Lileks: How early is too early to arrive for tomorrow's flight?

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2014 - 8:47 PM

Air travelers waited in line to go through TSA security screening at the airport Wednesday afternoon.

It’s get-out-of-town day for Spring Breakers, and for some this means you can expect delays at the airport. As opposed to off-peak days, when you can expect delays at the airport.

MSP raised eyebrows this week when it suggested travelers arrive another half-hour earlier than the two hours ahead of their flight it previously recommended. But doesn’t this mean that crowds will just be worse 2½ hours in advance, instead of two?

Right. So you’d better show up three hours in advance … and get stuck behind the last crowd, which arrived only one hour in advance.

These are the calculations you make if getting through security is the most stressful part of the trip. Some like to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare — like, a day — and some think that if they jump off the jetway and hang on the wing as the plane pushes off they’ll have to open the door; why rush?

Some people presume that the security line will have an entire symphony orchestra ahead of them, and that everyone will have a metal pin in their leg. The line winds back and forth and back and forth like a diagram of the human intestinal ­system.

Some think that a 1:30 departure time means that’s when the pilot takes his keys out of his pocket and turns the engine on.

These two groups, it must be noted, intermarry with remarkable frequency.

Type A packs the night before. Type B starts packing when Type A says “OK, cab’s on the way.”

So advising people to show up early is good. But it’s only a start.

AP reports that TSA wants armed guards during peak travel time. Great! I thought. Let’s put those guards to good use. When people come into the airport, they’re asked one simple question:

Do you know what you’re doing?

If you say you don’t understand the question, then please step to the right and join the throng of people staring at the check-in screen on the kiosk and stabbing at the buttons and then waving their hands for help because “I don’t see the part where I get $100 cash?” Please join the line of people who think a trombone qualifies as carry-on, and the people whose bags weigh 75 pounds so they have to take out all the souvenirs they bought on that tour of the brick factory.

If you say yes, then you go to the line of people who have their boarding pass on the lock screen of their phone and spray their belt with silicone so it whips off faster.

But even then you’ll face the bottlenecks:

• The TSA agent who looks at your boarding pass and stares at it like it’s an overdue notice for a book they never checked out, then makes the Squiggle of Authority on it.

• The security line, with all its theater: Take off your shoes because of that one guy and take out your liquids because of that other guy. Then get into this machine because of all those other guys.

(The scanner went off on me once because I forgot to take my billfold off, and my hands had to be swabbed for chemicals. That’s when you really regret having taken a ride to the airport with a friend who sells fertilizer and just gassed up his car, and you shook hands when you parted.)

Then the line slows because someone has to be taken off the line to help a flier who wanted to take the entire product line of Revlon through the gate. She was unaware that you are limited to three 3-ounce containers of fluids, because it is impossible to cause problems with 9 ounces of anything. Ten ounces, and we might have a fluid-related situation on board, but nine, you’re clear — as long as they’re in the Magic Bag.

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