baby steps

Oct. 13th, 2011 01:32 pm
adrian_turtle: (Default)
Late last month, I was traveling for Rosh Hashanah, and saw a relatively new set of signs in the line for the TSA security theater at Logan. One was "Hey kids! Make sure your laces are tight. You can keep your shoes on in this line." Unlike most TSA signs, it wasn't repeated at many places along the line, nor repeated at different heights. I only saw it near the entrance, and only at 3-4 feet up. A sign with somewhat smaller lettering announced that Logan was only testing possible new security procedures, and the TSA was monitoring them closely to decide if other airports would eventually adopt them later.

I thought that even a temporary local decrease in time-consuming nonsense is better than nothing. The shoes don't particularly bother me, personally--it's straining my shoulder to get my arm high enough, and the agent's hands on my breasts when I fail, that freaks me out. But harm reduction is good, and I know the shoe thing is a lot more of a problem for some travelers than it is for me.

It turned out the "hey kids!" meant that only KIDS were allowed to keep their shoes on. Adults still had to remove them. It wasn't clear what boundary they were using to distinguish kids from adults. Old enough to walk? Old enough to vote? Old enough to hear thrilling stories of an Important Cause, and want to help? Or do they just go by the size of the shoes? Wherever they draw the line, each person who doesn't need to stop/remove shoes/put shoes on conveyor belt/be scanned in socks/retrieve shoes/put shoes back on--every single time they avoid that hassle, the line moves a little faster. More than a little, for families traveling with more than one child. So it looks like a nice little harm reduction project.

If this is a new procedure the TSA is testing at Logan (or at part of Logan), that implies they're trying to measure the effects in order to decide if it goes well. That made me think, "Oh, I'm glad they're finally thinking like quality enginee--Hey! I call shenanigans!" What would it mean for it to "go well" at Logan; what can they be measuring? what do they expect/hope the results might be?

Maybe the line will go much faster with kids wearing shoes, or maybe it will only go a little faster. It's possible that the line speed won't change noticeably, because parents will still need to take their shoes off. Would that be a reason not to change? It's not like "Ok, you can keep your shoes on" would cost a lot of money.

Absurd security procedures stay in place because people in authority claim it might be *dangerous* to relax them. What can they measure to prove kids-with-shoes-on are no more of a terrorist risk than kids-with-shoes-off? If they use their spiffy new procedure and scan kids in Logan's Terminal C with their shoes on, and find no little shoe bombers in a week, or a month...what does that prove? The old procedure found no little shoe bombers in all the airports in the country, for how do we know that isn't safer?
adrian_turtle: (Default)
I'm going to be traveling this weekend. I'm looking forward to parts of it very much.

Why, yes. I do plan to fly out of Logan airport the morning of September 11th. I will try to avoid talking about evil political conspiracies, though half the plan is to spend 2 days with somebody who sincerely believes in them. I'm trying not to think too hard about what's going to happen before noon Sunday, but I know it will involve shopping malls and lots of driving around.
At some point on Sunday afternoon, I expect to be in Ann Arbor, in the oasis of peace and good sense that is TheRCK's house, with no car.

What is a good way to get from TheRCK's house Sunday afternoon to Metro airport at noon Tuesday? It would be possible to rent a car in Ann Arbor on Monday and return it at the airport. I could handle driving from Ann Arbor to the airport once (if I didn't also have to drive to and from suburbia while dealing with my mother), and it might be nice to have a car Monday afternoon for doing useful or fun stuff with TheRCK. Unfortunately, the reasonably-priced car rental places ($40) do not seem to be anywhere near the bus lines. The only car rental I can find on a bus line is the Avis near north campus, and the lowest rate there is $75. Am I missing something? The last time I used a shuttle service, it was $55, but that starts looking like a pretty good deal.
adrian_turtle: (Default)
I've done a lot of travel by intercity bus. It's always more comfortable for me than trains. (I know trains are a lovely idea, but the physical reality of trains makes me sicker than the physical reality of any type of vehicle but boats. And presumably spaceships, which I am too prudent to try.) The current state of air travel, with security theater and delays and other restrictions, makes me think of bus and air travel as involving similar total amounts of discomfort, for trips of up to 500 miles. It feels like bus travel is so strongly associated with poverty and discomfort, I need to offer some explanation as to why I did this thing. Why I plan to do it again.

