Traveler’s Triathlon

Today I am attempting the traveler’s triathlon — a three-leg trip with tight connections, heading into snow country, in winter. Add in a government shutdown and what that potentially means for TSA workers, air traffic controllers, and every other federal employee who works in the nation’s air traffic system, and the degree of difficulty ratchets up to just about Iron Man Triathlon levels.

So far, though, so good. No bad weather, no security delays, no de-icing issues, and no mechanical problems. I had to run through several terminals and concourses at O’Hare, but that just gave me some much-needed exercise.

If my last leg leaves and arrives on time, I may just need to buy a lottery ticket when I read my ultimate destination.

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Rating Restrooms

I flew through the Houston Hobby airport recently, and when I made a pit stop I saw this restroom rating apparatus on a wall near the exit.

My first reaction: a touch screen rating device, in a public men’s room in a busy airport? Really? I mean, really? I don’t think I’d touch a touch screen device under those circumstances even if my best friend was responsible for restroom hygiene and his job depended on getting good ratings. How many people are going to provide ratings using that methodology?

My second reaction: why even offer the smiley face option? How many people who use public facilities at airports do so with an ear-to-ear grin, even if the restroom is spotless? The best rating I would ever give is an impassive face with a flat line for a mouth — neither happy nor sad, but at least not enraged or disgusted by the condition of the restroom.

My third reaction: I know airports want travelers to think they really care about restroom hygiene, but soliciting ratings seems like an empty gesture. Why not take whatever you would spend on touch screen ratings devices and use it instead to buy better quality paper towels that don’t dissolve upon first contact with a wet, soapy hand?

Failing The Toilet Test

The New York Times is reporting that researchers have examined the presence of germs and viruses on airport security trays and have (surprise!) made some findings that will undoubtedly alarm any germaphobe.  The scientific team swabbed surfaces at the Helsinki Airport and found traces of rhinovirus, which is associated with the so-called “common cold,” and influenza A on half of those plastic bins that travelers regularly handle in dropping off and then retrieving their shoes, belts, purses, laptops, and other belongings as they pass through security.

cc168b22f8cb28c4d95df2d6b73510a8What’s more, the researchers compared the presence of the viruses on the security trays with results from swabs they took of the Helsinki Airport toilets — because toilets always seem to be the crucial baseline comparison in studies of this nature.  They determined that none of the viruses were found on the the toilet surfaces at the airport, which means the security trays at the Helsinki Airport failed the time-honored “toilet test.”  (It also probably means that the toilets at the Helsinki Airport are regularly and carefully cleaned, thankfully, whereas nobody is cleaning airport security trays, but that no doubt will be the subject of another study.)

I read the Times article, which is just the latest in a never-ending flood of reports about the prevalence of germs and viruses and other troublesome microorganisms in modern society, and thought about how tough it must be to be a germaphobe these days.  Any surface that is regularly touched by the unwashed masses — ATM machine buttons, subway train poles, turnstiles, the moving rubber handrails on escalators, and the list goes on and on — are likely to be teeming with all kinds of nastiness, especially during the “cold and flu season.”

Some people, like me, simply accept that exposure to germs carried by random strangers is part of modern life.  We’re fatalists about it, and figure that if a virus has your name on it, you’re just out of luck.  But what’s an ardent germaphobe to do?  Wear gloves and face masks, as you see from time to time when you travel?  Up the ante by wearing hazmat suits?  Pay for the TSA pre-check status so you don’t need to take off your shoes and belt and touch those germy security tubs?

Or maybe airports should take the “toilet test” data to heart, and establish special seating areas for germaphobes in every airport restroom, because that always seems to be the cleanest place around.

The Walking Lot

The “Walking Lot” is the newest long-term parking option at the Columbus airport. Unlike the other lots, it’s not serviced by transport buses; you have to hoof it to the airport. As a result, it’s less expensive than the other lots.

We used it today, and given that it was close to full, others obviously are using it, too. It’s reasonably close to the airport, just past baggage claim. You won’t have a bucolic walk to the terminal, as cars and transport buses speed past and taxiing and landing planes contribute to the overall volume, but you’ll get some exercise and save a few bucks, besides.

I’m glad they’ve added the “Walking Lot” to the mix. Anything that gets more people walking will always get my support.

Professional Grade

Airport bathrooms have got to be among the most brutal to clean. So what, exactly, does the custodial staff at a major American airport use to get disgusting bathrooms spic and span? According to this cart, it’s a mop, a bucket of soapy water, lots of paper towels, and a cleaner called Bab-O.

Bab-O? I’ve never heard of it. But if these guys use it it must be good.

The Airport Zoo

Delta has announced that it is going to tighten its standards for allowing people to fly with “comfort animals.”  Speaking as a frequent business traveler who recently saw a dog take a dump right in the middle of the concourse of the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airport — which faces a lot of other challenges, including being, consistently, one of the most crowded and unpleasant airports around — I applaud Delta’s stand.

150-94503-sugar-glider-1460579077Delta believes that the influx of “comfort animals” is getting out of hand, and reports that there have been incidents in which the animals have exhibited aggressive behavior, including growling and biting, have fouled airport terminals like the incident I witnessed, and have even attacked a passenger.  The Delta statement also said that passengers “have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders [pictured above], snakes, spiders and more.”  Now Delta will require that passengers seeking to bring animals on board present evidence of the animals’ good health and vaccinations, sign a document confirming that their animals can behave in a closed airplane cabin, and presumably demonstrate that they really need to have the animals board the plane with them in the first place.

I’ve got no problem, of course, with visually impaired people using guide dogs, which are always well behaved, but I agree with another statement that Delta made:  “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”  The reality is that people are pushing the envelope with their animals, just as people are pushing the envelope in claiming “disabilities” that entitle them to board before the rest of us.  Anyone who has traveled much recently has seen the explosion of animals in airports, and I’m confident that most people have witnessed unpleasant incidents like the one I saw, or had to endure barking dogs while waiting for a delayed plane, or watched two “comfort” dogs growling at each other at a gate.

I’m a big fan of dogs, but they really don’t belong in airports, or in the passenger compartments of airplanes.  And that goes double for “comfort turkeys,” gliding possums,  spiders, snakes, and the rest of the modern airport zoo.