Saturday, April 17, 2010
Straight from the desk of WTF?
I recently travelled from Virginia to my home in Florida to see my family for a weekend. Going through the security checkpoint headed up by the illustrious TSA, my carry-on bag was flagged.
Whenever this happens, we jump, did I leave a pair of scissors in my bag? A butter knife? God forbid something in my bag from a drunken night with a group of teenage-minded thirty somethings with fireworks? No, my bag was flagged for a half used tube of toothpaste... which because it was half used made it fall within the the security requirements, but because the tube itself said 4.3 ounces, they confiscated it.
What makes this hilarious, is that although I'm a computer geek by profession, I'm also a certified locksmith and a former Military Police Officer. As such, my carry on belongings contained a police issue handcuff key, and an expensive set of lock picks costing around $200.
Today, I travelled again, and made the same mistake. What got flagged this time? Not the handcuff key, not the lockpick set, but my shaving cream... which fortunately fell within the limits for travel size.
So let me paint the picture... If I were a terrorist, which I am obviously not, and if an air marshal arrests me, I can open the cuffs and finish the job. Not that the average Joe can't buy a handcuff key at any gun show. If I get locked up somewhere, I always have my pickset for an escape... but my toothpaste or shaving cream are items of concern?
TSA, I salute you.
So I arrived at the airport in Charlottesville Virginia this morning two hours prior to my flight and proceeded to check into a kiosk for United Airlines Express to Washington DC with an ongoing connection to Las Vegas.
"Please swipe your credit card or passport to check in." Ok, they can't swipe my passport, but they do take my credit card. I go through the painstakingly requirements to satisfy the TSA... mind you no picture ID required at this time, and tell the kiosk I'm checking in one bag. It wants my credit card as there is now a bullshit charge for a round-trip checked in baggage.
My tickets get printed, spit out and what do my eyes see? A $35 charge for a second checked in baggage which I did not have. I notice this and explain to the counter person that I have no second checked in baggage. Charles, the United rep at the counter initially just shrugs his shoulders and offers up no explanation other than I must have pressed the number two. I ask Charles for a refund as this was an obvious error at least on the calibration of the touch screen. The kiosk did not at any time indicate that I was checking in two pieces of luggage.
Charles again shrugs his shoulders and tells me there's nothing he can do. I politely persisted, and Charles gave me a telephone number to call. I called the number, got transferred around nine or ten menus none of which were any help and was put on hold for a half hour. One hour later while still at the terminal in Bangalore India helpdesk hell, they tell me there's nothing they can do over the phone and refer me to their website... www.united.com go through their menus, and request a refund. Something my mother obviously would NOT be able to navigate through.
So, to be clear here, a kiosk can make a mistake, but their counter person cannot fix it, they can direct me to a phone number, but that's an hour of hell, and still no one can fix it, at the end, I'm forced to go to an impersonal website with a brief explanation and hope for the best.
While waiting for my connecting flight, I told my story to a coworker, who said, "Yeah, the same thing happened to me!" Apparently this is NOT an isolated incident... which raises a bigger question, "How many of our computer illiterate relatives travel through airports and get these charges and don't do anything about them or don't even notice them?"