I'm posting because Friday's trip was unusually difficult. I started cold and anxious, waiting in line for the first bus out of Boston. I wanted to make a very tight connection in New York, and I couldn't reserve a seat on the connecting bus (because if the Boston bus turned out to be late, I wanted the option of taking a later bus on south.) It was below freezing, even inside the terminal. I wasn't wearing my new coat (The Resolute) because it's bulky enough to fill an extra bus seat, and I knew it would be ridiculous in Virginia where the weather forecast was in the 40s. I kept opening my suitcase and putting on extra shirts under my coat, but I hadn't packed all that many. It took so long for the heater to warm the bus that I was afraid the whole trip was going to be miserably cold, but I stopped shivering about 2 hours after we left Boston, and an hour after that I was warm enough to fall asleep.

Falling asleep with my hood off turned out to be a big mistake. I had not realized there was gum on the side of the seatback, the kind of gum that stays soft and sticky for days. I haven't had gum in my hair for 30 years, and I would have been more than happy to continue the trend. I know several techniques to facilitate removing gum from hair, but they are not feasible on a crowded bus. (In a bus terminal where there are signs in every restroom warning that there are laws against using the facilities to bathe or change clothes, somebody would probably have called the police. Even if I had time, and plenty of peanut butter in my bag.) The only gum-removal equipment I could reach on the bus was a comb and a little tin of Burt's Bees ResQ Remedy, and of course I dropped the tin and had it roll away shortly after I started to work with it. I also had my little penknife. I ended up cutting 100-150 strands of hair off around chin length (which I know is not nearly as bad as it might have been) because that was the only way I could keep the gum from spreading to the rest of my hair. There was a little gum high up over my ear, where hair lies flat against my hair and doesn't go swinging into other it was easier to leave it alone for the rest of the day, until I got where I was going and could work it out with oil. But it was fairly miserable.

Now that I think about it, it seems like amazing good luck that I've ridden buses and trains and airplanes for so many years without getting gum in my hair before. I've never taken precautions. Perhaps I should.


May. 25th, 2007 07:38 am
adrian_turtle: (Default)
I made the flight reservations through Orbitz. It seemed like a good idea at the time--dealing with the airlines directly, there's no way to ask about important conditions. Orbitz would answer me when I asked, "About that 42 minute connection through Detroit on the return trip, how often does that flight arrive in Detroit on time? You say it leaves on time 40% of the time? And is that the last flight Northwest has between Detroit and Boston? Riiiight. Well, then, how much would it cost to make the return flight earlier in the day? Really? No, really? Are they all like that? It doesn't have to be Northwest. And the flight on Friday can be any time of day." Allowing Friday's departure time to vary was the secret. If I couldn't do that, the tickets would have cost 2 to 3 times more (well, in practice, I would not have gone.)

So I'm planning to be on a plane leaving Logan at 6:30. Being a cautious turtle, I told the taxi dispatcher I wanted to be at the airport at 5, and he said the taxi would be here at 4:30. I set the alarm for 4. This is all sensible, as far as it goes. (Modulo having no public transit at this hour.) My cell phone rang at 3:30. I was not pleased. There are a handful of people who are welcome to call me at that time of night, but they usually only do it when something is WRONG. This phone call was not from someone I love. It was a recorded message from Orbitz, informing me that my plane was scheduled for on-time departure in 3 hours. Did I mention not being pleased?

But I am packed and awake, and very nearly ready to go. I am packing ridiculously light for this trip, to accomodate my problems carrying things. How can I be packed when I'm not even bringing socks? How can I be ready to go when there are no books in my bag? This is crazy. (I need to calm down. I have dozens of ebooks in my jacket pocket, and they will have to do.) There's still something reassuring about putting one more paperback in the bag, just to make *sure* I'll have enough on the way. The Palm doesn't feel as reassuring. And I'm not bringing Dracomir. There's no room in the bag, even if I thought it would be safe.
adrian_turtle: (Dracomir)
I tried to use USAirways Shuttle this weekend. My plan was to fly from Boston to DC Friday morning, and back to Boston Sunday evening. There was bad weather in Boston Friday, but my plane was supposed to leave before it turned really nasty. I felt very lucky not to be on either of the earlier flights that were cancelled altogether, but I was puzzled that they were cancelling flights when it was clear and dry in DC, and barely starting to drizzle in Boston. The clerk made apologetic announcements, saying people with tickets for the cancelled flights would need to get new tickets for other flights, and it would take a while because they had a new reservations computer that was giving them some problems (they were also quite obviously understaffed, with 1 clerk trying to deal with 4-500 passengers.) When I finally made it to DC, there were even more confused and unhappy passengers there. I was only concerned as a spectator, and noticing that they created long lines for the restrooms.

