5:50 a.m. flight from Bathurst to Montreal. I set the alarm for 3:00 a.m. (which my body knew was actually 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time). But I woke up on my own at 2:30 (1:30 Eastern) and looked out the motel room's window.
Snow. About five inches piled up, and coming down hard. Man, oh man. I live in upstate South Carolina, where anything more than a dusting of snow sends all the moms to the store for milk and bread, and anything more than an inch of snow closes the schools and paralyzes the entire region and all the local TV channels air their file footage of sand trucks getting loaded up.
What to do? I called the Bathurst airport around 3:15 and there was nobody there. Too early. I might as well take a shower and get dressed.
I called the airport again at 4:00. Nobody there. Are they going to make me drive over there to find out my flight's been cancelled? I might as well clean the snow off of the car and get it warmed up. It's a good thing that rental cars in this region come with a snow brush sitting on the back seat. By now there was about 6 inches of heavy wet stuff to rake off.
I called the airport at 4:30. Eureka - a man answered the phone. I asked the status of the 5:50 flight to Montreal. In a tone of voice that sounded like he was wondering why I would even ask such a thing, he said, "Well...as far as we are concerned, everything's copasetic."
Remarkable. After I got out of the motel parking lot, it was smooth sailing. The roads had already been scraped and were in pretty good condition. Canadians don't let an everyday thing like snow get in the way of things. They have the equipment and manpower to just get rid of the stuff. And certainly the experience at doing it too.
At the airport, they plowed the runway, hosed the airplane down with de-icer and flew that puppy right outta there. Granted we took off about a half hour late because of the de-icing procedure, but it was pretty neat.
The half hour delay badly damaged my time to make a connecting flight in Montreal. I only had an hour to start with, and now I've got only thirty minutes to make it all the way through the airport, find my bag, go through customs, and then security. And is it only me, or do all the airports where you have to catch a connecting flight intentionally set you up with the longest run possible? They land and drop you off at gate A1, and your connecting flight is invariably boarding at that very moment at gate Z99.
Even though your baggage is checked all the way through to your final destination, you have to find your bag before you go through customs. After customs, they take your bag right back from you and load it on the next plane.
I ran and ran as best as I can to find the customs area. I got completely lost and disoriented in the Montreal airport. I was just about frantic when I ran head-on into a security agent. He grabbed me by the arm to stop me and said, "Where are YOU going????"
I had to think for a couple of seconds to remember. "Uhhhh...Washington, D.C." The security agent said, "Well, FIRST you have to go in there and get your bag." He pointed to a side room that had a baggage conveyor. Thanks. I guess I found the right place after all.
So I stood there and my bag never came out of the hole. People were walking up, picking up their bag and sauntering out one after another. Where is my bag? It happened so many times that the guy in charge of the room came over and suspiciously asked why I was just standing there for so long. I told him my bag never came out, and I showed him my boarding pass. By now I'm bound to miss the flight to Washington. I pointed out the window at the hundreds of people lined up to go through customs. The agent said, "We'll get you through there." I found that hard to believe at that point.
Finally my bag popped out of the hole and I grabbed it. The agent led me out to the customs floor, lifted up one of the barricade tapes, and said "Straight through there." Remarkable. peewee's Private Lane. I'll bet I went in front of three hundred people who were waiting in line.
The customs guys made very short order of our transaction, and off I galloped towing my extra-big suitcase. I made it about a hundred feet when another security agent stopped me. "What is your destination?"
I showed him my boarding pass. Washington, D.C., Reagan National Airport. When he saw that, he instantly hollered, "DCA! DCA!" (That's the airport designation for Reagan National.) I heard somebody off in a corner also holler,"DCA!" in acknowledgement. They hustled me over to a corner where they had a table set up. "Put your bag on the table."
The guy proceeded to methodically take my bag apart and inspect all the contents of every zippered compartment. In about five minutes, he knew what I had in every detail. Now I KNOW I'm going to miss my flight. Interesting, now that they've inspected my bag so well, they'll throw it on the airplane which will be leaving without me.
