Airline Security Tour 2002 : 15486 miles in a week
by Sean Mendis  

I had an American Airlines voucher that was due to expire, so I decided to combine it with a partially used NWA ticket and make a trip to London and California. In order to maximize my benefits, I signed up for the AAdvantage Platinum Challenge and booked myself an itinerary with 15 segments for $106.31 out-of-pocket for an open jaw ATL-LHR-LAX, paid in cash. Needless to say, an international one-way trip paid in cash flagged my PNR for the most thorough security screening the world has ever seen. Finally, my return dates coincided with the preview event for the new terminal at Detroit, so I timed my flights so that I could attend that event too. My final itinerary was Atlanta to St.Louis to Champaign to Chicago to Pittsburgh to New York JFK to London Heathrow to New York JFK to Boston to Chicago to Mikwaukee to St.Louis to Springfield to Dallas to San Diego to Los Angeles to Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to Minneappolis to Detroit to Atlanta. This is the story of my week on the road.

After an all-too-brief night, I grabbed the first MARTA train of the morning which deposited me safely at Hartsfield by 530am for my 7am flight. The proletariat lines at security were already stretching halfway to Alabama, so I proceeded to the Delta Medallion checkpoint where the sweet lady let me through on the basis of my status even though I was flying American Airlines.

The retards were out in full strength today and I was admonished by the rent-a-screener for walking through the magnetometer while wiping my face with my handkerchief. She said that it was an "FAA regulation" (sic) that all items in my pockets be scanned through the X-ray machine. Accordingly, this 6-inch by 6-inch piece of flimsy cloth was placed in its own plastic bowl and passed through the machine. Boy, did I feel safe.

The rent-a-screener at the next checkpoint over was harassing a poor America West captain who was commuting to work. According to her, his uniform jacket and cap constituted TWO personal items and he would have to check or pack one of them in his flight bag. He offered to WEAR them, but she said that he couldn't do that since they had to be passed through the X-ray machine due to "FAA regulations" (sic). A vicious argument was brewing there, but fresh Orange Juice in the Crown Room was calling my name and I didn't stay for the bloodshed.

The T-Concourse Crown Room was deserted at this early hour and I grabbed some juice and a breakfast bar before plonking myself at the window to watch the LAX redeye taxi in and discharge its human cargo. I flipped through a few pages of my book ("Eagle - The Story of American Airlines" by Bob Serling) but then decided to head down to my gate and check-in.

We had a very light load for the short hop up to STL this morning and I was checked in without any hassle. The poor agent spent a few minutes trying to figure out my final destination, but got it figured out eventually. She informed me that I was a security selectee and asked me to head over to a side table for the check since boarding was about to commence.

The lady at the side table was very sweet and spent about 5 minutes going through my bag (without messing it up), shoes, jacket, etc.. I was then approved as being sufficiently sterile and escorted to the boarding pass reader where my pass was fed to the machine, which beeped rather rudely to indicate that I was a selectee. To my complete horror and amusement, the lady at the machine insisted that I would have to be checked AGAIN because my first selection was a "random" selection, while my second selection was "by the computer". This was evidently an "FAA regulation" (sic).

So back I trooped to the side table where the same lady proceeded to unpack the same bag and check the same clothes, same shoes and same jacket that she had done about 3 minutes earlier. Hello people, Groundhog Day was last week! Needless to say, no contraband had secreted itself in the interim and I was finally allowed to board the aircraft.

 I settled myself into 26F and dozed off as we pushed back and joined the line for de-icing. We began de-icing around 730am and I looked out of my window to see the Midwest Express DC9-10 registered N700ME on the stand next to us. Our aircraft today was N984TW, "Spirit Of Long Beach", the LAST DC9 variant ever built with a Douglas designator in 1999. Ironically, N700ME was the FIRST DC9 prototype to fly back in 1965 and is the oldest surviving DC9 airframe. Only an airplane dork like myself would even realize the significance of such a moment and I struggled to fight back a tear as hot ethylene glycol was sprayed over my window.

We were finally airborne at 803am with a flight time of 1:03 to St.Louis. I grabbed a 7-Up and then napped, awakening as we taxied towards our gate C9. It was 812am and my connection was due out at 832am from B7.

I arrived at B7 puffing and panting and the Trans States Airlines agent told me that the flight was boarded except for me, but that I was a security selectee. I stood patiently as I was wanded while another agent went through my bag for the third time this morning before I was allowed to proceed. The J-41 was waiting on the ramp for me and a cute blonde ramper took my bag as I clambered aboard.

I took a seat in the last row of coach and began chatting with the Flight Attendant on the jumpseat as we taxied out. We got into an interesting discussion about the various unions representing FA groups at various carriers and she confessed that the Teamsters were not doing a particularly good job for TSA. The 41 minute flight passed quickly without any service and we touched down at Champaign on a lovely clear morning.

Since I had two hours to kill here, I explored the airport. That took all of 10 minutes. It consists of a sterile area with a single jetway. There is a restaurant and a gift shop on the upper level, but before security. The lower level has the ticketing counters (for American and Northwest), the baggage claim carousel and a couple of rental car counters. The security counter was manned by an old guy who I initially thought was dead, but later realized was just sleeping. He was assisted by a younger man who spent most of his time playing cards with the National Guardsmen. All-in-all, a typical small-town airport.

I decided to grab breakfast at the restaurant and the sweet lady there reccomended the 3-egg mushroom and cheese omelette with toast and potatoes. I happily agreed and it was delicious. The only problem was that I had inadvertently seated myself in the smoking area and there was a steady stream of smokers who came in solely to have a puff or two, but that was more than compensated for by the excellent food.

I went through security without a hassle and settled down in a corner of the waiting area with my book. The ERJ from Chicago arrived soon enough and boarding was called around 1115am for the 1145am flight. Once again, I was a security selectee and the agent who went through my bag recognized me as having arrived on the St. Louis flight earlier that morning. I told him my itinerary and he collapsed laughing.

