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Monday, November 03, 2014

Another Bad Day At LGA

I spent the weekend in New York with my mother and daughter, and flew back this morning from America's worst airport: LaGuardia. I've written several times about my bad experiences there over the years, so today was no surprise.

When I got my boarding pass, it had those magical, randomly-assigned words "TSA Pre" in the corner. In any other airport -- including Lambert St. Louis, I'm happy to say -- that means I get to bypass the regular line of people at security and instead get in a special line for people who won't have to take off their shoes and belts or take laptops out of their luggage.

Since we travel fairly often, my wife and I just applied for permanent TSA Pre status, which requires an $85 fee for five years and a background/fingerprint check before approval and assignment of a Known Traveler number. When I went to the airport to apply, the clerk told me that the program was growing in popularity. I replied that I wish it wouldn't, because the purpose of joining an elite group is to bypass the long lines we had to stand in before, and if the TSA Pre numbers increase, they'll have to create yet another special group for people who want to skip the elite line!

We're looking forward to getting that approval in a couple of weeks, because we have found that the TSA Pre line is always shorter and the personnel more professional. But this was LaGuardia, where professionalism is more than a word -- it's an aberration. I think the staff at that airport is purposely trained to be as rude and abrupt with passengers as possible. And it's not a New York thing, because the crew at JFK Airport doesn't display any of the same attitude.

The bottom line this morning at the screening entrance for LaGuardia's B gates was that they don't have a TSA Pre line. Everyone goes through the same routine, regardless of what's printed on your boarding pass. It begs the question, why is it even on there at all? It would be like Southwest telling you that you'll get to sit in first class, only to discover that there are no first class seats on their planes.

The only concession to those of us with that designation on our paperwork was that the TSA agent who checked my ID and boarding pass then stamped it with the words "Expedited Screening." He could just as well have stamped "Flaxen Paxen Mixen Bixen" for all the difference it would have made. Not only did it not change my status in line one bit, but it made me wonder what they would have done if I'd used the electronic boarding pass available on my phone through the Southwest app? I've used that at other airports in St. Louis, Las Vegas, Chicago, and elsewhere with no problem, but I wasn't going to even attempt it at LaGuardia. However, if I had, what would the guard have done with that "Expedited Screening" stamp -- inked my iPhone screen with that useless phrase?

In the end, it took over a half-hour to get through the screening line and process. And this was at 5:30 in the morning, not exactly peak rush hour at the airport. Once I made it to my gate, I remembered that LaGuardia does not offer any wi-fi in the terminal, so my plan to kill time with my iPad went out the window (by the way, Lambert doesn't have free wi-fi, either!!).

Fortunately, there was a Dunkin' Donuts right there, so I got in line, only to notice that a lot of the other customers were in very good shape, an anomaly for a donut place where I'm usually the thin one. Then I remembered that yesterday was the day of the New York Marathon, and surmised that many of my fellow travelers were runners who were heading home after triumphantly surviving not just the 26+ miles, but also the 40mph winds that buffeted them as they ran through the five boroughs of the city. And, having accomplished that remarkable physical feat, and after a year or more of training and eating only healthy food, why not reward themselves with a day-after super sugar fix from a dozen Dunkin' Munchkins and an extra foamy caramel macchiato?

I hadn't gone through their physical exertion, but after the mental stress of dealing with LaGuardia's stupidity, I needed a carb-load, so I ordered a couple of chocolate frosted donuts and a cup of milk and, with my training regimen complete, was ready to run for the plane and get away from LGA.