Friday, April 09, 2004

Beating the Airport Lines, Part I: Check-in

. . . continuing on. Ok, you've entered the airport, and now you see that big ol' line wrapping from here to Santa Fe. What to do?

1. Stay calm. Most people forget this one right away. Some seem incapable of following it. Don't be that person. Corollary: be nice too. Believe it or not, all laws of courtesy and respect for humanity still apply in an airport, unless some unique aspect of the airport compels a different result (aka, if you have an "A" card on Southwest, don't tell an old lady with a "C" card to go in front of you. The Southwest people don't like that). If you can only understand things once they're compared to legal concepts (poor you), think of the Butner principle in bankruptcy.

2. Don't get into the first line you spot. You see, because you're calm, you don't feel insecure about not having a line right away. You don't need the line. You're you're own line, damnit. You'll join another line only when it suits your interests.

3. Look for electronic check-in. "But I have a bag I need to check!!!!!!!!" you say impatiently. That is why you fail. Many airports have at least one post where you can check a bag and check-in electronically. This includes the crazy Southwest section of Midway Airport. Look through the vast sea of people for the group of electronic check-in machines, and then look for the only guy Southwest guy not doing anything. That's where it is. These terminals are vastly underutilized. But that's ok, because now you know.

4. Look for the "preferred customer" line. Most airlines have one. It's usually very short. "But Brian, I'm not a freaking preferred customer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I fly only to attend cousins' confirmations and bar mitzvahs!!!!!!!!!!!" Once again, that is why you fail. Since I fly a lot I have some kind of "preferred status" with an airline or two. Let me let you in on a secret: they don't ask. I can't remember one time I've ever been asked what my "MVP number" was for, say, Alaska Airlines. Same goes for the others. They don't expect you to remember. Just act like you belong. They're busy. They'll just check you in. If for some reason they don't, feign the confusion on everyone else's faces (see step 1) and move on. You still have more options.

This step is the only one that's on the ethical borderline. I'm a little ashamed of it. But only a little. We'll make it optional.

5. Check the sky-cap line. Sometimes this line is worse than the line inside, but it often isn't. Shell out the $3 and save yourself the hassle of rolling your bag around in 5-inch increments for 40 minutes.

6. If all else fails, compare the lines inside. There's often more than one, and one is usually significantly shorter than the other. If I were you, I'd take the shorter one.

That's my 6-step program for getting past the check-in line at the airport with your sanity intact. If anyone knows of any other great airport line advice, be sure to comment. But by advice, I don't mean "cut in front of old people. They don't seem to notice."

Check out this site for future installments on airports, including "Airport Ethics" and "Beating the Lines, Part 2: After Check-in."

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