Saturday, February 18, 2006

No Fly For You!

[IAD: 11:30 a.m. EST] For a while now, I've suspected that someone's been out to get me; now I know it. I was supposed to be on a flight this morning at 8:30 a.m. to Dallas for a tradeshow (Evelin's mother got in last night to hang out with her and Celeste while I am away) only to find out that I am, indeed, on the TSA No Fly List. (Of course, blogging this is so unlikely to help get me off that list, but according to the United gate crew chief there's pretty much nothing I can do about it, so blogging can't make it worse ... I hope.)

A few years ago, I was coming home from either Amsterdam (2001) or Paris (2002) — can't remember which trip it was that this happened — and when my passport got scanned at immigration, I was told I had to through an additional screening. I ended up in a big room with a bunch of people (as best I can tell/remember) with visa or similar problems and had to wait a while for something to be checked/confirmed. All I was ever told was that a "similar name" was the reason I was pulled aside.

Since then, I've flown pretty much without incident, except for when we headed to New Orleans back at Thanksgiving and I was wasn't allowed to print out a boarding pass the night before the flight. In that case, it took a little bit of time to straighten things out at check-in, but all I was ever told was to make sure the name on my credit card and boarding pass matched up. (The card I used had only my first and middle initials on it — a legacy of a computer system unable to deal with someone who uses first initial and middle name instead of the more common first name and middle initial.)

This time, I had no problems at check-in, but about 30 or 40 minutes before the plane was about to board, I heard my name over the PA system (albeit announced surname then middle name). I go up to the podium and am handed over to the gate crew chief who spends a lot of time shifting from station to station and phone to phone trying to contact whoever it was that could clear me to fly. He kept getting busy signals and/or somesort of notification that there were 20 people in the queue ahead of him. At the same time, he was helping with other passenger issues — a delayed flight to Charlotte and the missed connections that would cause, an irate bridezilla and her mother who got to the gate a few minutes after their plane to Charleston had closed (she was going there for some planning, not the wedding itself), various standby passengers, ... — and it ended up that I wasn't going to be on that 8:30 a.m. flight.

(Part of the problem was that about 20 flights were trying to board/leave within a 20 minute period around 8:30 a.m., which probably helped tie up the TSA clearing number and added to the chaos at the gates.)

Anyway, around 9:30 a.m., I got word that I'd been cleared to fly and my boarding pass for the next flight to Dallas at 5:30 p.m. I looks like I might have been pushed up to Economy Plus, if not First Class, which is nice ... probably it's the seat right next to the airmarshall. The bummer is that I was told to just hang out at the airport for the next eight-plus hours because if I left the security screened areas, it could lead to a need to be recleared by TSA ... and who knows what that would mean. I'm also having to trust that my luggage has been put aside for my evening flight.

I pretty much have to laugh about all this, it doesn't do any good to get mad at the guys at the gate, although I don't think the crew chief got that some of my comments were attempting to joke about the situation. He said that until TSA finds the "T Carter Ross" who is on the No Fly List, I'm going to have this problem whenever I travel. His suggestion was to do all the things one does if there is a concern/question about identity theft — primarily have the credit bureaus put a flag on my file — and then to use my full name to book travel in the future. He also said to get my frequent flyer cards, credit cards, etc., shifted over to my full name because that name is not in the system. "T. Carter is dead; you are now [first name*] Ross."

Finally, he also said to write my members of Congress, but added "It won't do any good, but write them anyway."

[IAD: 2:00 p.m. EST] Evelin always enjoys walking around the concourse while waiting for a flight. Normally, I'm just glad to be past security and would rather read while waiting, but today — with three-plus hours still to go — I've been walking around, I'm sure attracting the attention of various government and airport officials as I pause to snap photos with my camera of things like the deactivated Homeland Security "questions, suggestions, and information" terminal, part of the Horsing Around Loudoun public art project, the (rather tame) anti-Bush T-shirts at America!, the bags and hoses being used to drain roof leaks in the new underground walkway connecting the Main Terminal with Concourse B, ...

Deactivated DHS TerminalHorsing Around LoudounI Can't Wait for 2008Leak Control System

I've been up and down the C–D Concourses, on the mobile lounge to the Main Terminal, through the walkway to Concourse B, down to Concourse A, and, of course, I started the day on the shuttle to Concourse G — and then rode the shuttle from there back to C–D. Ah, the thrill of travel!