I was the last passenger aboard a nearly full N805AE and took my seat 8A for the short flight up to Chicago. Our flight attendant today was very religious and kept interjecting the words "God Willing" and "God Bless" during her announcements. I appreciate the thought but quite frankly it doesn't really inspire confidence to hear "God Willing, our destination is Chicago" when you board an aircraft.

Nonetheless, flight time was an even 0:45 and it passed uneventfully. I had a Coke and then napped sporadically since I had left my book in the gate-checked rollaboard and my seat pocket was strangely devoid of American Way magazine. Our approach into O'Hare took us smack over downtown and we had an incredible view of the city on this lovely cloudless day. Unfortunately, we touched down somewhere near Rockford and taxied for about 20 minutes before we got to the gate.

I checked the flight information monitors and noticed that my next flight was running 10 minutes late, giving me over an hour to kill. Accordingly, I headed off to the Delta Crown Room where I checked email and relaxed with my buddy Jack Daniels until it was time to return to the gate.

The boarding process for N623AE was almost complete by the time I arrived at G14, but I was again pulled aside as a selectee. I took seat 5A and observed my namesake B747-437 VT-ESM arriving from Heathrow as we taxied out. I then slept the entire 1:10 to Pittsburgh. The ride was smooth enough and we touched down and taxied in next to a Chautauqua ERJ whose cute female co-pilot was doing a walkaround. Oooh baby. There is something about women in uniform.... ;)

With just under 2 hours to kill here, I decided to grab a bite to eat. Accordingly, I headed to McDonald's and tried their new Chicken Parmesan sandwich. Mmmmm, I highly reccomend it. This done, I rode the train to the main ticketing area where I attempted to checkin for my next flights. The lady there expressed the appropriate amusement/horror at my itinerary but also informed me that my JFK-LHR flight was running late. When I asked how long, she replied that no information was posted yet, but there was a possible equipment swap. Just fricking wonderful.

I headed back to the gate where the Saab had just arrived and was discharging its passengers. Our boarding commenced a few minutes later, and strangely enough I was not selected for security this time. Or so I thought...

I had already handed my rollaboard to the ramper and was halfway up the stairs when the gate agent came rushing onto the ramp and asked me to step back into the terminal with him. Evidently, he had overlooked the fact that I was a selectee and was now dragging me back to search. Accordingly, my bag was checked for the sixth time that day and I returned to the aircraft where seat 5C awaited me.

The vibrations on a Saab make them rather suitable as an erotic toy, but since I was not in the mood for that I decided instead to try and relax for the lengthy 1:33 hop over to JFK. My seatmate in 5B was a rather bulky man whose elbow invaded my personal space, so it was not a particularly comfortable flight. We disembarked into the middle of the Saab farm at JFK and rode the bus back to Terminal 9. My Heathrow flight was due out from Terminal 8. Of course, the only walkway between the two terminals was outside the building and had a very tersely worded sign in front of it saying simply "CLOSED".

I took the sidewalk over to the deserted Terminal 8 to find that the flight was now showing a tentative departure of 1135pm, a delay of just over 2 hours. I checked in and was informed that we were being swapped out from an Atlantic 777 to a Pacific 777, which meant that my pre-reserved row 42 was now a crew rest seat. I swapped out for row 41 and kept my fingers crossed that the entire 4 section would remain mine.

I then headed over to the bar where I proceeded to drown my delay blues as I watched the Olympic Opening Ceremonies on a muted overhead television. Finally, around 11pm, I headed back to the gate where they were about to call pre-boarding. I presented myself directly to the security screeners who laughed and searched my bag for the seventh and final time that day before escorting me aboard N779AN.

The Flight Attendant was very intrigued by my book and we spent the entire boarding process chatting. Unfortunately, 41G was also occupied, so I had to settle for a single aisle seat rather than the whole row. We had a rather long taxi to runway 31R but were finally airborne just after midnight with an announced flight time of 5:43 to Heathrow.

The meal service began before we were even clear of Long Island and it was strictly edible but no more. The light load today facilitated a quick service and I was able to settle down to sleep within 45 minutes of being airborne. I awakened when we were about 30 minutes out of Heathrow and headed back to the lav to freshen up while the crew conducted the second meal service.

Heathrow had rather strong crosswinds and as a result we made a slip approach to runway 27L with plenty of rudder. Unfortunately, we touched down rather hard on our right bogey and bounced once which got a couple of passengers screaming. We finally taxied to our remote bay and chocked on right before noon. It took another 15 minutes to disembark the passengers into the buses.

As we drove to the terminal, I saw the same VT-ESM that I had spotted at ORD the previous day taxiing out for her return to BOM, as well as sistership VT-EVB recently arrived from India on her way to JFK. That's what I love about Heathrow - I can always find one of my namesake B747-437s there.

The line at immigration was horrendously long since both Air India and BWIA had recently arrived with 300-odd passengers each. Fortunately, I keep a stack of FastTrack passes for occasions like this and breezed through past the patient proletariat. The lady at the counter barely gave me a second look and stamped me into the country. I headed out through Customs without hassle and emerged into the human zoo that doubles as Terminal 3 arrivals.

My first move was to hit an ATM for some local moolah, after which I headed over to catch the Heathrow Express over to Terminal 4. Unfortunately the walkway from Terminal 3 arrivals to the Heathrow Express station is temporarily closed. The sign there said something like "We apologize for the inconvenience caused as we are temporarily forced to restrict access in order to enable us to complete renovations to this facility". Typically British, and in sharp contrast to its monosyllabical sister sign at Kennedy.

I headed back around to the T3 departures entrance to Heathrow Express and was transported over to the T4 station quick enough. I was using a HHonors weekend award at the Hilton and checkin was smooth enough, although the TVs were just breaking the sad news of Princess Margaret's death. I headed off to my room where I made some plans for the next day before grabbing some much needed rest. I awakened around 4pm from my nap, quickly showered and headed off via Piccadilly Line to my old haunt of Hounslow High Street for a bit of shopping at the Treaty Center before shops closed at 6pm. I then grabbed a dinner of Doner Kebabs at a small place across from the bus garage and caught the 111 bus back to Heathrow before turning in for the night.

