New meals and new rules

One nice advantage of frequent flying is that upgrades seem to happen with some regularity. Indeed, of this six flight trip, I received the upgrade to First Class for four of the six. A fifth I received the upgrade on, but on account of a late arrival at the airport the upgrade was given to another passenger. And the sixth remains to be seen tomorrow evening.

In addition to the larger seat and extra legroom, the F seats also come with a decent meal service. In the case of the longer flights, such as Houston to Seattle, this is a full dinner service, including a salad, soup, choice of entrée and an ice cream sundae for dessert. As of November first, Continental changed their meals up in the F cabin, so this was my first chance to experience the new options. The soup (beef stew on this flight) was quite nice. The salad had some goat cheese sprinkled on top, in addition to the normal lettuce and cherry tomato arrangement, and the entrée options were new – a turkey & cheese Panini or manicotti filled with ricotta and spinach. And the ice cream sundae was still offered, as were after dinner drinks. I’m scared to think of how many calories I consumed on the flight, as I’m sure it wasn’t particularly healthy, but it tasted pretty good. Overall, a thumbs up on the new meal options, and I’m looking forward to trying the new lunch options tomorrow on the way back to Houston.

As for new rules, I’m always amazed by the ability of people in authority positions to invent rules to support their stance on any particular topic. Today’s example was the oft publicized but non-existent rule that one must present a government-issued photo ID to pass through a security checkpoint. It turns out that the TSA has not actually enacted such a rule, in direct conflict with their much publicized campaign to force citizens who are afforded the free right to travel within the country to forego a small bit of those rights in exchange for what can best be described as security theater at the airports. I had the misfortune to experience this twice today, once at JFK and once in Houston. In JFK the TSA goons did their best to intimidate me, and they were assisted by the agent from Continental, who made it clear that she intended to prevent me from boarding the plane, despite the fact that I had yet to do anything that was actually in violation of any law. Ultimately my hand was forced, as I was running late and didn’t have time to deal with the supervisors and various other folks who would need to be involved in actually having things done correctly. What was particularly interesting was that in the end, the agent assigned to perform the secondary screening for me did it efficiently and professionally, all while confiding in me that he knew I was correct, and that he appreciated my efforts to stand up for my rights and to not be intimidated, but that it was clear that he was the junior member of the group and that there was nothing he could do to stop the other goons from making up their own rules and enforcing them without recourse nor accountability. To add insult to injury, I was escorted down to the plane by a Continental supervisor who felt it appropriate to interrogate me as to my intent and to “cite laws,” none of which she actually cited but more that she made up and referenced obliquely, explaining that I was required to show ID to anyone at and airport who demanded it. She wasn’t too happy when I explained that she was wrong, nor was she happy when I explained that the TSA agents are not actually law enforcement officers (LEOs). I’m correct on both accounts. One is required to produce ID for LEOs in NY State, but it the TSA really wants it they actually have to call the Port Authority PD, as they are the LEOs of record at the airports. A TSA agent is pretty powerless actually, other than to make up rules and otherwise intimidate passengers. Another great made up rule this morning was that international passengers have to present a passport to the TSA; any other government-issued ID isn’t sufficient. I know that one should have a passport to travel internationally, but that doesn’t mean that the TSA needs to see it. Yet I watched passengers be stopped and admonished by the TSA ID check agent, all because there was a nice power trip in play.

Since I was so late getting on the plane I had to gate-check my bag with all my books and magazines on it. Knowing that I had a 2+ hour layover in Houston, I had the bag tagged to IAH and went back out to pick it up and came back through security, again without showing ID. This time the agents actually did it by the books, professionally and appropriately. It took me less than 30 minutes to walk from the Presidents Club out to baggage claim, get my bag, walk back and clear security including the secondary screening, without intimidation nor accusations. That’s the way it is supposed to happen. Too bad more of the TSA agents don’t do it correctly more often.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.