Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Airport Travel - US vs. Europe

One of the most obvious differences we noticed after moving to the UK and traveling around a number of times was the 'airport experience'. When we left the US, there wasn't a such thing as the 'TSA Pre-Check' line, but I have had the privilege to be in that line once, so I know that pre-check has improved the situation quite a bit. However, I still feel that as a whole, the European method of airport travel is far superior from start to finish. Here's why:

-Pre security experience is quite nice. If you need to check a bag before your flight, there are boards in the departure area that indicate which lane you need to go to in order to check bags. While this might not seem like much, I remember going to O'Hare once or twice and walking up and down the departure area trying to find my airline's domestic economy class bag check. If there were nice numbered lanes and a board telling me exactly where to go, it might help my stress levels a bit.

In addition, in order to get to the security area, instead of having a person check your id and boarding pass, they have a machine where you scan your boarding pass and then pass through a little gate. It seems like this method has less chance of letting you through unintentionally if you are in the wrong area. And finally, before you even get to the security line, there are nice areas where you can dump out your water bottle, and they provide free plastic baggies for all your liquids in case you forgot yours at home.

-Security lines are much better here. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the conveyor belts on which you need to put your things are state of the art technology. Instead of the trays being collected in little wheeled carts that have to be manually restocked, the trays are on an aptly named 'tray return system' which means that you grab an empty tray from the bottom level, put your things into it on the top level, and when you collect your things after x-ray, the trays all descend one on top of the other back down to the bottom level to return to the front of the line.

So no waiting for TSA agents to hurry up and bring trays, and no having to move other peoples' trays out of your way. It's genius! Not only that, but these conveyor belts are also set up at the back end with two sections. If your bag is flagged as a 'bad egg' it gets pushed over to the second section to get analyzed further, while the rest of the trays come down the main section as normal. There is no need to stop the whole process just because some idiot forgot to take their laptop out of their bag!

Of course, there is also the fact that many of the airports here do not make you take your shoes off at the security line, which of course makes the entire process quicker. One other thing I like is that there is a simple method to provide feedback, just press a button!

-Once through security, most airports in Europe dump you out in a centralized area which contains most of the shops and restaurants. There are very few shops to be found in the outer edges of the terminal. Why? Well, because they do not announce which gate you are to go to until about 10 minutes before they are actually ready to board the plane. I thought this was a bit weird at first, but I've actually become quite used to it now, and actually prefer it. 

There are obvious advantages to this system, which are that you are more likely to relax and have a bite to eat or a drink while waiting, as there is really no where else to go, and there is no need to trek all the way across the terminal to get McDonald's if that's what you are really in the mood for, because all the food is in one location. In addition, they are free to change gates as they please right up until the last minute, really, and there is no need to make the announcement that "Flight 100 is now to leave out of gate B5". Once the plane is at the gate, then they will tell you where to go.

-Finally, there are FAR fewer delays in flights within the European Union. This is because if there are flight cancellations or delays of over a certain time limit, the airline is required by law to compensate the passenger for their inconvenience. This doesn't just include re-booking them, but actually can include a cash compensation of up to 600 Euros depending on the length of the flight and how long you were delayed for. 

Of course, some events, like weather events, do not mean you get cash compensation as those are outside of the airlines' control, but how many times have we all been delayed because of a mechanical problem or because the crew members were over their scheduled hours for the month and they had to find new crew? These types of events would absolutely require cash compensation by airlines in the European Union. I looked up the non-existent rules that US airlines have to comply with, and comparatively, they are appalling. This website has a pretty good comparison for reference.

And with that, go write to Congress about how there needs to be federal regulation to protect passenger rights. And go! Maybe in 10 years we can catch up to Europe.