Letter To United Airlines

Unlike everything else on the website, I’ve actually sent this e-mail. It regards a rather baffling travel experience involving United Airlines and TSA.

The TL;DNR is: TSA is not security, and I’m now out a Kindle and nice cover.

Dear United Airlines,

I flew from Nashville to Houston on 30 August, 2012 on flight 4205. I’d like to share with you my journey.

I got to the airport a couple hours early to check in. (BNA has a great deli, if you’re ever through the area.) I walked up to the kiosk and, initially, everything was working well. I scanned the boarding pass I’d printed off before leaving my office and moved on to the check baggage screen.

At that screen, I ran into a problem: The kiosk did not accept my debit card. The ticketing agent – whose name was Alex, I believe – walked over and asked if I needed assistance. Obviously, I did, so he checked me in via a terminal. He checked my bag, handed me my boarding pass, and sent me on my way.

After going through the TSA checkpoint, security, and eating a Reuben (once again, great deli), I went to gate A8. Luckily, when the flight to Newark was boarding, I checked my boarding pass to find that I was not checked in under Aaron Simon.

I was checked in under Louise LaPlumme.

Now, Louise LaPlumme was not going to Houston. She was going to Newark. I saw this error and said, “Uh-oh.”

So, being the good traveler I am, I rushed over to the gate agent and told her about my problem. She sighed and got on the phone to the ticketing agents. After some detective work, she gave me the correct boarding pass. She then went on to some other task.

“My bag is still going to Newark,” I told her.

She sighed, took my claim ticket, and said, “This means I have to go outside.”

I shrugged. “I know, I should have checked the boarding pass, but this has literally never happened before, and I’ve flown Continental, Southwest, Delta, British Airways, Frontier, even Ryan Air in Europe.”

To her credit, she didn’t make any comments about my snarky rejoinder and went outside to make sure my bag was going to Houston.

“Thanks, Pat,” I said. “You took a huge weight off my shoulders.”

So, boarding time came and I got on the regional jet. I took my seat and, almost immediately, the pilot came on the speakers and said, “We’re having a problem with our auxiliary power generator, so we won’t have air conditioning before the engines start up. We apologize for the inconvenience and ask that you close your windows to cool the cabin.”

The woman two seats in front of me shouts, “If this is happening before we even take off, what’s going to happen when we’re in the air?”

Now, I’m not a superstitious man, but I know what is and what is not bad form. However, I’ve lived in England, and their ways rubbed off on me, so I read for a bit on my Kindle, put it in the seat pocket in front of me, frowned, and went to sleep.

When I woke up, the plane was touching down in George Bush Intercontinental, so I gathered my things and made my way off the plane.

After I left the security zone and went to baggage claim, I realized that I left my Kindle on the plane. “Oh no,” I said. I ran upstairs – nearly bowling over a nice elderly gentleman – and asked the ticketing agents to call the gat and see if anyone could get a hold of my Kindle.

They did. I told them my seat number and a flight attendant checked the pocket. No Kindle.

The agents then called the cleaning company – Express Jet, I think – and asked them if they found anything. They said they didn’t.

“What it sounds like,” said the ticketing agent, “is that a cleaning person stole your Kindle. The only reason I say that is because you checked with us immediately after leaving the plane, and that’s really soon afterwards.”

She told me that I could file a claims ticket for lost and found.

Now, I know it’s not her fault, nor is it the gate agent, or any of the flight attendants. And I know, I should have checked the pocket in front of me. But man, that was a real bummer of a start to a Labor Day weekend, you know?

I’m sure you’ve been in the same situation. You’re getting off a plane after a long, horrible week at work, and the last thing you’re thinking about is whether or not you’ve got everything. You’re instead thinking about family, how much you’d rather be in another industry, or a movie you’ve seen. You’re certainly not thinking about some cleaning guy who – at this moment – is at home reading Death To All Monsters by Brad Warner.

(Of course, it’s not the best book. So maybe he’ll return the Kindle, thinking I’ve got horrible taste.)