The next morning, I Woke up around 9am and headed into town to meet up with friends. We spent most of the day in town, where I had to make my annual pilgrimage to the Food Hall at Selfridges. Alas, Harrods was closed on Sunday but the Oxford Street stores more than made up for it. Lunch was good old Fish and Chips (you simply do NOT get a decent fried Cod stateside) and I headed back to the hotel in the early evening where I grabbed dinner at the excellent Chinese restaurant before turning in for the evening.

On the morning of departure, I headed out around 10am for the noon flight and caught the Heathrow Express over to Terminal 3. The lines at the AA counters were non-existant and I was checked in within minutes. I grabbed a quick breakfast at the food court before heading through to Duty Free where I picked up some Scotch and Fortnum & Mason biscuits as gifts.

Our gate today was 22, which is the only gate at Heathrow actually located in Yorkshire. Well, not really, but anyone who has ever flown out of there can sympathize about the 20 minute trek. I presented myself to the screeners and was again informed (surprise, surprise) that I was to be a security selectee.

Usually the Brits seem to be rather logical about security, but I guess the folks employed by American Airlines are exceptions to the rule. After my shoes had been removed for the mandatory swab and explosive residue test, I proceeded to pull them back on. Whoa! You would think that I'd just stolen the Crown Jewels. Evidently "FAA regulations" (sic) require that I do not put my shoes back on until the test comes back as clear, and accordingly I had to take them off and let him conduct the test again. Needless to say there was no change to the results. Boy, did I feel safe.

We boarded N799AN through door 1L and I took my seat 41H in front of a Canadian girl who was connecting to Montreal. The Flight Attendant, who wore a name tag saying "Alexander" although the other crew called him "Lorenzo" during the flight, came around distributing I-94s and Customs forms. The girl behind me asked him what she needed to fill up since she was in transit to Canada and he incorrectly replied that she should fill in her name and leave the rest blank.

I have done the Canada transit shuffle a few times, so I turned around and told the girl that that information he had given her was incorrect. She would need to complete it as if she was terminating in the United States, except that she should fill "IN TRANSIT TO CANADA" where it asks for her address in the United States. She was very grateful and said that it made more sense than leaving it blank. Unfortunately, this seemed to piss off Lorenzo/Alexander and set the tone for the rest of the flight.

We taxied to runway 27L right behind a TAROM 737-700 and were airborne soon enough with a lengthy announced flight time of 7:28. As we taxied out, I spotted VT-ESM for the third time this trip, just arrived from BOM on her way to JFK this time and running about an hour late.

The drink service began soon after we levelled out and this was my first inkling that things were not going well with Lorenzo/Alexander. As he rolled his drink cart down the aisle he *forgot* to lock his brakes so the cart *accidently* began rolling back down the aisle where it crashed rather painfully into my elbow as he served the row behind me. Not a word of apology. Then, to add insult to injury he totally IGNORED me for the drink service, asking preference from the lady in the window seat beside me, but pushing his cart away without serving me as if I didn't exist.

Lunch was the next service, but I decided to skip because I had eaten a rather heavy late breakfast. Fortunately, the other FA was handling the trays so I was offered one, but Lorenzo/Alexander was doing the drinks and skipped me over again. I pointedly asked him "May I please have something to drink" and he responded by opening my tray table and plonking down a cup of water without a word.

After the lunch service, I took the opportunity to nap for a couple hours and then headed back to the lav to freshen up and stretch my legs. Noticing the absence of my nemesis, I began chatting with the other Flight Attendants and two other passengers. We were in the middle of a discussion about TWA seniority integration into APFA when suddenly Lorenzo/Alexander returned to the galley, stepped in between me and another FA and rudely told me that "This area is not for passengers - please return to your seat immediately". I pointed out that there were two other passengers present who were not being asked to leave, but he replied with "Sir, I'm only going to ask you one more time. Please return to your seat IMMEDIATELY". Not wanting to create a scene, I complied, but I was ready to explode by now.

Fortunately, a movie cycle was just beginning on the PTV system and I calmed myself down by watching the hilarious "Rat Race". This kept me occupied for the better part of 2 hours, after which I switched to the "Everybody Loves Raymond" channel. Then it was time for the second meal service and this time Lorenzo/Alexander was doing the trays. Not surprisingly, he once again ignored me completely, serving the lady next to me and the man across the aisle, but staring through me as if I didn't exist. This was the last straw. I almost lost it right there and was ready to jump up and confront him, but fortunately was restrained by the passengers around me who told me that he was hoping for a reaction like that. The lady next to me even went so far as to offer me her pizza, but I declined her kind offer.

I silently fumed through the remainder of the flight and a childish cold war ensued. Everytime he came down the aisle with his cart, he would try and bump into my seat. Conversely, I would stick my leg out and try to trip him. Yeah, it was juvenile but it sure beats a fistfight at 35000 feet. I kept calm for now, but some poor incompetent would feel my wrath before the day was out.

We finally touched down on 13R at JFK after a flight time of 7:48, the longest LHR-JFK sector I have ever been on (and I've flown that route at least 50 times over the last 20+ years). Fortunately, both the taxi time and the line at passport control was short and I was outside at 338pm, with my JFK-PIT flight delayed to 415pm. The shuttle arrived a few minutes later and I was quickly transported to Terminal 9 where I ascended to the American Eagle security checkpoints.

I arrived at the checkpoint at around 345pm for a 415pm flight and was shocked to see a handwritten sign on the ID checker's podium saying "TIPS ARE APPRECIATED". I made a comment that that was not an appropriate thing to display as I presented my E-ticket receipt (printed on AA stock and containing the ticket numbers) along with my passport.

At this time, Mr. Herbert Silva of Worldwide Flight Services (the security contractor) told me that my documents were not in order and that I would not be allowed to go through his checkpoint. He said that "E-Tickets are not valid on American Eagle". I am not certain if his attitude was due to ignorance, or in resentment of my comments about his sign. Either way, he picked the wrong guy to f*** with, especially after my crappy transatlantic flight.

I immediately asked to see the GSC (Ground Security Coordinator) running the checkpoint. He arrogantly told me that there was "no such thing as a GSC" and that I needed to move or he would have me arrested. I stood my ground and demanded to see the GSC. He refused and called one of the National Guard over to remove me.

