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"Plea to airport: Can I just have my luggage ... please?"

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Plea to airport: Can I just have my luggage ... please?
By Richard A. Schneider
The Pensacola (FL) News Journal

I like the Pensacola Regional Airport.

It's certainly convenient. Its staff is unfailingly friendly. The schedules
are good. You don't necessarily have to visit Atlanta to get where you're
going. It has a nice restaurant and a good gift shop. It has an effective
mix of budget and legacy carriers. And the view provided by the actual
flight in (or out) is the best marketing we have.

It's good that PNS' passenger traffic is increasing. A healthy airport is an
indicator of a healthy economy.

But there is one thing that PNS does not do well.

Handle baggage.

Can I get an "amen''?

I'm certain I can.

I realize we're dealing with multiple groups doing multiple jobs: the
airport itself, TSA and the specific airline. But baggage is the one issue
that all three groups must address, individually or collectively.

I'll let them figure out how to do that.

Frankly, PNS does not handle bags well on either end.

There is some good news. I used PNS last week and can report that no longer
is your checked baggage undressed right before your eyes. Sure, the TSA
folks were pleasant enough as they searched through your shirts, and you
mentally thanked them for wearing gloves. And only those in line immediately
after you could see exactly what kind of, ah, socks, you had packed.

Four lines

After all, doesn't everyone like to start off a long flight with a
potentially embarrassing public moment?

However, some good probably has come out of this baggage strip search: more
people doing laundry in advance of their departure.

But going through such a process is not on the list of the seven habits of
highly effective people. To call the process a ridiculous waste of time is
to be kind.

So, there are some customer-service issues to be ironed out when it comes to
checking in, like having to deal with not one, not two, but four lines.
Let's count:

Line No. 1: At the carrier's kiosk.

Line No. 2: At the carrier's baggage check in. (And the space between kiosk
and counter is as organized as a middle school at lunch.)

After Line 2, our passenger must navigate the check-in area toward the
baggage-check tables, which might be unique among American airports. One can
immediately spot PNS newbies since, at this point in the process, they look
like they've landed on Mars.

Bag tag here ... walk over there ... why do we have to do this again?

Line No. 3: Baggage security check. When this is over, you feel as if
someone should have Miranda-ized you.

Line No. 4: Upstairs security check, which often brings back fond memories
of Depression-area soup lines.

By this time, you have passed through enough checks to be awarded sainthood.

The good news is that we, apparently, no longer have to stand and watch as
our fashion sense is critiqued by TSA agents. But this might be a devil's
bargain, according to a story in this newspaper last week by Carlton
Proctor. With more TSA agents downstairs, the line upstairs gets longer.

Waiting for bags

Getting bags off the jet is no picnic, either.

This has bothered me since I first flew into Pensacola, and on subsequent
trips. It takes a looooong time for the bags to show up on the belt. (Maybe
TSA is going through our bags again. A practice run, so to speak).

So last week I timed it, from the moment I made it to the baggage conveyor
belt to when the first bags appeared.

Twenty-five minutes.

C'mon, guys. One plane. And not a very big one at that.

One customer, who shared my passion for promptness, asked one of the airport
staff why it took so long. The reply was that staff had to stay with
unaccompanied minors before it could handle the bags.


Isn't that the carrier's job?

It was the carrier's responsibility when my kids flew by themselves. I mean,
can you imagine what would happen if a 10-year-old was watched by a baggage
handler in Philly while waiting for the grandparents?

"OK, kid, here's how the point-spread works ..."

PNS, you've got a good things going ... except for the bags. If you need
more TSA employees, then get Sen. Nelson on the phone and make it happen.
Get some baggage scanning machines. I hate to compare cities, but if
Tallahassee can do it ...

And figure out how to get the bags off the jet quicker.

Consider this some constructive criticism from your flying public, who thank
you in advance.

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