Do You Fear the Terminal More Than the Flight?

I arrived at the terminal at Portland International Airport (PDX) recently at 5:00 a.m. for a 6:00 a.m. departure for Kennedy Airport by way of Salt Lake City. Having an electronic ticket, a seat assignment, no baggage to check and my elite passenger card for the express lane to security, I figured I would have plenty of time for my flight. Despite the longest lines I have ever seen at PDX, I was at the gate at 5:25 AM. When I called my home in Portland that night, I learned that the lines at PDX that morning were even longer than usual for a Monday morning: The usual wait was up to an hour and a half to get through security. Most passengers flying out of Portland yesterday on the early morning fights had a very long day.

The ability of your airline to reward you for flying frequently is now measured in time saved rather than in better meals, bigger seats, extra bonus miles, or the other niceties that business travelers and others willing to spend extra for a ticket had come to expect. If I had thought about it, I would have used the time saved by not waiting in those long lines to pack a breakfast or lunch, for when I arrived in New York at about 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, eight hours after my arrival at PDX, I had eaten only the two protein bars I had packed in my briefcase. On the first leg of my journey, an hour and half flight to Salt Lake City, my first-class seat entitled me to my choice of beverage. On the longer leg from Salt Lake City to JFK, on which my ticket indicated “Lunch,” only pepperoni pizza was available. The thought of pizza for breakfast was less appealing than my emergency protein bars.

First class travel (or, as it is now called, “Business Elite”) isn’t what it used to be. Looking back on my journey, I have to admit that I am willing to sacrifice the meals in favor of that express line through security any day. I can always pack my own food if I have to, but being trapped in a line waiting for the usual unnecessary search for the needle in the haystack while the clock keeps ticking toward my departure time is more stress than I need to handle. My “Gold Elite” card is now my most cherished travel companion.

So all in all, it was a good day for me at the airport — I wasn’t required to stand in line for very long, I didn’t set off the magnetometer, my carry-on bag wasn’t hand-searched, I wasn’t required to remove my shoes and or flip over my belt buckle, and I wasn’t patted down. But best of all, I wasn’t selected for the “random” search at the gate where a search team dumps the contents of your carry-on bags on a table, requires you to assume the same position that police officers require of suspected felons after an arrest, and be “wanded” and or patted down by the “random selection security police.” Having been excused from the potential security frustrations that plagued other passengers in the terminal, I was better able to withstand the food deprivation on my transcontinental flight.

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