Friday, December 31, 2010


Well, I made it from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Chicago’s O’Hare (ORD) airport and then on to London, Ontario, Canada (YXU) for the Christmas holidays. I was able to once again witness our transportation system operating at its finest and, unfortunately, at its most dismal. Security via the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) was the most able and impressive aspect of my travel experience. Again, well done.

The trip from Dallas and into O’Hare went smoothly. Lots of people were flying this 2010 Christmas holiday season so I was prepared for even more stringent security measures than my most recent Thanksgiving journey. TSA did seem a little more intense though no more scanning or “enhanced pat downs” than normal. The TSA security folks at the United Airlines terminals at DFW and O’Hare were like the rest of their comrades – professional and thorough. No hissy fits or even the hint of a complaint from any passenger was evident. Likewise, the CATSA staff at the London, Ontario airport were equally professional and courteous.

The flight from O’Hare to London didn’t go as smoothly. We experienced a long delay (about three hours) because of some ambiguous “mechanical problem” with the aircraft. All the passengers could see the aircraft through the lightly falling snow for hours on end as planes around our aircraft came and went enduring what seemed to be endless deicing procedures. Finally our seemingly disgusted desk agent derisively announced that they think they may have discovered the problem and were, “going to take the plane up for a test run.” Yes, they really said that… Shortly thereafter, voila, there goes our plane taxiing out to the runway where we understood later, the plane took off and did several circumnavigations of O’Hare before showing up about an hour later.

Another announcement was forthcoming that they were continuing to work on the problem but had also decided to change the tires on the aircraft? That prompted a deer in the headlights look by many passengers who wondered out loud where United’s regular maintenance schedule may have gone? Finally the announcement was made to board the plane with many passengers deliberating whether engaging this flight was advisable. We reluctantly boarded the aircraft (sheep to the slaughter?) which included a long parade outside into the snowy weather and eventually into the aircraft where the flight crew offered apologies and further explanations as we endured yet another deicing. The flight took off and proceeded without further incident to London.

Several days later found me returning to O’Hare and the United States via T5, their international terminal and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) folks, yea, those few, those happy few. That’s all there were to handle an estimated one thousand-plus international passengers that descended on O’Hare. Half the ICE booths were empty and the crowd started backing up even further out into the dark corridor almost to the terminal escalators. Management seemed breathtakingly oblivious or just flat incapable of controlling the situation. Many people missed their connections and this crew seemed totally insensitive to that reality. After an hour of standing in an immovable mass in the approach corridor (there were no real lines) someone came out an announced that all bearers of US passports and green cards (their words) “come with me.” We squeezed though the packed crowds and eventually (20 minutes later) made our way along the left wall to the main engagement area – a huge bull pen where folks are queued up (blue for US citizens and black for foreign nationals) and arranged for proper examination by ICE staff. Our line went fairly quickly (1½ hours) though some Russian speaking ICE agents (they never spoke English around us) who looked more like prison guards started depositing some of our foreign guests in front of us… much to our chagrin and disgust. Did the Russians win and we weren’t told?

We finally made it through and reclaimed our baggage which we had to recheck through equally large crowds. Given some urgency and question whether I would make my flight I was directed to leave my bag with a group of rather large snarling, head bobbing behemoths that seemed incapable of intelligent speech – at least in English. There went my luggage thrown unceremoniously and indiscriminately onto a conveyor with scores of other bags with no response to my questions about the bag’s final destination. I wondered if they spoke Russian.

Like the London, Ontario flight several days earlier though with a slight delay, the flight went smoothly and without incident. I slept almost the entire trip to DFW despite a very upset, screaming one year old boy immediately next to me and his twin, equally distraught, brother several rows back. That was heaven compared with the long wait before the sacred ICE at O’Hare. I did sleep like a baby and did not snore

Lest I feel sorry for myself I was followed back to Dallas by a wonderful young couple who decided on a Delta – London, Detroit, Atlanta to Dallas connection that went terribly, terribly bad. The flights went OK, but they arrived at DFW without their bags - one of which hasn’t surfaced as of this writing. Seems that because of the small aircraft out of London no carry-on baggage was allowed. Couple that with an almost onboarding announcement that because of problems with the fire detection system (yikes!) they were not going to allow any baggage (carry on or otherwise) on the flight. I, of course, immediately wonder about their human cargo as that would be considered by most as the most precious?

Arrival at DFW predictably was without any baggage and later inquiries noted one bag in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and another – perhaps it didn’t leave London? Two retagged bags arrived the next day and belonged to disparate parties and fellow passengers from their London to Detroit flight. A gentleman from Louisville, Kentucky later called indicating possession of one of their bags.

The gentleman of the offended and bag less London to DFW party delivered the errant bags to Delta baggage at DFW and requested a further, more aggressive search in order to locate their baggage. They were then astonishingly notified by the Delta agent that they had closed the case and file and that nothing further could be done as the bags had been delivered! Yes, he really said that. Delta soon changed their mind when a motivated and especially convincing entreaty was made. The bag from Fort Lauderdale was delivered shortly after midnight the next day. The other bag from Louisville has yet to be delivered.

If possible, I will never fly Delta Airlines again and at least promise to never recommend what I once proudly and objectively perceived and as an Atlanta resident declared to be the best airline in the US. My experience at O’Hare did, however, validate the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport though busier than Chicago as probably the most efficient and friendliest airport in the world.

As for ICE, I am truly embarrassed and feel that these representatives of the United States treated every person in that room badly and with a lack of respect and dignity. With the powerful storm and snowfall in the east they knew that flights were going to be diverted to the Midwest yet failed to properly prepare themselves and manage the situation. As for the rude, dismissive ICE agent who loudly and vociferously complained that he had to work during the Christmas holidays I suspect that you will eventually get your comeuppance. You earned the enmity of many folks in that room (foreign and domestic). We at Might of Right wish you a Merry Christmas and the notification that I will be flying with Santa in 2011 and will let him know that you have been a bad boy this year…

And for all that it was worth it to be with loved ones and Friends this 2010 Christmas. Hope you and yours have a safe and prosperous 2011!


Ned Buxton

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