Computers automate travel inefficieny, again

by brian d foy

I had to fly Northwest today. I did not get to make these plans, and was not very happy about the airline choice (but once I got to Chicago and saw exclusively Northwest planes I understood). Since I was new to Northwest, I had to stand in their general public line rather than zip through the frequent flyer bow-and-curtsy line.

I got up to the self-service kiosk and started to read the instructions, which were clear, but before I could do anything, a supercilious employee appeared at my elbow and started to help me. Then I realized that everyone else using a self-service kiosk also had a Northwest employee helping them, although everyone else seemed to have a friendly valet.

I got through the self-service check-in with much finger pointing by my personal valet, until he looked at my bag and sighed "That's overweight, so you have to pay more". I ended up standing in another line, so I could complete my self-service check-in by talking to a real human, as soon as one was available.

According to one of the kiosk valets, who told me that he only has this job because he is too old to quit, Northwest axed their staff in favor of the computers, and it has no plan to deal with people who cannot check-in through the kiosks, so they have only one ticket agent working at a time. We were in the limbo line---the one ticket agent had to serve all first class and frequent flyers in line before she could help us, and people kept getting in the first class line.

A soldier on his way back to the middle east got put in the limbo line behind me since his two duffel bags were overweight (we can stuff a lot of junk in those bags). Then, an entire family had to stand behind the soldier because there was a problem with their ticket. So much for computers replacing real live people.

This little exercise only made us 45 minutes late to the gate, but the plane was one and a half hours late itself so it all worked out.

Have computers automated inefficiency and frustration in your life?