Reagan National Airport: The Tenth Circle of Hell
By: Amy Lutz

As I waited in line for my ticket during a recent visit to Regan National Airport, I noticed a sign on the wall preventing what the TSA labeled “airport rage.” I would assume that most people I know would believe that this regulation would not apply to me. They would be wrong. By the time I noticed the posting on that fateful day a few weeks ago, I was a boiling pot of white hot anger. How did I get to this point? Well, let me start at the beginning.

It all started at 12:45 PM on June 18th, 2011 and I was just returning home from a conference in Washington DC. After an exorbitant $60 cab ride, I arrived at Washington-Dulles airport. I enjoy arriving to my destinations, especially those commonly plagued with long lines and random pat downs, well before I need to so I gave myself 3.5 hours of leeway to catch my 4:20 PM flight on American Airlines. Washington-Dulles was crowded, but not unmanageable. After a few minutes, I arrived at the counter and handed the agent my boarding pass. As I lifted my over-packed suitcase to the scale to be tagged, the agent paused. My connecting flight to Dallas had been delayed and he was worried that I would not reach my 6:20 flight to Kansas City on time. Therefore, he decided to send me across town to Reagan National Airport for a slightly earlier flight to Dallas that he hoped had not also been delayed. Although I was slightly inconvenienced, I told the agent that the solution was appropriate and trotted as fast as I could (in 4 inch heels, mind you) to catch a cab. When I finally arrived at DCA, my stomach dropped the second I walked in the doors. There were people everywhere, and that is not even the half of it. Lines were non-existent. Other passengers were standing haphazardly around the velvet ropes, hoping that they were in the correct location, and there was not a TSA agent in sight. I started to panic at that point, but I assumed that since I was still over two hours from my flight, I would be on the plane in plenty of time.

After unsuccessfully trying to print my boarding pass out at the kiosk, I trudged over to the line for the special ticketing counter and waited…and waited. Although at this point there were only about twenty people in front of me, it took 45 minutes for the line to even move. During that time, despite the fact that I was growing increasingly worried, I met a handful of delightful passengers who were just as frustrated as I was. I became acquainted with a British couple who were heading to Key West, two sisters who were going their separate ways, and a young woman who was carrying her cat, Brussels. Unfortunately, the cat only entertained me for about five minutes and then I was back to nursing the anger that was bubbling up inside of me. At the same time, I realized that I was experiencing shooting pain in my legs from standing in heels for so long and I finally decided to just go barefoot. The woman standing behind me literally applauded me for lasting so long without taking my shoes off.

As the line finally moved, my fellow passengers and I noticed a horrifying fact. There were two different lines, and we were in the wrong one. I and my fellow passengers tried to flag down the manager or anyone else who could help, but we were rebuffed and ignored for at least another 45 minutes. By this time, Brussels and his owner had long missed their 3:25 flight. When we finally got a hold of the manager, she told us to get behind the other line and we were forced to wait even longer. During our remaining waiting time, two of the women working behind the ticketing counter took their breaks, leaving only one agent in charge of helping the ever increasing line of people, which now totaled 66 passengers. By the time my fellow passengers and I reached the counter, we had all missed our flights. I bid them all goodbye and walked hesitantly up to the agent who had beckoned me forward. She was not able to find another flight for me on American Airlines, so she transferred me to another connecting flight to Memphis on Delta. I accepted the offer, relieved that I would not have to pull a Tom Hanks and spend the night in the Terminal. I did not want an experience that equaled the awfulness of that movie.

As I slid into the Delta line, I heard chatter behind me. The tall man to my right had been waiting for 10 hours and other passengers had experienced similar fates. Again, my stomach dropped and my anger surged. I was once again subject another hour and a half of wait time. Here we are at the beginning again. As I looked at the “airport rage” posting, I pondered if the punishment for breaking said law would equal the satisfaction I would get from screaming at the nearest TSA agent. Luckily, I kept my cool, at least from an outside perspective. When I arrived at the counter, I shrugged my shoulders, defeated. The Delta agent gave me the news that I had been expecting: they could not get me a flight that night and I was forced to stay in a hotel and take a connecting flight in the morning to Cincinnati. I reluctantly agreed.

As is customary, the airline paid for my meal, taxi ride, and hotel room for that night, but unfortunately they did not understand that I was a 19 year old girl traveling alone and needed to stay somewhere safe. I ended up bunking the sketchiest motel in Virginia where I was surely the only resident who spoke English. After I carefully ordered a limp salad from the motel, I literally ran back to my room, locked the door, turned out the light, and hoped that no one would knock on the door. Luckily, the television worked and I alternated between watching The Dark Knight, Remember the Titans, and a televised speech from Rick Perry before finally falling asleep, contacts and all. The next morning, I left the motel at 4 AM to catch my 6:45 flight. Although I was subject to the invasive TSA body scan and disorganization in the terminal was still rampant, my second journey through DCA was mostly painless. I breathed a sigh of relief when I boarded my first flight to Cincinnati. The plane ride was smooth and I even brushed past Mike Tyson in the Barnes and Noble in the Cincinnati terminal (FYI—he is much smaller in person). When I boarded my second flight to Kansas City, I felt my airport rage fade away.

As I peered out into the passing clouds, I thought about my previous 24 hours. I wondered how the airline industry, which is still not a government agency, could be so disorganized. The Reagan National Airport did not do its namesake justice in terms of efficiency. In fact, DCA reminded me far more of what the health care industry looks like under Obama than the economy did under Reagan. I have a sneaking suspicion that the chaos was a result of a collective bargaining agreement gone wrong or extra-strength government red tape. When the government and union regulations get their hands on an industry, inefficiency and incompetence are the name of the game. I found myself more and more frustrated with the ever growing size of our government and thankful for the sparks of entrepreneurship, private industry, and innovation that are still present in this country. I certainly hope that those sparks become an unquenchable flame because if our lives continue to go in a direction that resembles the turbulence of the Reagan National Airport, we are all headed for a massive case of “American rage.”