Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I'm heading south, north, then west, then east over the next few days. I'm looking forward to it - I haven't flown in ages and I want to get back into the sky.
I wasted the better part of the day today, getting my newfangled Aircrew pass from the GTAA, the organization that's in charge of Toronto Pearson airport. The new passes have retinal scans and fingerprints encoded within them, and someone important has decided that it will protect us all from the terror, so that's that.
There is a bit of a catch though. 50,000 people work at Toronto Pearson and need passes, from airport restaurant workers to pilots to baggage handlers etc. The old passes have been declared invalid as of January 1st (recently extended to January 31st). The GTAA Pass office can process maybe 200 people a day.
Whomever made up the policy apparently didn't do basic math on how many people they could process by the deadline, and the end result is that the workers at the GTAA office are totally overwhelmed by the number of people who need new passes to be able to work at Pearson airport.
So let me tell you how this worked out in real life:
Last night I drove to the GTAA pass control building. At midnight. Why?
Well, a security guard shows up at midnight each night with a list of slots for the next day. We lined up last night to get our slot number from the guard. Mine was 55, with a "show-up" time of 730am.
I went to bed and set my alarm for 530am.
This morning, I showed up at 7am and got in line behind 54 other people and ahead of the 145 people who apparently showed up later than I did last night.
Now you might think that my number 55 would make me the 55th person to get my security pass. No, my naiive little muskrat, that's not how it works at all. The slot number was the sequence in line that I'd be allowed inside the pass building. Until then I waited outside in sub-zero weather. Fortunately the GTAA people have recently rented a bus which parks on the sidewalk just outside the building, and people waiting in line can go in the bus. Unfortunately it's only very slightly warmer than outside as the bus doors are kept open. But it does cut the draft a little, and I was pathetically grateful to have my hairless head out of the cold winters wind. Besides, as all the seats were taken, I kept warm by walking around and stomping my feet on the floor.
I waited for nearly two hours on the bus 'til the morning security guard called my number; then I was allowed inside the GTAA pass building. I got inside and promptly waited in line for about 45 minutes to have a nice lady do a 'prelim' look at my pass renewal application forms, making sure I had filled out the correct stuff. Then the lady gave me another number, in my case it was C-221. I sat down in the lobby of the pass building and started to wait again.
About an hour later, C-221 was called and I went up to the front desk with all my materials again, this time for a more thorough review and check. The guy looked at all my forms and took them away, along with my old pass, then told me to take a seat.
I waited two more hours before my name was called. I went into a room and got my fingerprints scanned by a laser, then got my retinas scanned by another laser, hopefully one of the "no cataract" ones instead of the more common "you'll need a seeing eye dog afterwards" lasers.
I was sent back into the main room again, and I waited for about half an hour before another lady came and gave me my pass.
Total time elapsed was from 7am to 1:43pm today, not to mention the couple of hours it takes to drive to the pass office the night before and line up for a slot number to even get started.
Now keep in mind that I shared the outdoors, then the bus, then the building with at least a hundred other bored, tired, frustrated people, many of whom had to take an unpaid day to get a new pass so they could gain access to their minimum-wage coffee shop jobs inside the airport security checkpoints.
At around noon today I watched a minor drama. The guy apparently had been told that his application was incomplete and that he'd have to come back another day with a fully-complete application, and that he'd have to start the lining-up process all over again. He was livid, and was refusing to leave the office until his problem had been addressed, so security had to physically drag him outside.
I asked the security guards if there had been any problems with angry people being forced to spend all day on a relatively pointless exercise, or perhaps with people losing/stealing slot numbers or butting ahead of the various lines.
"We had to call the cops twice last week and there was a fistfight on Saturday, but I think we're getting the bugs out of the system."
Assuming "bugs" = "people", he was entirely correct.