I Have the Power

plane at the gate.
Last leg of the journey. It’s good to see a plane at the gate.

Power is a strange little commodity. Some people have the power to affect large enterprises and hundreds of thousands of people, yet they channel that power through myriad levels of delegates. At the other end of the spectrum are those who have very little actual power, but who wield it like a maniacal dictator. In between those extremes are all manner of relatively powerful or powerless individuals who simply follow and enforce rules, laws and policies.

I’ve been jotting down notes about this subject for years. Way too many to cram into one post. I noticed that several of my observations occurred in airports. I think we all understand that Airport Security is a human power grid that is not to be trifled with. Among the tools at their disposal is the ability to put you in a small room with large and heavily armed people. Combined with the fact that you usually encounter these people when you are on a mission, in a hurry and looking forward to being treated like cattle; you can see a dangerous situation brewing.

I want to say, that since 2001, every single one of my encounters with TSA personnel during the screening process has been remarkably civil. I have found these people to be courteous and professional, albeit well in control of their sense of humor.

Unfortunately, there are many people outside of the screening station who either don’t have actual power, or shouldn’t have been given the power that they have. As you will see in the three stories I decided to share today, not everything can be blamed on 9-11.

On a return flight from San Francisco, after putting my shoes back on, I asked the TSA agent at the booth if I could take pictures of the planes on the tarmac. He said yes, adding that I should avoid taking pictures of or pointing my camera at any of the TSA operations. That seemed reasonable.

A few minutes later, I was taking a picture of the plane I would be flying on. I wanted to send it to my wife with the caption “always good to see your plane at the gate.” No. No, no, no, that was not going to happen. A TSA agent approached me and directed me to “put that camera down.” She then asked me to show her and delete any pictures I had taken. I was cooperative – wanting to avoid the little room – but I explained to her that I had asked the man at the booth. Deaf ears. I showed her the one picture I had taken. I deleted it. There was no discussion.

Incident number two happened a few winters ago. I was fetching our daughter from the airport as she returned from visiting family in Iowa. I waited at the cell phone lot, and when she texted to say that she had her bag, I drove to Arrivals. I pulled to the curb and was immediately approached by a security guard who instantly reminded me of John Candy’s character in National Lampoon’s Vacation. I honestly expected him to say: “sorry folks, park’s closed, the moose out front should have told you.” Instead, he said:

You can’t park here.”

I’m picking up my daughter.”

Fine, but you can’t wait here, you have to wait in the cell phone lot.”

I was in the cell phone lot. She just called.”

Then you have to drive around.”

I can see her coming. That’s her over there.” (Pointing).

I’m going to issue a ticket and have your car towed if you don’t move.”

Can my daughter put her bag in first? She’s standing right behind you.”

Seeing my daughter opening the lift gate, prompted him to walk away, but didn’t embarrass him enough to offer an apology.

As I promised, I’ll close with a pre-TSA story that actually ended-up being funny. This happened in 1981, when anyone could walk into an airport and sit at the gates. I was on a no-budget trip from Seattle, WA to Newark, NJ to begin searching for a new job. To reduce costs, I had taken the red-eye and reserved a rental car with Thrifty or Enterprise. The name isn’t important. What was important was the fact that their airport operation wasn’t open between midnight Saturday and 6:00 am Sunday.

I wove the shoulder strap of my suit bag through the handles of my other luggage. Then I stepped through it and curled up in a chair. A short while later, a janitor pushed his mop into my foot:

You can’t sleep here.”

My car rental place doesn’t open until six.”

You can wait here, but you can’t sleep here.”

After he walked away, I went back to sleep. Bump – “you can’t sleep here!

This happened two more times. Finally, about 5:00 am, I got the bump, and I lost it.

You can’t sleep here.”

I could if you didn’t keep hitting me with that f—ing mop!

While such an outburst might land me in jail these days, he burst into laughter. He told me where there was an open coffee shop and he offered to watch my stuff. I bought him a coffee, and we yacked until the car rental company opened.

If you happen to have any power, real or imagined, please use it wisely.

R.I.P. John candy

60 thoughts on “I Have the Power

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  1. This is exactly what I needed first thing this Monday. Love the mop and the hearty laugh I had. :-) Although there is nothing humorous about airline travel these days, I do find it gets more ridiculous. On our recent return trip from KC, we were in an area they refer to as ‘holding’ that included fourteen gates. For fourteen gates, there were a total of two restrooms marked women and two marked men. You’re the math guy so just imagine the lines and the attitudes. When I got home I sent emails and received a response from Southwest that they only rent and couldn’t do anything about it and from MCI that they had heard before that it might be an issue. There is always a power pyramid but the traveler is so far at the bottom it is hard to find them. Have a good Monday – you may need a DD trip talking about this topic. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you got a chuckle Judy. Comments like “we only rent” or “we’re waiting on improvements” always make me shake my head. In the years before they decided to tear down Terminal B at BDL, American Airlines kept their counter and gates there (because they had a long-term lease). The airport gradually shut down service after service, until there were almost no functioning bathroom facilities. No food, no coffee, unless you wanted to hike to the other terminal. TSA refused to put screening facilities in that terminal, given so few flights, so they finally moved. I stopped flying American and only book with them when they are the only good option.

