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The Column

Yeah, Thanks
11/20/05

Thomas Jackson, you left your credit card in the check-in machine at the United counter of the Los Angeles airport. Sorry Mr. Jackson, I am for real. Unfortunately, so is the clerks' incompetence.

Thanksgiving brings many things to each of us, but chief among them is air travel. I am not flying home - I'm flying to Oregon for the night to perform at a show that many people will probably miss so they can fly home. But I still get to experience all the fun that comes with holiday travel. So does Mr. Jackson.

I found the credit card about 30 seconds after Mr. Jackson left the machine. I faced the gentleman behind the counter and said, "excuse me." He snapped back from his unnecessarily tall platform, "not now, I'm with someone." I politely told him that I understood, but a man left his credit card and the poor guy should be paged before he goes through security. Airport security is enough a nightmare once, no one needs to do it twice.

Ticket-boy snapped at me again. "I am with someone!" Which is probably not the description of his Thanksgiving plans, because I can't imagine the household that would welcome this embittered creature.

The people he was helping joined in and asked him to page Mr. Jackson. They said they could wait a few extra seconds to prevent a stranger from possibly missing his flight. But the fool on the hill refused. "I can only do one thing at a time!," he said, which was ironically exactly what we were asking him to do. Finally, I explained the situation to my clerk and said, "please do this before you check me in." She assured me they were doing everything they could. Which apparently included letting the card sit on the counter while Mr. Jackson went through security.

I didn't have to help Mr. Jackson. I could have kept his card and had some fun on an air phone, pillaged SkyMall, and ordered all the room service in Portland. I really did want to help. But airline customer service has gotten so bad, they don't even let other people be nice to their customers.

The clerks finally paged the guy - I heard it, while sitting at my gate.

My Thanksgiving travel got progressively worse. Already reeling from the airport traffic, the $30 parking fee, and the ticket clerks who were only United in being inconsiderate, the only electrical outlet at my gate was next to a grown man playing a song flute. Yes, the very same instrument I played in second grade. It's boring to wait for a flight, but buy a magazine! The US Weekly crossword is a lot less intrusive than a song flute. And a second grader could do that, too.

United boarded us all at once, so we had lots of time to wait in line for people to squish baggage into places where baggage doesn't fit. I was especially eager to get to my middle seat so that I could ring my call button and wait for the flight attendant to ignore it. That's a little game we have. I call it "What's the Point of These Buttons?"

I tried to sleep. But the guy to my right had a techno-filled IPod turned up so loud that I could feel every oocha oocha oocha. Which was perfect, since he fell asleep two minutes into the flight. He should give thanks I didn't dip the thing in my four ounce soda. I bet headphone man's relatives will be thrilled to see him. He'll walk in the door, and they'll shower him with presents of glow sticks and pacifiers.

Even if the guy to my right wasn't playing Rave Hits 19, the gentleman to my left decided that my stomach was an extension of his arm rest. After I gave him a result-less fourth dirty look, I finally said, "could you please stop elbowing me?" And he looked at me like I was the jerk. I wonder if the United ticket clerk will enjoy Thanksgiving at this guy's house, because they must be related.

Upon landing, the woman across from me took my bag out of the overhead and started going through it. After the second time I asked her to stop because it was not her bag, she said, "it looks a lot like my bag!" Which would make sense if it had any of the same stuff in it, or if the two bags were the same color.

There really is room on the market for a good airline. One that, for just $15 more per ticket, gives you food, and customer service, and the ability to sit more that two inches from a complete jerk. Billionaires, if you're reading this (and I know you are), I give you rights to the idea. You can call it "What Air Travel Was Until Pretty Recently Airlines."

The reason I'm staying in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving is not because I'm avoiding my family. It's because I'm avoiding the travel. The one positive moment of my Oregon trip came when my connecting flight left out of the same gate as my incoming flight. For the first time in my life (and probably the last). I was happy that one thing worked out, and I'd have a few minutes to eat a seven dollar burrito before I waited in line to play a spirited game of "What's the Point of These Buttons?"

Mr. Jackson, you probably did miss your flight. And in a way, I envy you.

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