Posts tagged “SFO”

Now, where did I park again?

For long-term parking, SFO recently switched from a big lot to a 7-story parking structure. At one end of each floor is a bank of elevators and on the ground floor is the bus stop to get to the terminals.

Each floor is (somewhat subtly) color-coded and right next to the button for the elevator is this little widget: a card with the floor printed on it, and a space for each of the sections that can be marked or torn to indicate where you left your car. Simple, elegant.

Take One We Value Your Comments

These feedback forms in the SFO Long Term Parking bus shelter are always empty. Someone has written Ha Ha Ha as a sarcastic bit of feedback, presumably about the implied hypocrisy of an unmaintained feedback mechanism.

There’s a phone number (that would ideally be covered by feedback forms) that you can call from a telephone (if you’re carrying one) or a courtesy phone (once you get into the airport itself, a 10 minute drive away), for parking information. Parking information? You’ve already parked, if you’re seeing this. The sticker is out of sync with the feedback form holding function.

Valet screening

Yesterday I was selected for secondary screening while going through airport security at SFO. It started off rather typically, with no explanation from the person who checks ID and boarding passes, only an instruction to follow a certain path. It’d be nice at that point if they told you what was going on. I follow the path I was directed to – a long and narrow corridor between the wall and those straps-on-poles (were that I was hip enough to name those by brand!) – a long and twisting path that eventually reached a dead-end. I was confused, so I turned around only to find a security person was ducking under the straps to join me.

He was exceedingly polite, and extremely patient while I did as he requested, provided boarding pass, unloaded my laptop, took off my shoes. He made suggestions gently (“I’ll get you a container for you to put your bag and your shoes in”). And he told me what was going to happen next (“If you could come with me, sir, we’ll just stand here and wait to go through”).

Instead of treating me like a presumed criminal, I actually felt a bit of privilege. Partly by singled out, but partly because of a certain experience of access. My bags were put through the X-ray machine ahead of others, with somebody carrying them for me and getting the nod to lay them on the belt as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I was able to stand out of the line, in a space in the middle where no one else could stand (since they had to remain in line). I went through the metal detector myself and was directed to a little holding area. After a call of “male, secondary” went out, I encountered a man waiting there for me told me immediately (calling me sir) where I could go next, pointing to an area that required me to pass the end of the X-ray machine, and go around behind. And then I was “free” to traipse over there myself, crossing several zones and lines that the normal passenger wouldn’t go through.

Two different people greeted me there, one of whom smiled nervously (the nervous smile of youth and introversion, simply) at me with a mouth full of braces. He dealt with my bag, and another did the search. They weren’t extroverted, they weren’t bossy, they were comfortable and friendly. Stand like an airplane, palms up. Face this way, so you can see your bags being searched. I never felt manhandled. The warned me my wallet and keys would be re-X-rayed.

I have been to the hairdresser (oops, I mean barber) and been treated more like a piece of meat than today. Or that all-too-familiar experience (like last week at Ross Dress For Less) when the cashier was engaged in a phone conversation for the entire duration of my transaction. Or the flight attendant on yesterday’s flight who walked through the cabin distributing the “snack” (Oreo, cheese spread, cracker-wafer-thing, world’s-smallest-box-of-raisins) with an amazing lack of interpersonal energy – no eye contact, no words, just place the snacks on the trays and move along.

Anyway, while traveling, all of my clothes and toiletries were in checked baggage, so I’m sure that reduced the sense of violation of having stuff opened, touched, looked at.

Two interactions felt more like cooperation than victimization, and they were small but significant. In one part of the search of my b, the wanded the button that closes my jeans – and of course it beeped. They asked me to twist it over (a gesture that is difficult to describe but is akin to walking around with your collar up, rather than any kind of underwear-proximal violation) and he said “good enough” in response. Secondly, when my bags were finished being searched, the bag-handling guy put a lot of hole punches into the boarding pass. When the wanding guy returned with my re-x-rayed wallet and keys, he asked me if the other agent had punched my boarding pass.

I suppose those may be signals of lax security, but I’m only talking about it from my perspective, the traveler. I think I finished up before anyone who entered the regular line before I did, and I got “special” treatment that didn’t make me feel bad or weird. And I wasn’t in a rush so I wasn’t worried about that, either.

Overall, it was an incredibly powerful reframe – from being a suspect to receiving valet service. Some minor cues (with a different mindset behind them, no doubt) changed the perspective of an ordinary experience about 180 degrees.


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