I calmly explained that I was waiting for the GSC and the Guardsman backed me up, telling Mr. Silva to fetch either the GSC or his supervisor. He said that he would do so "in a few minutes". So I waited. And waited. And waited. Every 5 minutes, I announced loudly "I have now been waiting (x) minutes for Mr. Silva to fetch the GSC".

After 21 minutes, Mr. Silva finally left to fetch his supervisor. She arrived at 413pm and I explained my situation and told her that I was waiting for the GSC.

Her response was that the GSC was "not available right now". I told her that if the GSC was not physically present at the checkpoint, FAA regulations required that the checkpoint be shutdown and the terminal evacuated, so perhaps she would like to reconsider her answer. She hastily reworded it to say that the GSC was "in a meeting with a FAA inspector".

I immediately pulled out my business card (which gives my profession as an Aviation Consultant) and told her to go hand it to the FAA inspector saying that I would like to meet with HIM instead of the GSC. She was very flustered by now and wandered away. She returned at 422pm saying that the GSC had allegedly cleared my passage through the checkpoint.

Unfortunately, although I had been patient and waited for Mr. Silva to learn how to do his job, the PIT flight was not quite so considerate and had departed without me aboard. I smiled at Mr. Silva, promised him that he had not heard the end of this matter, and proceeded through the checkpoint.

As soon as I was through security, I called American and got them to rebook me on the 445pm Boston flight which was the last flight of the day that had a connection to Chicago. I rushed to the Boston gate where the agent regretfully told me that although it was only 432pm, the flight was closed and I would be reaccomodated on the next flight.

Call me butter 'cos I was on a roll, but I proceeded to explain to the poor girl exactly why it would be in her best interests to get me aboard that flight. I simply told her that she had two options. She could call the ramp and tell them to hold the plane for me and hence be rid of me in 10 minutes for an on-time departure, or she could misconnect me and be saddled with not only having to rebook my entire itinerary and find me hotel accomodation in New York - but since she closed the flight 13 minutes early she would probably be in very hot water. I guess it was something about my matter-of-fact demeanor (not to mention my 15 segment itinerary) that convinced her that I wasn't kidding and she immediately called someone to tell them that another passenger was on the way.

Unfortunately, since the flight had already closed, the rent-a-screeners had already departed the area. So when the computer picked me up as a selectee, we had to wait another 5 minutes before they arrived with their wands and gloves. Call me morbid, but the sight of a 300lb Jamaican guy pulling on rubber gloves and saying "Dees will be over kwikleey maan" is enough to send shivers down the spine of even the bravest man. Luckily, the examination was swift and cursory and I emerged onto the ramp at 442pm where an American Eagle bus was waiting for me.

The bus driver was obviously clued in to the tight timeframe, 'cos he set off across the tarmac like a bat out of hell. At this moment Murphy's Law dictates that something bad happen, and sure enough ol' Murph did not disappoint. Out of nowhere comes a Port Authority Police vehicle that pulls in behind us with lights blazing and ordering us to pull over on the PA system. Evidently, there is a 7mph speed limit on the ramp and we were exceeding it rather blatantly. After 2 minutes of lecturing the poor driver, we were sent forth to sin no more and continued on our journey to the Saab farm.

We arrived at the ramp only to find a single Saab, and she already had chocks removed and was halfway through her turn to exit the parking position with the #2 engine going full throttle. My driver immediately grabbed his radio and yelled something unintelligible into it. Evidently, it had the required reaction since the wingwalker suddenly signalled to the pilot to hold position as we raced across the ramp and pulled up beside them.

The driver honked three times and to my utter surprise, the boarding door opened and the Flight Attendant let down the airstairs. A ramper emerged from nowhere and grabbed my rollaboard, which he deposited in the cargo compartment that the wingwalker had proactively rushed to open for him. I clambered aboard the Saab and plonked myself into seat 3A amid befuddled stares from the other passengers who couldn't for the life of them figure out who this guy was that had managed to get the plane stopped for him.

The Flight Attendant explained that I had missed the safety demo so she would have to give me a personal one. I told her that I've ridden enough Volvos to be considered an expert and they really can't be that different from a Saab. She laughed but quickly reviewed everything with me anyway as we taxied out. Curiously enough, we taxied by Terminal 4 where who should be parked but my old buddy VT-ESM who had just arrived from Heathrow. Honestly, if I didn't know better I'd say that she was stalking me! :)

Our flight up to Boston was quick and comfortable. The cabin was full of commuters and other non-revs, including a UA Flight Attendant across the aisle from me in 3B. We got into a discussion about AFA and had a mutual Linda Farrow bashing session for the duration of the flight. Touchdown at Logan was smooth and we taxied to our stand right after 6pm.

I was famished by now, so my first stop was the Burger King where I proceeded to demolish a Double Whopper combo. Burp! I then headed to the gate for the O'Hare flight where the agent seemed quite confused by the situation. Evidently, in the pandemonium of getting me aboard the Boston flight, the girl at JFK made a mistake with my record. She had boarded me for JFK-BOS using the E-Ticket coupon for my PIT-ORD flight. Hence, as the agent commented, "According to the computer you flew from London to New York, then from Pittsburgh to Chicago an hour later, but you are physically present in Boston".

He spent about 15 minutes working on the record and finally fixed it. He handed me my boarding pass and I jokingly commented that I was a selectee again. He looked at me for a second, went back to his computer and printed out a new pass (this one annotated with *CLR* on top) and said "You just won the lottery, have a nice flight". I thanked him profusely and retired to a bank of payphones to make some calls until my group was called.

 Our announced flight time to Chicago was 2:09 and we taxied out into the usual evening traffic jam. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait for too long and were airborne right before 8pm. It had been a few years since I flew out of Logan at night and the climbout at low altitude over downtown was quite breathtaking. Once we were level, I settled back to nurse a Coke and listen to the IFE selections as we soared over Albany and then into Canadian airspace before crossing Michigan and landing into a deserted O'Hare just after 9pm.