So, thought you’d like some feedback.

All the best,

Aaron Simon

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On Curiosity

I lead perhaps too much of my life online. Granted, it’s fun, but it leads to a very bitter outlook towards humanity. You only have to go to the comments section of an article to see what I’m talking about. In fact, Zach Weiner made a funny about just that.

One thing I’ve seen that’s really surprised me, though, is backlash against the segment of people who are excited about the Mars rover, Curiosity. (I count myself among that population. If I didn’t need an inordinate amount of sleep in order to function past breathing, then I would have stayed up to watch the NASA feed.)

The backlash comes in two forms:

  1. The people who mock excitement. You can see this a lot in r/circlejerk with posts like “WE DID IT, REDDIT! WE LANDED ON MARS!” Now, yeah, I’m missing the point here because r/circlejerk is the embodiment of taking the piss out of reddit. It’s not necessarily meant in all honesty, just more a reaction birthed from seeing eighty posts about the same topic all on the front page – or close to being on the front page. But, still, you see this sort of attitude a lot more than you should. I’ll get to why later.
  2. “We’ve been on Mars before!” These are the pedants. They’re scum. Bottom-feeders who get joy out of seeing others being taken down on technicalities. Occasionally, I’m a pedant. I try to feel really bad afterwards, though.

So, the thing that gets me about anti-excitement is that it’s really close to the sort of dead-minded bullying you see in high school. That kid’s excited about something? Tell him he’s wrong to be excited about it!

Whether that thing is how much of a nerd Andrew Garfield is, or the fact that we landed a VW Beetle-sized robot from a jet-propelled crane onto an alien world, or the recent news out of CERN that a particle very, very similar to what the Higgs boson was projected to be has been most likely found, the anti-excitement brigade’s all the same. Their jackboots crush dreams wherever they go and attempt to replace it with NFL news and reality TV.

(Was that hypocritical? You bet your ass it was.)

As relates to Curiosity, I really don’t get it. I mean, come on! Who among us has not watched Star Wars or Star Trek – or played Mass Effect – and not thought to themselves, “I gotta get to space!” (This is generally followed by “and bone some space chicks!”)

Yeah, we’re not the ones building the rover. We’re not analyzing the data. We’re not praying that this thing lands safely so that we can continue to have a budget.

But what we are is enthusiastic about something that may advance the human condition. Here. Read this. It’s that thirst for knowledge, and the hopes that advancements in science will lead to shit like super-space-cell-phones or whatever’s next on the horizon, that’s what gets us all in a tizzy.

To shit on that is to not only shit on the people who are enthusiastic about it, but to demonstrate a willingness to not learn things. It’s a problem that’s rampant in Western society right now. The reasons for it are complex, and can’t easily be boiled down to “TV!” or “VIDEO GAMES!” or “TWILIGHT!” (though I really want it to be the latter), but the problem’s there. A culture in stagnation is a dead one, and cultures are only made up of individuals. If those individuals stop caring about excitement in science, art, or philosophy, then humans are as bad off as ants.

And now for the pedants. My argument against them is largely the same as the above. Yes, we’ve been there before, but we’re there again! Exploration isn’t dead yet! How is that not something to tout?

You do have to wonder, though, why the pedants don’t think it’s odd that NASA is making such a big deal about this. First, I’ll have you read this blog by the Smithsonian Magazine.

Now for the easy thing: This rover isn’t just putting around taking pictures of the ground, it’s analyzing the soil, trying to figure out whether or not Mars was at one point habitable. If it was, I’d think, then you could probably assume that – and this is pure, sci-fi-germinated enthusiasm – TERRAFORMING! COLONIES! SPACE CHICKS TO BONE!

And, if all of that doesn’t grab you, if you’re still a bitter soul or a pedant, then just look at this tweet from Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson: “Dear @MarsCuriosity, What are your instructions if a Martian crawls onto your back and rides you like a Rodeo Bull?” I mean, come on, you have to be in favor of jokes.