California Here We-- Wait a Minute


Photo: Creative Commons/Remko Tanis.

So, the plan today had been to catch a United flight from Des Moines airport at 5:50 a.m. After a connection in Denver, we’d arrive in Fresno reasonably fresh at 9:20 a.m., local time. So, as we are less than fifteen minutes from Des Moines Airport, we set our alarm for 4:30, got most everything packed the night before, woke everybody up at the appointed time and showed up at the airport bright and early at around 5:10.

In the hour that followed, we learned two things:

  1. Des Moines Airport opens at 4 a.m., and between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m., twenty full flights leave each day. It is, by far, their busiest time of the day.
  2. Though the airlines tell you that a flight leaves at, say, 5:50 a.m., what they really mean is that you should be in your seats on the plane ten minutes before that time. And, if you’re not, they close the gate and refuse to open it, even if you arrive at the gate with (apparently) one minute to spare.

So, yeah. We got to the airport, found a lineup at the checkout counter, which delayed us, and then ran into a freakishly long lineup at security. It took us about a half hour to clear and by the time we got to the gate, it was closed and the plane was pulling away. We were far from the only one. Two other families were stranded with us, and throughout the airport, attendants were piling on the public address system calling out names and telling them that they had less than two minutes to get to their gate. They did not play these announcements in the security lineup, which was probably a good thing; that could easily have sparked a riot.

I could complain bitterly about budget cuts resulting in staffing issues at the TSA’s security gates. It is absolutely insane to have literally hundreds of people lined up waiting to clear security, and there were two security gates that were still closed. Two more security teams could have cut the wait time a bit. However, I am told that some extra money was spent at Des Moines recently, and that the early morning line used to be longer. That’s amazing to think about.

Fortunately, the attendant at the gate was able to work her magic and get us confirmed seats to Fresno on later flights. We now leave at 7:10 p.m. and will arrive in Fresno at 11:20 p.m. The good news is that Grandma Rosemarie gets another day with us… once we all wake up from sleep.

We left the airport once we got our new boarding passes in hand. And, as proof of point #1, the security line-up area was basically empty. We’ll now aim to arrive at the airport at 5:40 p.m.

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