I had been booked into the Hilton O'Hare for the night, so I headed directly there desperate for a bed. Unfortunately, I ran into the one conscientious Hilton desk agent in the entire system. "Mr. Mendis, thank you for being a Gold HHonors member". "Yeah yeah, can I have my room key please". "I am checking to see if there any suites available for upgrades". "Screw the suites honey, I just want a bed". "How about a corner room with a King Bed?". "A bed is a bed, I'm too tired to care right now". "Are you aware that at Hilton you can earn both points and miles with our Double Dip program?". At that point my homicidal look must have finally hit home because she handed me a folio with a room key and directed me to the elevators.

Interestingly enough, my company in the elevator was Elton Brand, formerly of Duke and now with the Bulls. I knew he looked familiar but couldn't quite place him until one of the other riders asked him for an autograph (which he very obligingly provided). The elevator finally discharged me on the 10th floor, only for me to find that my room was right at the end of the corridor. It did have a great view of the ramp and terminals, so I didn't grumble too much. I grabbed a Jack Daniels from the minibar (at $6, its highway robbery but I was too tired to complain) and proceeded to crash.

At 2am, my phone rang. It was my buddy Patrick calling to welcome me back to civilization. We wound up chatting for the entire duration of his drive home from work after which I had barely 90 minutes of sleep time before the wakeup call for my 724am flight. The miserable hour arrived in due time and I stumbled through a shower and checkout before arriving at the terminal at 630am. The lines at the counter were awful, so I decided to use the checkin machines for the 500 bonus miles instead. They worked like a charm and spat out my boarding passes.

I headed through security where my bag was selected for additional scrutiny. The local rent-a-screener informed me that I could not carry the bottle of Scotch that I had purchased at Heathrow Duty Free the previous day. Apparently, this was a new "FAA regulation" (sic). This of course is the same group of idiots who let the Nepalese guy through with a whole SET of kitchen knives in October. Rather than argue with him, I simply asked him to fetch the GSC. When he seemed to apparently not understand my request, I simply shouted "GSC ON TWO" which worked like a charm since a sweet AA employee appeared at my elbow in a few seconds asking how she could be of assistance.

I explained how rent-a-screener was trying to deny passage to my bottle of Scotch and she laughed, explaining to him that it was ok provided the seal was still intact. He argued that the seal was broken and proceeded to try and twist it open to prove his point. I grabbed his wrist and squeezed, making it very clear that I would not stand for it and he gave up. The GSC was not amused either and called the supervisor over for a private word. Sure enough, my boy was now banished to screen duty and another rent-a-screener completed the bag search.

I headed over to McDonalds to grab a quick breakfast to go and then stopped at the news stand to purchase a copy of McPaper (oops, I mean USA Today) on the way to the gate. Boarding had already commenced, so I presented myself as a selectee. My bag was opened and searched again, this time receiving only a compliment about the Scotch ("That's good stuff there"). Once this was done, I was the last passenger left to board so the ramper asked if he could run my rollaboard down as a gate-check while they wanded and frisked me. I consented, not realizing what problems that would lead to.

My personal search completed, I grabbed the McDonald's bag and the newspaper and began heading down the jetway. No problems there, right? Wrong. "Sorry sir, but that constitutes TWO personal items and you are only allowed to carry ONE aboard the aircraft". You are kidding me, right? How about I put the newspaper into my coat pocket? How about I eat the McDonald's before I board? No dice, its "FAA regulations" (sic). A trash can was produced and I had to dump my virgin USA Today into there before I was allowed to proceed. Unfortunately, in my indignation, I forgot that I had placed my ticket jacket with all my day's boarding passes inside the newspaper and that too was gone.

N636AE was empty for this 0:19 flight up to Milwaukee and the captain announced that we would spend more time taxiing on either end than we would in the air. He was right and we were airborne at 744am before levelling out briefly at 17000 feet, only to begin our descent into Mitchell Field a few seconds later.

I emerged into the terminal at Milwaukee and was immediately struck by the realization that this was the only airport in the United States (apart from my home airport of Atlanta) into which I had flown on each of the 6 major carriers (UA, US, DL, CO, NW and now AA). My United flight was actually a diversion in December 1996, but thats another story for another day....

My favorite haunt at MKE is the "Renaissance Bookstore" located in the main atrium. This store is quite amazing and stocks thousands of quality used books ranging from valuable first editions to mangled comics. I have spent many a happy hour there (and many a dollar too!) waiting out the weather delays that always seem to plague the midwest. This visit, I noticed that they had a copy of the Smithsonian published "Commuter Airlines of The United States" by Ron Davies and Imre Quastler which I had been in search of for almost a year. I immediately pounced on it and left the store with a smile on my face as usual, albeit $30 poorer.

I was heading back towards the gates when I suddenly realized that my boarding passes were missing and kicked myself for having dumped them in the trash at Chicago. I rushed back down to the ticketing counter (where there was no line thankfully) and got a dupe issued for my next segment. Back to the gate where a full-to-capacity N299SK was waiting for me. A selectee yet again, this went very smoothly and I settled myself into 9B at 910am. We pushed 5 minutes early at 912am and were airborne at 918am for the 1:23 ride down to St. Louis.

I napped for the entire flight, but it was smooth enough. Interestingly enough, we had an all African-American cockpit crew, a fact that struck me because I do not recall ever seeing that before. We arrived early into St. Louis and I headed over to Starbucks for a much needed caffeine shot before my lengthy hike over to gate D16.

Our aircraft for this flight was N9404V, one of 35 MD-82/MD-83 variants built under license in China and one of only a handful to see service outside of that country. This was my first time on one of these, but there were absolutely no visible differences from its US manufactured brethren. We had only 17 passengers for this short 0:43 hop down to Springfield, with ZERO booked in First Class. As usual, I was a selectee, but the inspection was only cursory this time.

As we taxied out, I got into discussion with the Flight Attendants about the AA/TWA integration and the topic of my role in that transaction came up. She told me that "Everyone was so busy bashing you guys in the media that I'll bet no one ever stopped and thanked you for trying to save TWA for us". I was touched beyond belief by her words. She was a 34 year TWA veteran, now stuck flying MD80 turns to Springfield wearing the uniform of an airline that swallowed the one she had dedicated her life to. Ironically, all 3 FAs aboard wore red TWA sweaters on top of their AA uniforms, and even the pilot wore his expired TWA ID in front of his AA ID and ramp badge. At least the TWA spirit is still alive and kicking.