That wasn't even the security line. That was an up-close and personal inspection triggered by my boarding pass to DCA. I still had to go through the security line.
An agent at the security line was checking boarding passes. I showed him mine and commented that I'm bound to miss the flight. He looked at it, checked his watch, and said, "WOW, man you've got to hurry!" he steered me to the special line and I passed a whole lot of people one more time. A good thing, because after the carryon scanner, another agent proceeded to take my laptop case apart. She went all though it and smeared bomb-sniffing powder all around inside it and than waited for the lab results. "I'm sorry, sir, but we have to inspect everything by hand." Gee, I sure will feel safer as I sit in a motel and wait for tomorrow's flight to Washington Reagan National.
Finally I went limping through the concourse as fast as I could. When I had the gate in sight I looked at my watch and saw that there were three minutes left until the posted departure time for the flight. The gate was cordoned off and there was a constable standing in the only entrance. What the...?
The constable inspected my boarding pass and then stepped out of the way. "Go to the second table." Yes, sir.
Oddly enough, the flight was not even boarding yet. Everybody was just sitting around. At the second table an agent hand-scanned me all over and took my laptop case apart one more time. When he was done I asked, "What's going on at Reagan National?"
He said, "What do you mean?"
"Well, way back yonder somewhere a guy looked at my boarding pass and he yelled, 'DCA!' and I've been through a whole lot of searches just trying to get here."
He answered, "All flights going to Reagan get tight security. It's the Bush administration."
Oh. So finally we're flying along and the pilot comes on the PA and says that all flights going to Reagan National require that all passengers remain seated for the final 30 minutes of the flight. We've got 45 minutes left, so if you need to use the lavatory you'd better use it now. There is no acceptable reason to leave your seat for the last 30 minutes of the flight. Interesting. I'm feeling safer all the time.
So I made it to Reagan National and finally had a decent layover time. I could stroll through the airport instead of run.
The flight from Washington to Charlotte (the last leg of my trip) was on a big jet, an A312. It's one of those three-by-three seating arrangements with many, many rows. The flight was oversold. At the gate they were asking for volunteers to get off the plane in trade for a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the lower 48 states. I heard a lady ahead of me in line ask the gatekeeper when was the next flight to Charlotte, she may want to take the deal. The gatekeeper said 7:50 p.m. The current time was 11:30 a.m. The lady said no thanks.
It took a long time to get that many people boarded on the airplane. Every five minutes, the flight attendant came on the PA and announced the "stay in your seat for the first 30 minutes of the flight" rule. If you need to use the lavatory, you'd better do it before we close the door of the airplane.
I put my earplugs in and tried to catch a nap. I was way tired, time zone warped, and wanted to rest. As soon as we took off, the little kid seated behind me started kicking the back of by seat. Stomp, stomp, stomp. His mom never even told him to stop. At this point, I figured...hey, last flight, going home, I can sleep some other day I guess.
It turns out the kid was squirming and stomping the back of my seat because he needed to pee. After we took off and got to flying along good, I heard the kid's seatbelt unsnap. The flight attendant heard it too, and she came scooting down the aisle. The kid's mom was getting ready to put the kid in the aisle when the attendant stopped her. No way that kid is getting out of that seat.
The mom pleaded, "But he's just a kid. He's GOT to go to the bathroom." The attendant said no way, for the first 30 minutes of all flights out of Reagan National all passengers must remain seated, no exceptions for any reason whatsoever. And we also announced that policy ten times before we closed the aircraft's door.
The mom asked when could the kid get up. The attendant said, "I don't know, I'll get on the horn and ask the pilot." The answer was 20 minutes. So I got kicked and shaken around in my seat for 20 more minutes. When the loud DING sounded and the seatbelt sign went out, the kid went down the aisle to the rear of the plane like a missile.
I guess the morale of the story is - if you're flying into Washington Reagan National, you will be searched all over, over and over. And if you're flying out of Washington Reagan National, you'd better pee first.
***As a footnote, the "don't get out of your seat" rule going into Washington Reagan Nation has been eliminated, just a few months after this story was written. Unless TSA has changed it again...they change something every week, ya know.***