Recently, I was returning from a conference at the Mises Institute with my son Eamon. (Q: What do you call an Irishman with a rifle? A: Eamon.) We were flying out of Atlanta into Westchester County Airport.
We arrived an hour-and-a-half before our flight. The line at security was long, but not mind-boggling, and we were through in fifteen minutes. We grabbed a bite to eat, then made our way to our gate.
As we approached the gate, we were surprised to see a very long line in front of the check-in desk. We moved to the back of it, and asked a woman standing there what was happening.
“All flights to Westchester from Atlanta have been cancelled today.”
“They say mechanical troubles.”
It turned out that not only was our 5:30 PM flight cancelled, but the 9:30 AM flight had been cancelled as well. The people who had been planning on taking the 9:30 had sat at the airport all day waiting for the 5:30, only to have it canned an hour before takeoff.
The plan now was to re-route us to LaGuardia, then to provide a shuttle bus to Westchester for those who had left cars there. We were instructed to move to another gate, where we would be issued new tickets.
The would-be travelers to Westchester were divided onto two flights to LaGuardia, a 6:30 and a 7:30. When Eamon and I arrived at the counter, I showed the woman at the desk my driver’s license. She typed into the computer for a moment, then said, “OK, you’re on the 7:30.”
I asked, given that I was travelling with a child of five, and that my wife had to pick me up with two even younger children in tow, if we couldn’t be put on the 6:30. In consternation, she typed into the computer for another minute, then said, “No, I can’t move you.”
Resigned, I called my wife and told her our arrival time. Eamon and I trudged across the Atlanta airport to our new gate.
While we were attempting to board, an airline employee again took my driver’s license, as well as our tickets. He swiped our tickets through some electronic reader. A message flashed, “Already on board.” He said, “Wait a moment,” moved to a computer terminal, typed a bit, came back, re-swiped our tickets, and sent us down the tunnel to board the plane.
As we walked down the tunnel, I puzzled over the “Already on board” message. On a hunch, I pulled the tickets out of my pocket and looked at them more carefully than I had when they had been issued. The name on one of the tickets was “Robert Callahan,” and on the other, “Maryanne Callahan.” Oops!
I decided to proceed on board and see if, as I suspected, Robert and Maryanne were, in fact, “already on board.” Sure enough, we met some distant relatives in the two seats we had been assigned.
I flagged a stewardess and told her what had occurred. She told us to wait where we were, and she would sort it out. She came back in a few minutes and told us to sit in two other seats. “All’s well that ends well,” I thought. The flight took off.
But as we were in flight, I remembered our luggage. What if we had actually been assigned to the 6:30, and our luggage was on that plane? I was referred to the flight captain.
When he came over to talk to me, I asked him if our luggage might be on the 6:30 instead.
“Oh, that’s impossible,” he assured me. “Under new regulations, no luggage is allowed on a flight unless the passenger’s ticket has been handed in as well.
“But given that we never received, and therefore never handed in, our tickets, then our luggage can’t be on this flight either!”
He pondered my point for a moment. “Oh, that’s true. It’s probably in Atlanta. Just fill in a lost luggage form at LaGuardia.”
On arrival, we went to the baggage claim area and found the office. I asked the attendant about the form. He asked if we were sure our luggage hadn’t arrived.
“Well, we were told that it wouldn’t have been allowed on the flight.”
He checked his computer terminal and said, “Well, I show it having arrived. Go have a look on the carousel.”
We walked out to the carousel and, sure enough, there were our bags!
So, the score for the new, federally mandated security regime is:
The woman at the first counter issued, to a man showing an ID claiming he was Eugene Callahan and a five-year-old boy, tickets for Robert and Maryanne Callahan.
The man at the gate was shown an ID for Eugene Callahan, a five-year-old boy, and tickets for Robert and Maryanne Callahan. When the computer system told him the ticketed passengers were already on board, he walked to another terminal and cleared the “on board” status from the system.
Finally, the baggage handlers put Eugene Callahan’s luggage on the flight, despite the fact that no ticket was ever handed in for Eugene Callahan.
It’s good to know that the new government regulations have this security thing handled, isn’t it?
2002, Gene Callahan