With so few passengers aboard, the FAs breezed through the service and spent the whole flight in the rear galley with me reminiscing about the good old days. Even after touchdown, I stayed on board with them for a while so we could complete our conversation. Finally, the cleaners evicted me since they had to service the cabin for the return flight to St. Louis.

I was booked on the 3pm flight to Dallas, but I noticed that the 115pm flight was still on ground. Accordingly, I headed over to that gate and asked if I could get on this one instead. The gate agent was very friendly and immediately took care of the needful. Once again, I was a selectee, but the same agent made it almost pleasant as he engaged me in conversation while conducting the most thorough and effective search of my luggage yet.

The rampers here were very friendly and let me hang out on the tarmac and stretch my legs until the paperwork was ready. I clambered aboard into 3A and settled down for the 1:32 ride down to the Metroplex. We had only 12 passengers aboard the flight today, which included a young lady travelling not only with her THREE young kids (aged 1, 3 and 5) but also HER mother who required wheelchair assistance. Wow. You go girl!

We flew Southwest on a lovely cloudless day and N396AE touched down at DFW just after 3pm. Unfortunately, due to the sheer size of the airport, it was almost 330pm before I emerged into the terminal. My first order of business was to call my friend Jen who graciously offered to come down to the airport and meet me for drinks in the Admirals Club on B concourse. I took the trAAin over and she arrived a few minutes later.

I chatted with Jen for about an hour before it was time to head out for my next flight. Since there was to be no meal service on this flight, we stopped at Sbarro and I picked up a slice of pizza before presenting myself at gate B2. For the thirteenth out of fourteen segments on this trip, I was a selectee but this search was uneventful again. I clambered aboard into 27D after grabbing a Bistro Bag to supplement my pizza.

I scarfed down the pizza immediately after takeoff and the Bistro snack soon followed, after which I stretched out across 3 seats and napped for a couple hours. I awakened about 30 minutes out of San Diego and proceeded to freshen up and make a few phonecalls on the AirFone as we began our approach. This was my first time in San Diego and I was impressed by the picturesque approach in the twilight. We touched down after a flight time of 2:47 and taxied briskly to our gate.

As I walked down the concourse, I spotted the lovely Carol standing beyond security holding a large sign with my name on it. I greeted her and then headed out to the curb where her charming husband was waiting to drive us over to El Indio mexican restaurant for dinner. We were joined a few minutes later by Melissa and the four of us spent a fun hour or so chatting over an excellent meal.

I was deposited back at the airport around 820pm for my 9pm flight and we began boarding soon after. For my final segment of this trip, I escaped being a selectee. N330AE was pretty full for this short hop up to LAX and our copilot (who was named Marcie) announced the flying time as 0:28.

The ride was very smooth and uneventful until we were on final approach. Around 2500 ft, our aircraft began suffering moderate buffeting due to wake turbulence from the widebody in front of us and the captain decided to go around. We flew out over the Pacific and came back for our base leg. Unfortunately, we attempted to join the arrivals pattern in midstream and were unable to do so properly, with the aircraft being thrown into wild gyrations at around 3000 ft as we tried to make the turn. Regretfully, it was not to be and we applied power and went around again. Third time lucky and we touched down after a flight time of 0:49, almost double the originally scheduled time.

I caught the shuttle over to Terminal 4 where my friends Ben and Haley were waiting for me and wondering what was taking me so long. I explained the story to them as we headed out to the car and set off on the drive up to Santa Barbara. I was exhausted by the time we got there and was asleep within minutes.

I spent a lovely couple of days in Santa Barbara mainly exploring the town and relaxing. During dinner one night, the conversation turned to security screening and Haley jokingly suggested that it would be fun to pack an adult toy in the bag just to see the screener's reaction. Never one to pass up a challenge, I agreed to try this for my trip back. Accordingly, we headed off to an adult store after dinner where I proceeded to purchase the most graphically packaged set of anal beads that I could find. The packaging featured an illustration of a naked woman inserting them into the appropriate orifice and the beads themselves were a horrendous bright pink. Perfect.

My original plan was to take the Santa Barbara Airbus down to LAX the next day, but after talking to some friends in LA, decided to try Amtrak instead. I tried to book online, but they couldn't process it for me, so I called instead and they made a Business class reservation for me at the great price of only $27.I arrived at the station about 1pm for the 140pm train. I use the word "station" loosely here since it consisted of a platform with a bench and a payphone. Nothing more. The train itself turned up on time and I boarded the Business Class compartment. I was VERY impressed.

The Pacific Surfliners are configured with seats on two levels, and I proceeded to the upper deck. The seats here were very comfortable in a 2-2 configuration and were comparable to domestic first class seats on most airlines. They were also equipped with PTVs, but there was a sticker saying that the system was inoperational. The seats had recline buttons, adjustable headrests and footrests, tray tables and power ports. There was a complimentary refreshment bar featuring juices and other non-alcoholic beverages, plus snacks like muffins and cookies.

We set off from Goleta on time, but took a slight delay at Santa Barbara because of the unexpectedly high volume of passengers today. Business class was almost completely full, with only a handful of single seats open. Fortunately, one of those spots was next to me and I was able to spread out my papers as we headed down the coast. The views were spectacular as we ran parallel to the ocean and I thoroughly enjoyed myself for the 2.5 hr journey. This is definitely a pleasant alternative to the hassles of flying, especially for the route that I was travelling. We arrived at Van Nuys station about 15 minutes late and my friend Chad picked me up soon after.

Our first stop was Universal CityWalk where we spent a fun hour or so browsing the shops and grabbing a bite to eat. We then called our friend Diana and met up with her at the new mall at Hollywood & Highland. Very impressive place. We walked by the new Kodak Theatre which will host the Oscars this year and it seemed nice enough.

