Yesterday I flew out to San Francisco for a business/pleasure trip. It had been awhile since I had flown anywhere on a Monday morning. Dave suggested that I arrive at the airport a little earlier than my usual “one hour before boarding” routine. I humored him and agreed to give myself another 15 minutes. Because we all know that whenever we give ourselves a ton of extra time at the airport, we zip through security and find ourselves sitting in the gate area identifying terrorists watching the people for much longer than necessary.
Dave dropped me at curb and I chuckled to myself as I came up the escalator to see a very short security line waiting in a small serpentine queue. I happily took my place at the end and reached for my cell to text Dave a smug note that would read: “You were wrong. That was 15 minutes of my life that I will never get back. Thank you very much.”
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
I look up to see a security guard. I raise my eyebrows as if to say, “who me?”
“The end of the line is THAT way.”
I turn to see that what I had assumed was the end of the line was merely a break in the queue so that people could pass by. The real end of the line was….. well, I couldn’t actually see the end.
I put my cell phone away… and my smile… and my smugness.
After proceeding one mile down the corridor I took my place at the REAL end of what was easily a line of 100 people. I checked my watch. 45 minutes until boarding.
The line moved along at a moderate clip until I got back up to the area where my pretend end of the line was. At that point, a security guard was directing people to one of four sub-lines. And although I consider myself to be an expert traveler, the agent directed me into a casual traveler line (Was it my flip-flops?) and of course that line stopped moving. With 20 minutes until boarding and 40 people in front of me, I felt anything but casual. But there I was in the middle of the line, watching the other lines move forward.
It didn’t take long to identify the problem. The TSA agent checking boarding passes and IDs was moving at a snail’s pace. I watched as he examined each and every ticket and license with a scrutiny intense enough that I wondered if perhaps he was illiterate.
Did he not realize that there was a line 1000 anxious people long? Is this man qualified to be in this position? “HEY BUDDY!!! CAN YOU PICK UP THE PACE, PLEASE?”
Of course I did not scream anything. TSA agents are at the top of the list of people not to piss off. Your demeanor towards them is paramount. Don’t be belligerent or you may find yourself subject to some sort of cavity search. But don’t look too friendly either as they might interpret that as suspicious. Just remember – you are not their customer; you are their prisoner. The best bet is to be invisible and pray, which I did silently in about four different religions.
One of the prayers must have worked because out of nowhere another agent suddenly appeared and opened an adjacent security barrier allowing me and a few lucky souls behind me to zip through an empty queue and up to the front of the line. I’m not sure how many passengers immediately in front of me (but still far from the front of the line) and behind me (who did not get access to the expedited line) were outraged at my random treatment because they too know the unspoken rule. Be quiet and pray.
I hope everyone in that line made their flights. I did with little time to spare. And the best news — the bite marks on my tongue should heal by week’s end, in time for the trip home.