Sunday afternoon was clear and dry, and traffic was cooperative. I had no trouble getting to the airport (DCA), but the line to check in and get my boarding pass took 2 hours. The gates where USAirways Shuttle planes come and go were mobbed again, and there was no posted information about any flights. Every so often, someone would announce something over the PA system. (It was usually very hard for me to understand it, between the static and the background noise. I worry that my hearing is failing, because I so often have trouble understanding things over background noise.) "Flight 2040, the delayed 3:45 flight to Boston, has a gate change. It is moving from gate 43 to gate 39." There would be no indication of how long flight 2040 was delayed. This announcement was made after 5pm. Along with, "Flight 2042, the delayed 4:45 flight to Boston, has a gate change. It is moving from gate 39 to gate 45." From another speaker, at very close to the same time, "Flight 2044, the delayed 5:45 flight to Boston, has a gate change. It is moving from gate 41 to gate 44." And sometimes, "The delayed flight [#] to Bermuda has a gate change, it will be boarding at gate 43 instead of gate mumble mumble. As this is an international flight, we remind you that passengers without passports will not be permitted to re-enter the US." Honestly, I would prefer to know when some of these delayed flights would be leaving, so I could go wait in the restroom line without worrying about missing my boarding call.

I called Redbird, who determined that the problem was not bad weather, anywhere on the east coast. She also looked up flight information on the USAirways website, and found estimated departure times the ticket agents were not announcing. The information wasn't perfect, but it was somewhat useful and comforting. (A few minutes on the phone with Redbird was *very* comforting, and likely would have been even if she hadn't been saying anything useful.) We finally boarded the plane, and there was some fussing about as they put standby passengers into every seat while I tried to finish _Fortunate Fall_. I was reading it on my Palm, which is an electronic device that has to be turned off during taxi, takeoff, and landing. Unfortunately, the flight attendants told us to turn off all electronic devices in the middle of the desuppression scene. Then the plane pulled away from the gate and sat there poised and ready for takeoff, for 90 minutes. The captain announced that he didn't know why it was taking so long to get permission. (It was incredibly frustrating. I came very close to hiding the Palm inside a magazine and peeking to see what happened next...I wasn't afraid of crashing the plane, but I was very afraid of a flight attendant taking my Palm away from me, and a little afraid of the plane not taking off while they embarked on a TSA administrative nightmare, and it just wouldn't be worth it.) The captain said he didn't know why flights leaving DCA were delayed. He had heard flights coming in there were delayed because of gate congestion problems. Coming in towards Boston at 9pm, the captain asked passengers to appreciate the hard work of the crew, who had been on duty since 6am, and not had a break for the last 9 hours, and who had left DCA so quickly as soon as we had permission. The captain said another 30 seconds delay would have meant being stuck there overnight, because the window closed that quickly.

Of course we clapped for the crew, when the captain gave that little speech, and there were handshakes and thanks as people left the plane. I'm not angry at the crew of the airplane. I'm still angry, though. I'm not sure if I should be aiming my anger at USAirways, or DCA, or some other target. It bothers me that there was so little ability to respond to problems, or even to acknowledge that problems existed and keep people informed of changes in scheduling.

Las Vegas

Jul. 28th, 2005 09:51 pm
adrian_turtle: (Default)
I've never been to Las Vegas. I don't like extreme heat. I don't like gambling. I don't like spectacle. I don't like travel for its own sake. I've been on the east coast long enough to realize I belong here.

I did venture down to Atlantic City a couple of times for a technical conference, then again last summer for a weekend with a sweetie who loves the ocean and was looking for a cheap hotel some reasonable intermediate distance from both our homes. I don't expect Atlantic City to predict Las Vegas exactly. I don't know WHAT can predict Las Vegas.

Reasons to go to Las Vegas:
1. There's a really staggeringly impressive trade show there, where I'm likely to learn a bunch of things I can bring back to where I work and amaze my bosses and colleagues.
2. I can get a bunch of frequent flyer miles, which I will accumulate towards more enjoyable travel next year. Surely Delta goes from Boston to somewhere worthwhile? Sometime?
3. I can see my youngest first cousin, and try to interact with him as two adults away from our parents who resent each other.

Reasons not to go to Las Vegas:
1. The trade show is at a casino hotel, and I'm afraid the flashing lights and other aggressive efforts to draw people in will have really appalling effects on my migraines. It's the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. Are any of you familiar with it? Or can you point me to someone who's been there?
2. Travel is hard on me in the best of circumstances. A long trip in hostile territory is likely to be quite a bit harder.
3. I'm afraid Nevada at the end of August will be a hostile climate. My mother asked if I had appropriate clothes. *rolls eyes* If one needs different clothes for 120F than 90F, I don't have them. My concern is that the heat will limit my ability to escape bad indoor situations.



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