Today has been the most amazing day I've ever spent at an airport ever in my life!
And I've only been here for 40 minutes.
Let's start at the beginning... And forgive me, I'm still a little bit excited. My breathing is heavy -- I'm looking around wondering if I'm in some sort of a dream.
It all started when I dropped my rental car off at the Phoenix-Sky Harbor Airport for a 11:50am flight to Newark, New Jersey on Southwest Airlines. The Payless Rental attendant who checked in my car scanned the bar code, looked me in the eye, looked down at his electronic info-gun, looked me back in the eye, and said:
"I can tell everything is going to be fine." - he smiled.
Without any stress, without checking my gauges, or looking over the car (there was nothing to find of course, I'm a stickler for checking things on my own before I set off), he simply gave me a look and a smile -- and that was my rental car return.
I took the leisurely elevator upstairs to the leisurely comfortable airport-rental car bus which in a few minutes time had me placed directly at Southwest's Terminal 4. If it had all stopped there I would have taken it as a sign from the Travel Gods that I was doing their good work, and had been quite content... to my surprise, the pleasantness continued...
I approached the totally vacant Southwest check-in line where I presented my already pre-checked-in electronic-phone boarding pass, and with a smile and a wave the attendant motioned me to a counter just past a large placard reading "Two Checked Bags Free." I had just the one checked bag, almost never choosing to travel with two unless it's absolutely necessary for work (the money to send your luggage with legacy carriers so quickly balloons out of control as their greed for more and more fees expands exponentially). However, in the here and now, just the thought that I had the power, the raw freedom, to check two bags if I so chose, it was so alluring.
For this next part let me give you some quick background. I'm a travel videographer, and with the thrill and excitement of traveling to mysterious and exotic places to capture them on video comes the uncomfortable and often emasculating task of convincing the TSA (or their foreign equivalent) that I'm a legitimate law-abiding freedom-loving person and my electronics (all 30+ gadgets) pose no threat to the outside world, airplane or otherwise. During my last flight this involved an uncomfortable pat down of my nether-areas. This is a burden I've filed under occupational hazard.
Today was totally different, and for the first time in my adult professional life, I felt free. I felt like the terrorists had truly been defeated, and my personal honor as a man with ten cameras had been restored.
Less than an hour ago I presented myself to the first TSA checker, who motioned me, upon glancing at my electronic pass, to the short queue in the front with only 4 other people in line. A TSA employee with those funky little pads they use to check for chemicals and gunpowder residue then uttered words I honestly never believed I'd ever hear: "You can keep your shoes on today."
I WAS CHANGED! Had we turned a corner as a society? Had something happened I wasn't aware of? Had the United States' decade plus 'War on Footwear' finally come to a conclusion (and if so did we win)?
I couldn't contain the excitement, "Tell me more!" I almost screamed it.
She explained that today was a special day at PHX airport and that we were a special set of folks. For today we'd be testing the world without terror, the world without fear. As she swabbed my hands for incendiary residues she hinted that it might just be possible that I was glimpsing the future. It seemed too good to be true.
"Keep your laptops in your bags, don't bother with your liquids, leave everything in your bags," I heard from another agent towards the metal detector. I've never used this acronym in my writing before but it's too applicable to escape: OMG!
The screening took mere moments, and my fellow travelers were as shocked as I was.
"Are you sure?" uttered one woman.
"YES" replied the TSA gentleman.
This traveler was obviously so taken aback by it all that she'd forgotten that, in reality, her shoes were of no threat to the plane. She'd been conditioned for so long to believe there was some form of dire evil lurking inside those birkenstocks.
I saw the "Naked-Machine" just ahead of the scanning belt (the pro-vision x-ray I'm-looking-at your-privates-in-the-other-room-machine we've heard so much about). That must be the key to all this, I thought.
It wasn't! The "Naked-Machine" was out of commission, it was simply the metal detector and the officer manning it. "You're all set," he said to me as I walked through.
"What's this?" The TSA scanner asked, referring to my camera case, which can appear to the untrained eye to be plucked right from the set of an old episode of 24, the ones where something blows up.
"It's my camera equipment."
"Ok." ... again I was stupefied.
My hands have finally stopped shaking and I think i've calmed down enough to realize the accurately qualitate how this has transformed the people around me. Several individuals speaking to loved ones have already begun chatting about the experience. People are smiling, parents are laughing with their kids, and an adorable miniature dog is going to town on a bone half his size in the seat across from me.
My point is, that this was a VERY GOOD day here at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport:
1) That feeling of 'abuse' you can get at an airport doesn't seem to be in the air today.
2) That feeling of 'guilt' you might internalize when traveling, isn't really here either.
3) And that feeling of 'nervousness,' that naturally comes from a fixation on the concept that a bottle of travel shampoo could kill us all, has evaporated away for the day.
The only thing that can ruin this day now is if I let myself believe this may never happen again. So for now I'm going to enjoy my flight, and memorialize this day, September 27th 2014, The Best Airport Day Ever!