Lessons from Dulles

I’ve never been a fan of Dulles International Airport (IAD). If it weren’t enough that it takes forever to get there, there’s also no public transportation, you can only use their brand of taxis or shuttles when leaving the airport, transportation between their parking lots and the terminals is slow, the lines are always long, half of their gates require boarding a bus after going through security, and they seem to have a religious objection to moving sidewalks. In addition, because it is so difficult to navigate, they have one of the earliest baggage cut-offs in the area, meaning that I’d your bags aren’t checked in at least 45 minutes before your flight boards, your luggage will NOT make it to your plane (at most airports it’s 30). Yes, good ol’ Dulles is quite a pain, but today I found a whole new reason to hate flying out of this airport.

This morning I’m headed to Houston. Last night when I tried to check-in, there was a note saying that my traveling companion, who’s never been in trouble a day in his whole life but has the distinct disadvantage of having a name that sounds “foreign,” could not check-in online.

We got to the airport two hours before our flight, and by the time we parked and got to the terminal there was still an hour and 40 minutes before our flight. After telling a staff member that we “could not check-in online” we were sent to line 3 of the United counter. Now, it’s important to note here that this was our first mistake: we chose the wrong words. When hearing that you cannot check-in, United staff members assume that you are an idiot and incapable of using the Internet. We were unaware of the idiocy presupposition policy, so we stood in the long, winding line to which we were assigned, only to be ushered to a computer kiosk where someone was going to “teach us” how to enter our name on a terminal.

After several moments of going back and forth about how it wasn’t a knowledge gap that was preventing us from checking-in, the rep ushered us to the back of another line which they call “additional services.” It would be more appropriately labeled “rejects.”

Again we waited — in a line that was somehow simultaneously shorter in length and longer in delay — growing increasingly wary of the rapidly approaching 45 minute cut-off.

Finally, we get to the front of the line and my companion pulls out his Federal employee ID — awarded only after successful completion of a DHS background check — and she sends us on our way. Clearly there was no problem with our itinerary or any of the other possibilities they list on the web. Nope, this was a case of SSSS: Selective Security Screening Selection. Seems he was guilty of flying while Muslim.

My favorite part of the whole ordeal, however, was that after we took our bags around the corner to be scanned (because the folks at Dulles don’t do that for you), we walked around to the backside of the United counter where we’d just spent all that time in line, only to discover that there is a whole other United counter on that side, complete with shorter lines and additional staff. Seriously?

Whether our bags made it remains to be seen. I’m writing this on the plane.