Previously published in the Hamilton County Herald.
Elaine Dickinson: There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?
– Airplane (1980)
I picked up PB (Publisher Boss) at 4:30 a.m. so we could make our six o’clock departure on time.
When we arrived the check-in area was crowded; if the nation’s economy was experiencing a slowdown, no one seemed aware of it at the airport that morning.
The other sleepy souls moved through the motions of one phase of travel to the next, seeming oblivious to a level of threat the Homeland Security experts said was “Orange,” whatever that means.
I moved to an open space at the Delta counter and handed the attendant my confirmation. She led me to a kiosk and showed me what to do. Reminded of the automatic checkers at Kroger I began to get nervous, but tried to act as though I belonged and entered my confirm into the scanner. The screen instructed me through what seemed to be simple steps and everything was going fine until it read, “Unable to check in.” My attendant was still there, probably sensing my technological ineptitudes, which are vast.
She politely moved me aside and began the same process that I had performed moments before; however the machine was not fooled by her more experienced touch, and my passage upstairs began to look bleak.
She tried once more, but got the same results, so she took my confirmation to the “real” computer behind the counter, where public passengers do not tread. This was no job for a kiosk.
But again the results were the same, which caused my once friendly attendant to look at me a little differently.
“This isn’t working because you are on a watch list,” she informed me.
I looked behind to see if she was talking to someone in dark glasses and a trench coat, but only saw PB, who had moved back, far away from me, and now appeared to be traveling alone. He had left plenty of room for the reign of bullets from the airport swat team to miss him.
Then it came to me, that basic instinct of survival that screamed, “RUN FOR IT!” All I had to do was toss my bag at the unsuspecting attendant and with a sudden burst of speed I could make it to my car, and would soon be barreling through the dawn towards safer surroundings.
But then reality told me I had not had a sudden burst of speed since….well….ever.
So instead I looked back at her and said, “Watch list?”
As I waited for someone younger, bigger and stronger to slam my nose into the tile floor, I saw that the attendant was rapidly typing into her computer while she mumbled something to herself.
I thought about apologizing to her for writing all those mean things about the airline industry, especially after that time they sent my luggage to Canada instead of Chattanooga. Hey they both start with a C! Anyone could make that mistake! And I was overdue for some new clothes and toiletries anyway.
But before I could say anything she smiled at me and handed me a boarding pass.
“Am I still on the watch list?” I asked.
“Well you look pretty suspicious to me, but I’ll let you go this time.”
So I said thanks and quickly headed up the escalator to more security, and hopefully, at last, a seat on a plane.
But as I did so I was unable to shake a creepy feeling that somewhere, someone was watching me.
Jay Edwards is editor-in-chief of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.