Terminal Hell In Phoenix

July 22, 2010

in Airport Stories

This complaint covers all categories – airlines, airports, and personnel. The incident happened at Phoenix. If you have a choice, do not go there. Especially, do not change flights there in the middle of a summer day!

We arrived from Seattle on Alaska Air. We were supposed to catch an American Airlines flight onward to Dallas, and then to our destination.

Alaska Air arrived at the United terminal. Our first priority on arrival was to look for location and departure time for our connecting flight. We saw that all the monitors with departure information were turned off, and only the arrival screens working.

(Note to Phoenix Airport Staff: Arrival information at this location is not very helpful. The people who come to meet arriving flights are far away, outside the security area. The passengers in the security area are either leaving the airport, or trying to get on another plane. The passengers with connecting flights want to know where to board that flight, and when it departs.)

Our next thought was, no problem, we will find the information in the American Airlines terminal. Any other airport I can think of has signs posted to give directions to the different terminals. We looked, but there is none of that all the way from the arrival area to the front door of the United terminal in Phoenix (and were were definitely looking for it!).

We were able to find out from a janitor that American Airlines is in a different building. To go from the United terminal to the American terminal, you have to go outside the security area, outside the building, to a center island in the street and find a bus that will take you to the other terminal. On this day it is probably over 100 degrees. My wife and I are in our late 60’s. I am fairly fit and can take some heat. My wife has bad knees and reacts poorly to heat. We reached the center island and walked about 50 yards to the nearest bus. Here we got another nasty surprise. The buses are dedicated – a given bus will travel to only one terminal. We would have had to walk over 100 yards in the opposite direction to catch the dedicated bus for the American Airlines terminal. This driver, however, made an exception for us and gave us a ride to American Airlines.

Another nasty surprise at American Airlines – they had cancelled our connecting flight. I had confirmed this flight about 24 hours prior, but had no warning from American Airlines. They did arrange another flight for us – on Continental, and informed us that we should collect our baggage and take it with us to Continental Airlines terminal. (This later turned out to be a good thing, as one of the airport staff was found to be systematically stealing large amounts of luggage).

So it’s out in the sun again, this time hauling all our luggage to find another bus to take us to the Continental terminal (I think it was in the same building as United).

Continental would not accept that we had already paid for our checked luggage, so we had to pay again (and more about this later).

So we are booked on a flight and we go to the screening area. All the people we had met up to this point had been nice, or at least polite. Here is where we met the gratuitous meanness.

The TSA screening process here is in two phases. In the first phase, they check your identification and ticket. In the second phase, they check your luggage and person for contraband.

The TSA personnel in the first phase were polite and helpful, almost friendly. There were a lot of people being processed through phase one. All these people were lining up at the entrance to the room where phase two would take place, waiting at the rope barrier. Initially there were no TSA personnel in the room where phase two would take place. One of the TSA people from phase one even came back and looked into the area to “see what is holding things up.” After several minutes, all the phase two personnel filed into their area and took their places, but did nothing. Would-be passengers and TSA personnel looked at one another for several minutes (possibly as many as five) until one of them finally stepped forward and opened the rope barrier.

The contraband check begins with the passenger placing bags, shoes, pocket items, etc., into plastic trays. I don’t know if there is some fixed rule as to where the various items are to be stowed, or if it was all in the mind of the woman overseeing this operation. Whichever, she obviously had requirements which the passengers would have to learn by trail and error or by mind reading. The procedure went as follows: pile your stuff in the trays, walk away, get called back, hear one requirement, rearrange your stuff, walk away, get called back, hear second requirement… I was able to complete my lab rat test in two tries. The woman behind me was not so lucky. When I looked back later, she was in tears and screaming at the “tray master” (who never lost her smirk, and was obviously deriving pleasure from the process).

I felt that it was American Airlines’ fault that we had to pay double to check our luggage through to the destination. After all, they canceled the flight and caused the problem. On arriving home, I wrote them a nice letter and explained the situation and asked them for a refund. They refused to pay it, and offered a time-limited discount on some future flight with them (which we are unlikely to use, as we do not travel all that much).

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Glenn R July 22, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I lost interest when you deplaned the Alaskan Airlines flight. There's five minutes of my life that I'l never get back.


