Norfolk airport leaves much to be desired

Published 7:06 pm Saturday, July 25, 2009

This is a continuation of last week’s column. You remember: the one about how airlines have found lots of new ways to separate you and your money while still telling you what a bargain you’ve found.

It’s also a continuation of the column that appeared in this space two weeks ago. You remember: the one about fighting with the big computer company’s telephone-answering “customer service” machine.

Turns out the airline has machines of its own.

A little background: My wife, Sherry, flew this week to Mississippi. She and her 88-year old mother were going to take Sherry’s two oldest grandkids to New Orleans for a couple of days. Then Sherry and her mother are going to drive back to North Carolina and Mammaw is going to spend a couple of weeks here.

My part of all that was to drive Sherry to the airport in Norfolk and see that she got safely on the airplane.

If you were paying attention last week, you know that she bought her ticket via computer.

We made it to the airport without any major problems – probably mostly due to the fact that I have a little GPS thingy that tells me where to turn and how far to go before I’m supposed to turn again. It even tells me what time I’m supposed to get wherever it is I’m going and, unless I mess up too badly en route, it is usually right.

Anyway, we got there and I lugged Sherry’s suitcase into the terminal and we found the Delta check-in stations.

If you’ve flown anywhere in the past eight or 10 years, you know the airlines all have do-it-yourself electronic check-in machines now. What I didn’t know was that the use of those machines is no longer optional. It is now mandatory.

Or at least it was for us.

An unsmiling lady in a Delta uniform told us so.

In the past, I’ve seen this lady’s counterparts help confused customers with the “customer service” machines.

Either the policy has changed or this lady just wasn’t feeling very helpful. The extent of her customer service was that she pointed at the machine she told us to use.

We stumbled our way through that experience and then learned that we still had to go see a real person at what should have been the check-in station. That person’s job was to make sure Sherry’s suitcase did not weigh more than 40 pounds (she made it with two pounds to spare), and then to collect the suitcase’s $15 fare. (Luckily, our suitcases don’t mind flying coach.) All of that accomplished, she ripped all the old airline tags off the suitcase and put on a new one.

Then she pointed to our next stop, the security station where we surrendered our bag to the nicest lady of the whole batch. She actually smiled.

Just before we kissed good-bye and Sherry made her way to go get on her airplane, I told her that in the future she will fly out of the Greenville airport.

Two reasons:

First, it’s easier to get to.

Second, it has not yet been taken over by smart machines and unhappy people.

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.