      I have a draft post about the number of times I’ve complained, or asked about something where the response has been “we’ve heard that before” or “we get that all the time” – I haven’t found a way to make that funny :(

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  2. Ha ha ha ha I was nearly refused entry to the US the first time I visited, years ago – I was travelling with my American boyfriend (now my husband) who waited in one line while I (being a Brit) waited in another. The man on the desk asked if I was travelling alone, and I said no, I was travelling with my boyfriend and we were visiting his family – big mistake – the desk guy wanted to know where my boyfriend was, and I told him he was an American citizen so had already gone through in a different line and was waiting for me on the other side. Oh boy, did that cause confusion and suspicion. Desk guy couldn’t seem to work out how a British girl who lived in the UK could say she was travelling with an elusive American boyfriend who she even claimed lived with her, when there was no sign of him and her entire story sounded so implausible. In his world, it seemed, normal American citizens lived in America, not with alien women in the UK. Took absolute ages and a ridiculous level of repetitive interrogation before he finally let me through… it wasn’t the best introduction to America, I have to say :-)

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    1. That’s crazy! I am glad they let you in eventually. It seems that he would understand the rules that his agency put in place. I guess it was one of those times when a good lie might have been better than the truth.

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  3. Great post Dan. Air travel is definitely prone to endless stories of misuse of power. Having said that, I can imagine what it would be like to be in a job where you are dealing with hundreds and hundreds of people – including the remarkably stupid, arrogant, and belligerent (we’ve all seen them in our travels) – all day long, every single day.
    There’s a reason I’ve never worked in the service industry. It would have been a very short career ;)

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    1. You and me both Joanne. I had a very short career that involved limited customer service and I was really pretty bad at it. I’ve been lucky in the screening process, including the time that I was wearing an elastic knee brace and had to undergo “further examination” – the person was very professional and very much concerned with my sense of privacy.

      You do see all types of people in airports and on planes. I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing which ones are safe to strike up a conversation with and which ones should be left alone.

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        1. I think it is. There must be a class where they start out saying “we don’t want this to be a pleasurable experience for people.” And, I can understand that they can’t let their guard down. I wouldn’t want that job.

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  4. I’m not the fondest of those people out front who keep yelling at you, “You can’t park here!” Chicago O’Hare is like that, although I stay away from that airport like the plague. I prefer to fly in and out of Milwaukee as I’ve never had anyone yell at me about “parking” or sleeping or anything else and it’s an easy airport to maneuver. Plus they have a Harley-Davidson shop in the main shopping area.

    You can wait here, but you can’t sleep here? That is too funny. Were you all curled up in a sleeping bag on the floor? ;-)

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    1. Oooh, a Harley Shop in the terminal. There’s a great way to spend a long layover. I was curled up in one of those miserably uncomfortable chairs that are all connected and the padding that is sprayed on thin as paint. The issue back then was that homeless people would sleep in the airport, so they wanted it to be less welcoming than a bridge overpass.

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  5. Loved the stories. I had an incident before 911 flying from NYC to Charlotte NC at 6:00 am. I handed the guy at curbside our tickets and five bucks, then took off to park the car. I could see the guy hassling my wife in the rear view mirror. I stopped the car and went back. He was asking her the destination and I asked what was the problem. “Your wife doesn’t seem to know where you are going” I answered “Why don’t you check the tickets. It’s early and she hasn’t had her coffee.” He gave me a look and then I parked the car. We got to Charlotte but our bags went to Amsterdam.

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  6. Great photos :)
    I loved the mop comment. I lol’ed. It’s cool y’all went and had coffee to stay awake.
    I miss people and plane watching at the airport. This simple pleasure is something kids will never know. I even have friends who can’t imagine that twenty years ago, one could park at the airport, watch the planes come and go, head into the terminal, buy a coffee and a Toblerone, and sit and watch people. I suppose this is frightening now, but no one cared.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I remember being a little kid and having my dad take us out to the airport’s rooftop observatory to watch Jets take-off and land. It is hard to imagine when you look at an airport today.

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  7. Thoroughly enjoyed both post and comments, Dan. Since we drove to Philly, we avoided the airport hassle but my husband had to fly to Florida already early this morning, so who knows what might have happened there. I, like you, have found my TSA experiences to be, if not pleasurable, not any of the horror stories I’ve read. I agree with Joanne that dealing with the public that much and that up-close-and-personal probably curdles your kindness genes eventually. Customers or whatever you call the part of the pubic you deal with can be real jerks. As for TSA and all the regulations, I’d feel better if they’d stopped terrorists that way, but I don’t see that happening. The ones I’ve read about have been foiled by fellow passengers and all the people who work at the airport aren’t screened, a potential terrorist hole so large as to be ludicrous. The joy of flying has mostly been taken away unless you really work at it.