One thing I've noticed is that there are a lot of stray noises — background music, other people's ringtones, CNN Airport Network, ... — that seems to sound like my phone ringing. I keep finding myself fumbling to pull my cell out of my pocket only to find that no one's calling me ... which is probably for the best because my charger is packed in my suitcase and I need to conserve my battery.

Of course, that raises another question: Where is my suitcase? I was told it'd be pulled from my original flight since I was barred from boarding, and hopefully it's been rerouted to my new, much later flight, but is it just sitting around on the tarmac? Or is TSA taking this time to check my suit pockets?

[IAD: 3:30 p.m. EST] I finally found an electrical outlet that actually works, so I can run this computer without running down the battery! Of course, it's a work PowerBook, so I'm having to stifle my generally-annoyed-by-Apple feelings, but I can listen to the Colin Meloy CD I burned for this trip (So Much Silence's tracking of his Birchmere performance last month on All Songs Considered) while I type, which is nice ...

I also got a call from my boss a little while ago. Just a note to managers: when an employee is stranded at the airport because his or her name is on the No Fly List ... well ... don't say something like, "Hey, did you ever see that Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal, where the guy can't get out of the airport?" Maybe it's just me, but that's not a great morale booster ... Instead tell them they can expense a few rounds at the airport bar. Just a suggestion.

[IAD: 4:00 p.m. EST] I just found out there was a gate change, and now that I'm on Concourse C I checked with gate attendant and he said all is good to go. I am now in Economy Plus ... and my suitcase has been sitting in Dallas since 11:40-something. Apparently TSA cleared my bag to fly before anyone could clear me to fly.

[IAD: 4:40 p.m. EST] An announcement was just made at the gate. Because of delays in when the plane and crew that's going to be headed to Dallas got here, as well as air traffic control delays, we're not leaving until 6:40 p.m. ... an extra 90 minutes or so on the ground here. At this point, I guess another hour and a half is no big deal.

[UA7665: 7:51 p.m. EST] We're in the air, taking off about a half-hour ago. Unless they've started hiring Russian (or maybe Serbian) families as airmarshalls, I'm not sitting next one ... it must be the burly guy in the seat ahead of me ... Next too me originally was a six-year-old boy; he later swapped places with his mother and 10-month-old sister ... who is quite interested in my laptop.

Wrapping up quickly ... it's going to be a longer-than-normal flight (about four hours) because of strong headwinds ... Hopefully the luggage office in Dallas will still be open so that I can get my bag that arrived about 12 hours before I am slated to get there ...

[UA7665: 7:54 p.m. CST] (We passed Nashville a while ago, so I guess we're in Central Time now ...) One good thing about the flying at this time of day/night as opposed to my original flight time is that if I angle my head correctly and use my hands to screen the light from the interior of the plane, there is actually a pretty good starfield. I can't pick out any constellations at the moment, but I did see one or two shooting stars.

With the baby next to me soundly asleep, I can go back to what I was thinking earlier. At the gate, while we were waiting for the plane to board, I met a little hairless Chinese crested. I don't think I've seen one of those in real-life before, and while it definitely isn't my sort of dog, the pup was a lot cuter than the one's I'd seen in pictures before. The dog was also a magnet for toddlers; her owner must have been standing there for less than five minutes before there were at several little kids (three of them no more than two; one of them younger than Celeste) pointing and saying "Dag!" (or variants). The pup did pretty good at alternately dodging and sniffing each of them and then heading off on a tear designed to take a kid down by wrapping her leash around their legs ... Celeste would have totally been in the middle of that scrum.

[DFW: 9:43 p.m. CST] So ... this is Dallas.

[Gaylord Texan: 10:48 p.m. CST] I'm checked in (only rooms on the smoking floor/wing were available, unfortunately), did a quick run through to where I need to be tomorrow, and found out that the tequila bar was closing early tonight because of the non-existent ice storm. I'm posting this then going to try to get some sleep ...

*I'm sure I've written my first name here before, and I know it's out on the Internets to be found, but at the moment, I'm in a paranoid state of mind ...

Back at the gate there was a woman who only spoke Bosnian and the woman sitting next to me ended up trying to help her, although she insisted to the gate attendant that Serbian and Croat were very different from Bosnian ... On the plane, she said something about Russian time, which is why I lean toward the family being Russian; I didn't pick up any words I recognized in the conversations between the father, mother, and son. She's been speaking to the daughter in very hushed tones.

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