None of us had ever ridden the LA subway before so we decided to take a ride. Accordingly we set off on a quick return to Universal City. The subway was very sterile and not particularly interesting. It seems that no one rides it anyway based upon the general response of the Angelinos when it is mentioned. Then it was back to Hollywood where we grabbed some Starbucks before heading down to LAX for my 1240am flight.

We arrived at LAX right before 11pm, and I dashed inside to check in and get on the upgrade list. My upgrades had cleared for all segments except the redeye, so I was anxious to get on the list early. The lady at the counter said that there were still 10 open seats and that my status put me at the top of the list, so it shouldn't be a problem. I collected my assorted boarding passes and returned to curbside where Chad was still waiting for me.

No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a pilgrimage to the In-N-Out Burger located at the Sepulveda end of the runways. With plenty of time to spare, we headed there for a burger and the corresponding mandated viewing of jets on final approach. I grabbed some to go and Chad dropped me back at the terminal where I proceeded through security.

This was my first time through with the anal beads in my bag, so I was a little apprehensive about how they would show up on the X-ray. They didn't give it a second glance, preferring instead to concentrate on my In-N-Out bag. Sorry buddy - you can rape my sister, kill my first born and enslave my parents - but you are NOT seperating me from that burger.

To my extreme annoyance, the WorldClub at LAX now closes at 430pm and there was a polite sign outside advising passengers to use the Continental President's Club instead. I'd love to do that if it wasn't in fricking Terminal 6. Nonetheless, I found a quiet corner and finished my In-N-Out in peace before calling N866DA to chat for a while as he drove home from work. As we chatted, I heard my name being paged over the PA system and I headed up to the counter where I received my boarding pass for seat 1D in First Class.

We began boarding soon after and I was surprised to see that everyone showing a California ID was being singled out for extra attention. Turns out that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had received a tip that there was a group of illegals being ferried up north on our flight. Sure enough, they pulled aside about a dozen guys who spoke no English and all had brand new California IDs issued the previous day. This also meant that I was not selected for screening this time, which made the entire sex toy idea rather anticlimatic (sorry, bad pun there).

I was one of the first aboard and had my jacket taken while I was stowing my rollaboard in the overhead. I was offered a pre-departure drink which was served in a plastic cup. By the time we pushed back, 15 of the 16 seats in First were occupied, as were most of the seats in coach. We were soon airborne with a flight time of 2:57 to the Twin Cities.

Typical of Northwest's redeyes, there was absolutely no service offered in either cabin - not even a beverage run. I flagged down a Flight Attendant and got myself another drink before turning in for the short night. I awakened as we were descending and quickly freshened up before we touched down and taxied to the gate.

My next flight was due out from the other side of this massive airport, so I took of at a brisk trot to get there in time. I reached the gate just as they were calling for final boarding and submitted my boarding pass to the agent. Ironically, since I was to be the last passenger on the plane, "FAA regulations" (sic) required that I be subject to additional search. So off we trooped to the corner where this young security girl began looking through my bag.

I had placed the anal beads strategically near the top of the bag where you could not see them unless you moved my sweatshirt which was packed on top of it. Sure enough, the first thing this poor innocent girl moved was the sweatshirt, bringing her face to face with the beads. The look on her face was priceless as she let out a stifled scream, replaced the sweatshirt and quickly zipped up the bag without any further intrusions. Sorry honey, all is fair in love and war and President Bush said we are at war, right?

I finally boarded the plane right before departure time and observed that First Class was full, meaning that someone was already seated in my assigned seat 3A. I went up to the Flight Attendant standing in the aisle and told her that we had a seat dupe, but she was in a hurry to get the doors closed and told me to take any open seat for takeoff. I complied in the interest of expediting our departure and settled down into row 21.

Once we were airborne, I went back to the rear galley and brought up the seat duplication issue with the lead Flight Attendant, Mr. Robyn. He was surprised that I hadn't put up more of a fuss, but dutifully proceeded to check the boarding pass of the incumbent in 3A. He returned a few minutes later with a face redder than the vertical fin and full of apologies. Evidently, the passenger seated there was supposed to be in 5D (coach aisle) and claimed to have "accidently" taken the First Class window seat on the opposite side. Uh huh, try another excuse sport.

Mr. Robyn was very apologetic and helpful, offering to inform the agent meeting the flight of the situation to enable them to deal with it at that time. Unfortunately, I was supposed to be visiting the new Midfield Terminal as soon as we landed so he then told me to take the matter up with Customer Care once I got home. He made a note on my boarding pass with his name and employee number and told me to include that in my letter so that they could follow up with him to verify the facts if needed.

I then headed back to the rear lav to freshen up, shave and change before arriving and was done with that right as we were beginning our descent. We touched down on an overcast day and taxied for a good 20 minutes around the new terminal before we finally pulled in to gate F1 around 945am.

There was supposed to be a shuttle running between the Davey/Smith terminals and the new McNamara terminal, but inquiries revealed that it ran sporadically at best so I grabbed a cab and we set out of the 2 mile drive. Alas, it appeared that half of Southeastern Michigan had decided to attend today's events so traffic was pretty bad. We finally pulled up to the curb at departures level right about 1015am and I took in my first view of the new WorldGateway.

As you enter the departures level, you are immediately struck by the wide open spaces and bright natural lighting, in stark contrast to the current terminal. There are 106 ticketing positions available, supplemented by 88 E-Service Centers and 24 curbside checkin positions. The North End of the ticketing concourse has a huge window with a great view of the tarmac and runways. The South End has a walkway leading to the Westin Hotel that will be opening in the Fall.

There are 16 security positions leading into the departure concourses, but none of them were operational today and visitors were allowed to proceed without any checks. After passing security you descend down an escalator into a retail plaza featuring a number of stores and a food court with Starbucks, Burger King and TCBY. Continuing towards the concourse, you come across the spectacular multi-level WorldClub on the left. Even though the club was not open for visitors, I got a sneak peek of the lower level thanks to a kindly janitor who was vacuuming. Very elegant and definitely one of the nicer airport clubs out there.

