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Relax, You’re Flying Out of Des Moines

Posted by Owen Fuller on January 24, 2011 in culture, DRC Trip 2011 |
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Some people dread air travel, and not because they’re afraid of flying.  The frustrations in the parking lot where, at so many airports, the only available parking spaces seem to be in a different zip code than the terminal building.  You debate calling a cab just to take you across the lot.

Once inside, the situation rarely improves.  First you get stuck in line at the ticket desk for 20 minutes.  When you’re two people away from the front of the line the  computer system suddenly has trouble, and you’re stuck for another 10 minutes while every member of the airline’s ticketing counter staff works to correct the problem…which turns out to be user error.  Your turn finally arrives.  You hand your ID and flight itinerary to the lady at the desk.  She speaks to you in a monotone voice, and scarcely looks up at you except when she scolds you for putting your bag on the scale to soon.

Finally, with boarding pass in hand, you make your way to the TSA security checkpoints for yet another 10 minutes of lines.  This is the funnest part of your trip.  Before the Federal Government gives a new TSA agent a badge they require the employee to turn in their sense of humor and exchange it for a hyper-alert sense of paranoia.  I think it’s in a regulation somewhere.  This is immediately apparent when you meet the ID checker.  He’s a portly fellow with a name tag that reads “Agent Jackson, a.k.a. the ENFORCER” and his whole job is to scrutinize your photo ID and boarding documents.  Unfortunately your photo was from 5 years ago before you had glasses, when your hair was shorter, and before your state changed the design on your drivers license.  Agent Jackson looks at your photo.  Then he looks at you.  Then at your photo.  Then back at you.  He gives you the evil eye.  You glance away briefly, but worry that you might look “suspicious” and turn to look the Enforcer in the eye.  Finally he lets you through.

You make your way to the screening agents.  As you dump all your stuff into the gray plastic bins and stick it on the conveyor you realize that this is one of those airports with the full-body backscatter x-ray machines.  Yeah, some stranger gets to look at my naked silhouette.  Grabbing your dignity and your carry-ons you head to your gate.

After taking seat in the crowded boarding area you pull out your laptop and try to kill the time by stalking friends on Facebook and watching the latest videos on YouTube.  About the time you get logged on to your computer a speaker crackles to life and an artificially cheery female voice announces that your flight will not be boarding at this gate, but rather at the one ten gates down.  This will happen two more times in the hour you are waiting until it is finally moved back to the original gate.  You get settled once again and think you’ll finally have time to comment on your best friend’s status post.  That’s when you hear him–the narcissistic 40-something business traveler who insists on talking decibels louder than normal on his over-sized Bluetooth headset.  Finding it impossible to focus, you shut down your computer and  just wait.  You sigh in relief as your flight begins boarding.

Sound familiar?  Not at my airport.  Stephanie and I often joke with our friends and fellow MAF missionaries Tony and Laura, who live in Fullerton, CA, about the pluses and minuses of living in Orange County vs. living in Iowa.  Personally I think Iowa is winning, and the Des Moines International Airport is just another point on my side of the scoreboard.

Getting to DSM is pretty easy.  There’s convenient access a few miles from the downtown freeway.  Today it’s a Monday morning, so today we opt for the less-congested Hwy 5 bypass.  It’s seven miles longer from my brother’s house, but we make the 20-mile trip in morning traffic in under a half hour.  Try doing that at LAX!  At DSM there is long- and short-term parking right next to the terminal entrance .  My brother pulls into the drop-off next to the front door and helps me unload my baggage.  We say a quick prayer on the sidewalk and I’m on my way.

Inside the terminal I stroll down the ticket counter to the Delta desk.  There’s no line and the agents greet me with smiles.  They make small talk and ask about my destination.  One of the ladies steps over from behind the counter and prints my boarding passes for me.  It’s a self-service machine, but I think she was in a helpful mood.  I check my two bags.  They weigh in at 50.0 and 48.5 pounds.  I smile.  Back at the house I had weighed those bags several times on an analog bathroom scale.  I knew they were going to be close to the 50-pound limit.  Very close indeed.

I take the escalator to the TSA checkpoint.  Along the way I see a couple of TSA agents and some custodial crew.  Everyone seems chipper today.  I double-check my phone to make sure it’s actually Monday.  There are only a few people in line at the checkpoint.  TSA Officer Jones greets me with a smile and examines my boarding pass and passport.  Everything is in order, so I step towards the conveyor belts and start emptying my pockets.  As I’m dumping my stuff in plastic bins I hear the voice on the intercom calling me back to the ticket desk to unlock my bags.  Great.  I collect my things, let out a little cheer and file past the twenty or so passengers who were now waiting to get their IDs checked.  As I hand over my key to the TSA inspector he smiles and tells me I’m lucky to still be there, because otherwise they’d just cut the locks.  He unlocks my bags and gives me back my key.  “Second time’s the charm,” I tell Officer Jones as I come through the line again.  He jokes that I must have liked coming through so much that I did it again.

I put my stuff on the conveyor.  The agent smiles and tells me to step through the metal detector.  I walk through and hear no beeping, so I’m good to go.  My laptop and other things pass through the x-ray machine without incident.  No full-body x-rays.  No mean Federal employees.  No hassle.  I’m curb to concourse in about 20 minutes.  I’ve got plenty of time to pick up a Dean Koontz novel and fire up my laptop before my flight.

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