    Lest we just pick on TSA, there are plenty of other petty tyrants in all walks of life, but most often to be found in government jobs. I’m just going to stop there.

    janet

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    1. Thanks Janet. I started with TSA when I realized that I’ve encountered too many of these people, from airports to Hone Depot to squeeze into a single post. Flying, IMO is tied with the bus as far as customer experience goes. I hope you husband had an uncomplicated journey to FL.

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  8. Wow, it would never occur to me that taking photos of planes is not allowed – but then, I don’t fly any more. When I was in my 20s, I used to love flying wherever I could, but that was when it was still fun and you didn’t have to show up at the airport 4 hours ahead of your flight to get through security.

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  9. Good stories, and images Dan! If I flew a lot I’d pay for TSA Pre. I’ve been fortunate a couple of times and was chosen randomly to get it. Going through those lines was a breeze and my trips started on the right foot.
    I’m flying again soon, and I hope the lines aren’t long, and I see that green check by TSA Pre when I print my boarding pass.
    I’ve been reading about the long lines, and delays so, I’m getting to airport earlier than I normally would be there. :(

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. I have applied for TSA Pre. I won’t be flying for a while, hopefully not during the summer crush. Delta’s Economy Comfort seats also let you use the Priority line. It’s not as good as TSAPre, but is reduces the time standing in line. I think getting there early is the key. I am always early. Departures at our airport tend to be bunched up, so I go early to avoid the influx.

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      1. :( I didn’t get TSA Pre this time. There’s a travel alert advising passengers get to the airport 2 hours ahead of domestic flight, and 3 for International flights. I’m taking their advise! Keeping my fingers crossed that the lines aren’t long, and everyone I come in contact with is in a good mood…me included! :)

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  10. Oh the days when travel was so much more pleasant. I also remember going out to the airport and going up to a balcony where you could watch the planes come and go. I also remember waiting for friends and relatives at their arriving gate….fast forward to Mother’s Day Weekend…our middle daughter flew in from LA where her and her husband live to surprise my wife for Mother’s Day. We dropped her off early Monday morning at Sky Harbor here in Phoenix for her return flight. She travels the world for her work and knows the ins and outs of TSA, etc. She is 3 months pregnant and knows that she can request a pat down vs going thru the body scanner. It hadn’t been an issue until her flight back that morning. The female TSA agent badgered her and tried to push her through the scanner. My daughter is not one to be pushed around or badgered…supervisor had to intervene and needless to say apologies were extended at that point but not before the female TSA agent had made a scene and humiliated my daughter. Abuse of power…..

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    1. That’s terrible Kirt. I’m glad your daughter stood her ground, but it really shouldn’t have to come to that. Oh the good old day, huh? I remember my parents taking us to the observation deck at Pittsburgh International Airport to see jets for the first time – 707s I guess.

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  11. I guess I’m a timid soul although if you speak to anyone in my family, they’d say the opposite. Anyway, at airports, I do as I’m told. This is most likely due to the fact that I’m seldom at an airport. I think the number of visits is at ten right now, which is minuscule to what most people have under their belts.

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  12. I usually go through the airport or any other security check points scared stiff and as obedient as a I-don’t-know-what. Once in August 2014, at a shopping mall, a security guy ran the metal detector through me and found that I had metals on me. I quickly explained that the metals were at the tips of my shoes. It was evening and I was from work. So I still had my work boots on. That man did not listen to me. He suddenly became very cross and pushed me back, ordering me to take off my shoes. He had raised his voice and I saw some people cringe. They were looking at me with suspicion. I was extremely embarrassed, to say the least. And I hated that man.

    But I sort of understood him. Acts of terrorism in the country have changed many things. Cases of insecurity are on the rise nationwide.

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    1. I don’t envy those people Peter. They have a difficult job to do, but I think they can do it professionally. I was stopped one time when I was wearing an elastic knew brace. The man asked me if I had something under my pant leg. I told him what it was. I offered to show it to him or remove it. He scanned it with his handheld unit and felt it with his hands and let me go. Still, having the extra attention, seeing the other passengers looking, is all disconcerting at best. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to add your experience to the story :)

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    1. No pool, no skinny dipping and I’m pretty sure they could see. We’re in the landing path of the shorter (cross wind) runway. I’ve flown over our yard before and it’s pretty easy to see the details.

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  13. I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on power, Dan. I was brilliant to use the TSA to exemplify assumed power and actual power and the abuse — or not — of both. I laughed along with the janitor in your last anecdote.

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    1. Thanks Janet. It’s one of those subjects that shows up often in our daily lives. Sometimes I try to take it in stride. Sometimes I feel like a line has been crossed.

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