Thursday, April 13, 2006

A pre-emptive rant

I've just booked my flights to go to the RWA conference this year. London to Atlanta, nonstop, hussah!

And then...

And then, I check the Atlanta airport website to see what the terminal is like, and how easy it's going to be to meet up with a friend flying in from Texas. International flights often come in at a different terminal, you see, or a different arrivals area.

Just for those of you who've never had the pleasure, this is what usually happens when you fly in to, say, a London airport. That's London, with a population bigger than that of the whole state of Georgia, which has been bombed and set fire to and bombed again more or less continuously since about 1605 (oh, we knew how to deal with terrorists then). You fly in, get off the plane, hand over your passport and whatever visa-type things you need. Then you pick up your bag, go through customs, get in a car and bugger off away from the airport.

In Atlanta, things are different. I just watched--three times, in astonishment--a little Flash presentation guiding me through the process. You land, and go to Immigration. Then you pick up your baggage. Then you go through customs. So far, so normal. Until you get to the 'courtesy baggage check' where you give your bags back, and go through more security screening (you know, the doorway that scans you, the conveyor for your bag and coat, taking your shoes off--honesty can anyone tell me why?--being wanded, just like before you got on the plane, since when you could have had no possible opportunity to acquire anything hazardous whatsoever, except for a bad attitude). Then you get on a train that has several stops (you aren't told at this stage which stop you'll need. I presume it's all unclear when you get there) until you finally arrive at the terminal, where you can go and queue up again and re-retrieve your bags. Then you are allowed to proceed to the first aid stand where you will be treated for severe dementia.

I mean, really. This is for international passengers. To Atlanta. The shortest possible distance you could have travelled internationally is from Totonto, 750 miles away, which at a guess would be about three or four hours on a plane. If you've come from Europe, you're going to have been on that plane for nine hours, minimum. If you're like me and have travelled from London, you'll have been up since about 6am and when you land it will be about 9.30pm by your own bodyclock. Of those fifteen and a half hours, you will have spent nine and a half in the air, in a tin can with the inevitable wailing children, inadequate food, snotty stewardesses (God, I wish I could afford First Class) and gigantically fat neighbouring passenger with body odour who whines constantly that their TV screen doesn't work properly; and a further two or three hours in the airport before you even took off, being interrogated with ridiculously pointless questions such as how long you've owned your luggage and how you travelled to the airport (no, I'm actually serious about those two. Heard them personally).

Landing after a nine and a half hour flight--nine and a half hours, people, longer than most of us get to sleep every night--your brain isn't working anyway. All you want to do is get to your hotel, drink a large, highly alcoholic beverage, and go to sleep. Waiting at a luggage carousel is hard enough when you can't even remember where you've come from, let alone what colour your suitcase is. And then you have to do it twice.

Why? Why, why, why? It's not safer! It's not more secure! All it does, and I am honestly very sad to report this, is fill the inbound, international passengers with unmitigated vitriol towards the unfathomable creatures who planned all this. It does, in short, make everyone hate America just that little bit more. If you really want people to stop bombing you, then stop pissing them off.

It's not rocket science. It's not even commercial aviation.

I'll probably not be allowed in now.


  1. Hi, I enjoyed your article on immigration, I think this is a very important dialogue to have and that Bloggers are making the climate very democratic. Feel free to look at some of my posts on the issue at my blog

  2. To be fair, Atlanta is a very well designed and efficient airport, despite the fact that it is the busiest in the World.

    That first baggage check is effectively to turn your international baggage into domestic baggage. The airport is enormous, and as you make your way from the international gates to the main terminal building you will very possibly be grateful that you don't have to lug your bags with you.

    The underground train is fast and frequent, and it achieves this because the people using it have only their hand baggage to carry on and off.

    When you get to the terminal building you will be faced with a long escalator ride up to the main baggage carousel. Again, you won't be struggling with heavy bags.

    And then, when you collect your bags, you will be very close to the car rental and the local transit.

    I promise you, Atlanta is a great deal easier to handle than Gatwick or Heathrow.

    Enjoy the RWA.

  3. Sorry it's going to be so rough on you.

    But to be fair, nothing is easy in the Atlanta airport. It's like when you enter the airport there, you enter another dimension where everything becomes 10 times more difficult than other places.

    But at least you get to go to RWA.

  4. Anonymous5:27 am

    I'm sorry about the hassel. I can't wait to you arrive and I get to see you!!!!

  5. Boy, this brought people out of the woodwork! Note to self: rant more.

    I get that it's a long way from the gate to arrivals. But why--and this is a totally insane suggestion I just pulled off the top of my head before I've had any coffee--can't they just send the bags straight to the terminal? Put Customs there? You know, like at any other international airport.

    I went through six American airports last year, and the confusion and inefficiency they thrived on absolutely dazzled me.

  6. Hi Cat! I completely agree. Last year when I went to the RT Convention from Heathrow I was completely exhausted on arrival at Cincinnati and still had to take a connecting flight to St Louis. There was such a mass of people at immigration and there was like 5 minutes before my connecting flight took off. I had to run to make it. Plus they lost my bags. Finally passed out fully clothed in my hotel room (it was about 4am UK time by that stage and I'd been up for more than 24 hours) and got woken up by the bellhop with my baggage at around 1am.

    The only thing that got me was the scariness of the immigration officials. Talk about unnecessarily rude! My BF said his cousin was kicked out of the US for daring to talk back to one of these immigration officials. Apparently she was just asking about the delay (although I suspect she was probably just as rude as they were!)

    But I did have a fantastic time at the RT Convention, so it was probably worth it. Good luck with your trip!

    Cheers, CK