As soon as you enter the concourse itself, you are struck once again by the high ceilings, full size glass windows with plenty of natural lighting and of course, the "Water Feature". This fountain, designed by the same people who did the beautiful ones at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, consists of a granite tableau from which choreographed streams of water shoot out in arcs, symbolizing the interconnectivity of the world due to air travel. Once again, very impressive and elegant.

Further west of the fountain is the underground moving walkway to Concourses B and C. This tunnel puts the psychedelic one at United's ORD operation to shame for sheer color. Whereas the Chicago tunnel only features neon tubes suspended from the ceilings and walls, this one actually has the walls themselves change color to the music. Quite spectacular, but not reccomended for anyone with a hangover! Unfortunately, access to concourses B and C was restricted as the crews were installing the escalators, but I believe they are similar enough in design.

I proceeded back to Concourse A where I decided to ride the elevated Express Tram. The tram has three stations - the Central Terminal station with two platforms and the North and South stations with one platform each. The North and South WorldClubs each have an entrance directly from the platform. The tram itself runs smoothly and silently on a cushion of air and takes just under 3 minutes (including stops) to traverse the distance of just over 1 mile from end-to-end. Seating aboard the tram is limited, but there are plenty of things to hold on to.

After disembarking at the South station, I trekked back to the central concourse using the moving walkways, making a stop to check out the restrooms which advertised "oversized stalls". I tested them out and found that they were only slightly wider than a normal stall, but more importantly allowed a traveler to wheel a rollaboard inside the stall without enroaching into personal space. The fittings were typical of most airports with motion detectors powering the flush systems and the water faucets.

The individual gate areas provide plenty of seating space and many of them feature giant television screens on the walls. There are playpens for children located in some areas. Widebody gates have dual jetways allowing 747s to board from doors 1L and 2L simultaneously. The podiums at each gate are of a very attractive smoked glass with TV displays for flight information. Interestingly enough, the KLM logo on each podium is printed in RED rather than BLUE, making that color HIGHLY dominant in the decor.

This complete, I headed back to the central terminal where I spotted a man standing alone off to the side who looked rather familiar. Sure enough, it was Richard Anderson, CEO of Northwest Airlines. I introduced myself and complimented him on the new terminal. We had a short conversation about the improvements during which he spotted my Elite tags and thanked me for my loyalty to Northwest. Unfortunately a peon soon appeared out of nowhere and whisked him away to do an interview, but I came away very impressed by the man.

It was now 1130am and I figured that it was about time to head back to the old terminal for my 1215pm flight. Accordingly, I headed up the escalators to the ticketing area, where I suddenly was approached by two people who identified themselves as Investigators with the Wayne County Sheriff Department and asked me to step off to the side with them.

They were very polite throughout this encounter, but demanded to know why I was taking notes and carrying luggage. I explained that I was on a connection and had pre-registered for the event. They did not believe me and asked to see my boarding passes, which I produced. I also presented my passport as ID, which they told me was not acceptable. Evidently, Michigan cops are trained to only accept driver's licenses. I proceeded to produce my registration confirmation for the event, my tickets, my business card, etc.. and told them they could ask the CEO of Northwest to vouch for me if they wanted since I had been talking with him 10 minutes earlier. This seemed to pacify them somewhat, but they still insisted on going through my bag.

They spent about 30 minutes going through every item in my bag, including the infamous anal beads (which got a reaction of "these aren't used are they?". I blushed and muttered that they were a gift, but I could tell from his skeptical look that he didn't buy that one for an instant. Finally, after 1215pm had come and gone and I had officially missed my flight, they agreed not to arrest me but insisted that I leave the terminal immediately. They added that this was supposed to be open only to Michigan residents and that only accredited press should be taking notes or carrying luggage. I didn't stay to argue and headed out the curb where a very polite and helpful volunteer named Scott directed me towards the shuttle back to the Davey/Smith terminals.

The lines at security were pretty long, but fortunately there was an Elite lane open that I was able to use. The lady at the checkpoint was very anal and was making all passengers place their carryons in the Sizer unit to verify dimensions. After a little huffing and puffing, mine passed the test and I headed through to the C-Concourse WorldClub.

My first order of business was to get myself rebooked on the 3pm flight, which was accomplished without a hassle. The sweet agent was even able to confirm me directly into First Class, but unfortunately my boarding pass printed out with the dreaded "S-" before my name to designate me as a selectee. I guess it was to be expected with a last minute rebooking.
I relaxed in the WorldClub for about an hour while making some phonecalls and then headed out around 215pm to the Burger King for a quick lunch. My hunger pangs treated, I presented myself at gate C16 right before boaring was about to commence. Once again, the anal beads had the desired effect with the screener looking at them in horror and immediately zipping the bag up. I found it amusing to note that he immediately changed his gloves after that!

There were barely 40 passengers on this flight and I was the only revenue passenger of the 9 in First Class. I was accompanied by 3 NWA captains, 1 Delta captain, 3 NWA Flight Attendants and 1 NWA retiree. They were great sports and we were all teasing the poor Flight Attendant mercilessly as she stumbled and accidently announced that we were flying to Buffalo instead of Atlanta. Our captain also got into the fun, interrupting her announcement with the line "Well, I'm the pilot and I say we are going to Atlanta, darn it!". We pushed back a few minutes late, but were airborne soon enough for the 1:24 ride during which I grabbed some more shuteye.

We touched down at Hartsfield right around 5pm and taxied past E Concourse where there were 3 Delta MD-11s parked, each painted in a different livery. Evidently the Delta pilot had been good-naturedly ribbing the Northwest boys about the ancient fleet during the flight, so he pointed them out saying "Now THAT is what a MODERN fleet looks like". The senior Northwest pilot, a grizzled 744 captain who had just come in from Osaka, turned to him and very condescendingly replied, "Listen here my boy, our planes may be old but at least when I look at them I can tell who they fly for." TOUCHE!

I emerged into the terminal battered, beaten and weary. I had traveled 14,586 miles in the last week and had flown across the Atlantic, along the Pacific, over Canada and with a small swing into Mexican airspace. Just another week in the life of a frequent flyer..... Home       Trip Reports Index       Whine And Cheez Index       Discussion Forums

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