10 Jan Lessons from the LaGuardia Airport Security Line
I had the pleasure of flying Southwest Airlines with my daughter as we were returning home from NYC after moving her into her dorm. She was planning a quick trip home to Houston after she transitioned from one dorm to the other at NYU. As is always the case, I plan ahead and had a car service lined up to get us to LaGuardia with plenty of time to deal with Manhattan traffic and the possible long lines to check luggage and get through security.
Our car arrived five minutes early and we left Gramercy Park with nearly two hours before our flight’s departure. My daughter, who has been making this same trip every few weeks since she started at NYU, questioned the need to leave so early. I reminded her that I am a planner by nature and want some time built in as a contingency for the unexpected. While she accepted this explanation with a slight roll of the eyes, she immediately commented that the Holland Tunnel seemed to be unusually backed up with traffic. A small but imperceptible smile came across my face. I had prepared for the unknown. I said nothing. About half way through the tunnel, the traffic seemed to magically disappear and our driver had us moving at a good clip all the way to LaGuardia. We both questioned why there had even been a delay in the first place.
When we left her dorm in Gramercy, I had quietly glanced at my watch. As we pulled into LaGuardia I glanced at my watch again; we arrived at the airport in less than 30 minutes. I wondered to myself that maybe we had left too early and she was correct all along. I still said nothing. We unload our luggage from the car and decided to use the skycap to check our luggage, as there was no wait at the outside counter. As the skycap lifted one of the two bags that were to be checked, the handle broke off. This required him reworking the luggage tag and having me sign off that the luggage was damaged prior to being loaded on the plane. A slight delay, yet it was not significant.
After entering the terminal and heading towards Gate B, we were met with a long line for security. My daughter reacted with surprise, as this was quite unusual based on her past experiences. The line seemed to be at a standstill.
We were not in the line for long as within what seemed like less then two minutes, the line behind us seemed to grow exponentially. We looked at each other and she told me not to worry it would move fast and we still had at least an hour and ten minutes before our flight would be boarding.
What happened next was both the theater of life playing out in front of us, and the lessons we can learn by planning for the unknown. As we continued to stand in the line that had not moved one step for 10 minutes, other travelers would walk by and query other travelers in the line about where they could find the end of the line. They were pointed to look down the long corridor. Many seemed to take it in stride when they learned that the line was much further back then they had anticipated. A few got anxious and voiced their concern missing their flight. One woman in particular stood out. She shared with a TSA agent that was walking by that her flight was departing shortly and she was going to miss her flight back to Detroit. As this scene played out another two women voiced a similar concern to the TSA agent. The agent told the women where the end of line was and that they could not do anything. My daughter and I looked at each other and questioned why the Detroit bound traveler had cut it so close to her departure time to just be showing up at the security line. I surmised that maybe she had been lulled into believing the LaGuardia security line was usually only 10 or 15 people deep based on similar experiences that my daughter shared.
A few minutes later, still standing in the same spot, another TSA agent turned the corner. Based on his dress and the badge around his neck he seemed to be higher up the organizational chart then the agents we observed earlier. His reaction was priceless. After a few choice words and a gasp, he quickly disappeared. We think he realized that he had a situation brewing that needed addressing. Within a few minutes the line started to move.
As the line lurched forward, we spied the Detroit traveler. She continued to plead her case to the TSA agent checking for boarding passes before allowing travelers to continue into the queuing maze to the final security checkpoint. At one point, because she became so insistent, the entire line was held while the first TSA agent and a second agent explained to the woman that nothing could be done. “If one person is allowed to cut in line to catch their flight, how would they control the flow of all the other travelers who also felt they were at risk of missing their flight?” My daughter and I looked at each other again and wondered why she felt her time was more important then those who had been waiting patiently in line. The agent suggested talking to the airline. This did not dissuade the Detroit traveler from continuing to plead her case with louder and more insistent language.
As we worked our way through the queue line, we noticed the other two women that were also anxious about missing their flight. They had moved to the priority boarding line and we overheard them saying when back at the ticketing counter that they had persuaded their airline to change their boarding pass to priority to ensure they made their flight. The women traveling to Detroit was still arguing and letting everyone know that this was the last flight and “She had to be home tonight!”
Suffice it to say, my daughter and I made it through security and had 20 minutes to spare before they started boarding our flight home. We even had time to grab a quick nosh before boarding our flight. As the flight pulled away from the gate, we spotted a plane also pulling away from its gate. It was the airline of the Detroit traveler. We wondered if she was on the flight or was she still complaining that the TSA agents and the airline had done her a grave injustice? Since my daughter is in college I always look for opportunities to share lessons she may want to remember in her personal and professional life once she is off the home payroll. Some key take-a-ways:
• Plan ahead. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you want to be going. Advance planning minimizes the need to react.
• Don’t assume that the year ahead will follow the same patterns that you have experienced in the past. Unexpected events can slow you down from getting to your destination. Sometimes you may not be able to pinpoint why the slowdown even took place.