It’s time once again to toss a penny in the old man’s hat, or a couple of bucks in the bell ringers bucket if you will. Layaway shelves are straining from the weight of bicycles, bb guns, Barbie Dream Houses, Xbox’s, and of course, new socks and underwear. Tangled light stringers and cobwebbed plastic reindeers are being dragged from sheds. Some are busy calculating how much food they’ll need to fill the bellies of all the family that’s flying in. Or, how much alcohol they will need to calm the nerves of the ones who were jammed like sardines in crowded airports for hours and hours on end, just trying to get there.
If you’re one of the courageous souls who is mentally preparing for the sacrificial loss of your sanity for the sake of being with the ones you love for Christmas, you might want to know a few things about airports before you depart. Even if you’re a seasoned travel pro, you may find these facts of interest.
Keep a Close Eye on Your Valuables
Major airports employ more people than the populations of many American towns. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport employs 63,000. At Dallas/Fort Worth there are 60,000. Roughly 1.2 million people are employed by or at America’s 485 commercial airports.
Airports are chaotic, fast-paced, non-stop environments, especially during the holidays when they bring on extra help, so it just makes sense a few bag eggs might slip into the ranks of an airports employ. Even the most careful of screening processes can miss something. Or it could be that an employee who was rightfully hired under the proper pretenses gets tempted and goes awry. Whatever the case, things happen.
Between 2003 and 2012, close to 400 TSA officers, and probably more unreported cases, were canned for pilfering things of value out of luggage. Pythias Brown, an officer at Newark Liberty International Airport for four years, holds the record for making off with over $800,000 dollars worth of stolen valuables. He admitted it’s a free-for-all and “everybody does it.” Brown said the x-ray machines help officers determine which bags to rob.
In 2017, an officer in Orlando was so good at using sleight of hand he was robbing passengers during security pat-downs. This next fact should make you think twice. Between 2010 and 2014, 30,621 items were reported missing by passengers. As a side note, only a small percentage are reported. Officials determined most of the items were stolen out of checked baggage, but a good portion went missing at TSA checkpoints.
Be careful what you pack in your bags, and immediately after being cleared through security, do a quick inventory. Make a mental note of who the agent was just in case.
Airport Shops, Restaurants, and Bars
Airports are much more than just huge confusing buildings where frustrated passengers sit for hours waiting for a connection flight. They are big business. Airport shops, restaurants, and bars rake in dollars hand over fist, but it isn’t by accident or only because they have a captive audience. It’s a science.
The majority of airport retailers are keenly aware travelers are going to spend at least an average of one-hour wandering around killing time. On impulse, they may buy a t-shirt as a souvenir for one of their kids, or maybe they’ll pick a little something up for their spouse. Scoring a few extra bonus points never hurts. Shop windows are arranged so travelers will see things they think they won’t be able to find anywhere else. Maybe a Statue of Liberty mug or a cheesehead hat. Some of the shops will even offer perks such as a free glass a champagne to come in and browse their designer boutique, making certain to inform potential buyers of their one-of-a-kind collection. They know all the tricks and then some, but to let the cat out of the bag, everything they do is focused on impulse buying. They seldom get repeat business.
Bars and restaurants make their untold fortunes from delayed flights or extended times between flights. They don’t need to entice people as much as the shops. Especially the bars. They can charge whatever they want to. And they do. And they get it.
Before you go pulling out your debit or credit card, please pause first and think, “Can I find this on Amazon.com?” More than likely the answer will be yes. At half the price. As a good rule of thumb, if you didn’t have it when you came in…
Getting Through Security
After kicking off your shoes and having to stand on the nasty floor in your socks or bare feet, devoid of jewelry, belts, purses, wallets, laptops, and phones, the cattle procession continues through a metal detector, maybe a pat down, and then a wave of the magic wand just to be sure. But even with all these annoying precautions, TSA isn’t that great at what they do and illegal things are smuggled onto aircraft regularly.
When Homeland Security agents ran an undercover test at smuggling items past TSA Agents, 67 out of 70 items were missed. These not only included weapons, but one undercover agent had a fake explosive device strapped to his back. Just this year 11 passengers walked straight through a security checkpoint at one airport without being stopped because no agents were present. When it was discovered they had boarded an aircraft without being screened, TSA said not to worry about it, they would screen them when they landed. This occurred not too long after a dozen agents were arrested for helping smuggle cocaine from Puerto Rico to the US.
Budget cuts have now reduced TSA staffing by 15%. This along with all the shakeups they have experienced means they will more than likely buckle down during the holidays with the staff they have left. At one airport, 1000 passengers missed their flights in a one month period due to long and slow lines at security. The best thing anyone can do is to anticipate this is going to happen.
The number one piece of advice is to get to the airport early. Would you rather have to sit around for awhile or miss your flight entirely? Don’t stress yourself out before you even get to the in-laws house. Give yourself plenty of time, travel light, and, next year, consider sneaking away during Christmas.