When my mother and I arrived early in Santo Domingo yesterday for our flight on Spirit Airlines, we saw a great many people playing a common game on that carrier, and that is moving clothing and other packed items from one suitcase to another to avoid the heavy baggage fee, which is $50 if one has a suitcase over 40 pounds. Most airlines have similar rules and penalties, but allow up to 50 pounds per person, meaning that one has to pack a lot more efficiently to ride inexpensively on that airline. While waiting for the wheelchair to pick up my mother, I was humming The Price Is Right theme to myself as the passengers weighed their suitcases. One could see a visible sense of relief when people had packed just enough to get under the limit, as my mother and I did. Those who were second best off were those who had some slack in one suitcase and were able to quickly transfer their excess luggage to avoid the fee. And those who were worst off were those who only had one bag to check in that was more than 50 pounds that they had no hope of transferring and simply had to pay a lot of money. Such a system as that is broken by design–clearly people are not having a good time with the restrictions but they endure it for cheap and convenient flights, and in contrast to our travels earlier this weekend, there were no delays at least for us, which is good.
When we got to Orlando, we found that there were not enough people to push all of the wheelchairs from the flight through security, and even with my helping along by pushing my mother and handling the luggage from the baggage claim through customs and to the transfer belt, there were still too many wheelchairs and not enough people to push them. One of the people, an oldish sort of man, complained about being short-staffed all the time and was unable to handle two wheelchairs at a time. The other woman, who was a Spanish-speaker with limited command of English, was quite able to deal with two wheelchairs at a time and so we went on through immigration and customs along to our destination. One gets the sense that a great deal of services that are aimed at helping others tend to be broken by design because there is never enough funding for such things, and so those who are in need tend to fall through the cracks unless others around them are able to help. And it is striking to me just how many people who need special help traveling end up traveling alone.
One more thing in the Orlando airport seemed to be literally broken by design, and that is the very structure of the security system when one transfers from one terminal to another. When we entered the international terminal upon deplaning from Santo Domingo, we not only went through immigration and customs but we also went through a TSA line. Unfortunately, only the first 29 gates or so were in that terminal, and so we were all sent to the main terminal, where it happened that we had to go through security all over again, to the frustration of everyone involved, staff and passengers alike. I had stopped for a brief meal before we went and we barely had time to make it to the gate before they started boarding for the flight to Miami. One would think that an airport like Orlando would be able to structure their trams so that one could get out of a tram and then move on to the other wings of the main terminal while keeping security to an earlier zone for those entering the airport through the main terminal, but somehow the bright bulbs at the airport administration have not thought to do so yet.
Finally, when my mother and I were enjoying a bit of breakfast before traveling to the airport in Miami, we encountered a family who was stranded in Miami because they had been able to get from Austin to Miami but their flight to the Caribbean had been cancelled by American Airlines. There had been another flight on Saturday in a few days but that full flight had been cancelled as well, and so the father and children were eating while the mother was on the phone trying to work out the logistics of getting anywhere into the Caribbean in a timely fashion where they could then charter a flight to begin a catamaran cruise they were doing with some friends. We wished them well and shared our joyful experiences of flights, delays, janky airline policies of cancelling flights willy-nilly, and headed off to the airport ourselves. There is much that is broken in this world, alas, and few people who seem inclined to even note it, much less have the authority and energy to do anything about it.