Sigh July 23, 2010 at 2:53 am

Couldn't agree with you more. At some point I wanted to slit my wrists but decided to skip to the comments and read something more interesting.


Carole July 23, 2010 at 2:39 am

I loved the part about the TSA tray master!


madachode July 23, 2010 at 4:01 am

You couldn't walk 100 yards because of the heat? Are you one of those that uses a mobility scooter because you are too fat and out of shape? i know of plenty of 60+ yr olds who RUN MILES EVERY DAY and have no problem walking. If you cannot get around without a handicapped sticker or mobility scooter, stay home, kill your self.


thatchetty July 23, 2010 at 5:52 am

Wow, Madachode, are you having a bad morning? Some of us are wondering how this became a personal issue for you. FYI, it is hot where I live, and humid, too. I work out most days on a stair climber, so 100 yards is no problem for me. Other people don't have the good fortune to have the mobility to even work out, but they have the right to travel, too. That said, there is no reason why (the real issue here) people should have to wander around an airport, dragging all their luggage, and asking janitors and waitresses (yes, that's what we did) where to find an airline or a bus. While Phoenix was spending the money on their very nice building there, they could have spent a little more for signs and working monitors.


ps July 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Madachode's diatribe with the "kill yourself" close is the Mississippi equivalent of "thank you and kind regards".

Welcome back Madachode.


thatchetty July 25, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Not buying it. Been to Mississippi several times, and the people there are OK, and reasonable. Nothing said in the narrative would justify Madachode's comments (which are highly inaccurate, anyway), even if he/she is, in fact, the "Tray Master" person. And if Madachode wanted to apologize, he/she should do so him/her self, not let someone else step up.


madachode July 26, 2010 at 6:42 am

been to the phoenix airport plenty of times, a retard can find their way around it with no problem


ps July 27, 2010 at 3:18 pm

you forgot the kill yourself part :)…. okay thatchetty?

lucyfur October 23, 2017 at 6:22 pm

Wondering if the person was at Sky Harbor — you DO NOT have to exit the buildings to go between terminals

Captain July 23, 2010 at 4:30 am

Wow, some really unnecessary comments being posted here. Telling the guy to stay home and kill himself, real classy.

I think this story is a snapshot of America today. No one is held accountable for anything anymore. The old man and his wife couldn't walk far enough and TSA was not competent enough.

Personal responsibility is what this story could have used and what Americans need more of, not handouts, no bailouts, just good old fashioned hard work and self reliance.


rekjavic July 23, 2010 at 8:25 am

hita Phoenix liðinu gamall karl og kona ekki Wal langt, Rútur var besta flutning fyrir þá og ef þeir eins og tónlist hópur Journey, þeir gera líða betur.


thatchetty July 25, 2010 at 5:49 pm

You tried to "smooth things over" but some of your remarks are a little off base. The old man and his wife did a lot of walking that day and didn't ask anyone for any favors, except for information. The "story" was a report, not fiction, and wasn't meant for entertainment. Phoenix Airport Management needs to do a lot of work. They built some nice buildings and now they need to work on making people's travel easier, instead of more difficult. The "story" about the awful behavior of the TSA people there needs no further discussion. Many other people have reported on this website about problems with airlines cancelling flights, so this should not need any more discussion. And, this incident happened many months ago, and the facts about the airport employee systematically stealing large amounts of luggage was reported in the national newspapers.


Steve Perry July 23, 2010 at 8:29 am

It's been a mystery

but still they try to see

why something good can hurt so bad

Caught on a one way street

the taste of bittersweet

Love will survive somehow, some way


One love feeds the fire

One heart burns desire

I wonder who's crying now

Two hearts born to run

Who'll be the lonely one

I wonder who's crying now

So many stormy nights

So many wrongs or rights

Neither could change their headstrong ways

And in a lover's rage

they tore another page

The fighting is worth the love they save


Only so many tears you can cry

Till the heartache is over

And now you can say your love

Will never die

Whoa ooh oh ooh oh

Hoo oh hoo oh


Peace Lover July 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm

I could not agree more Steve, love is our greatest strength and as long as you have love in your heart then you can do anything. Here's a little tune to join the club.

There comes a time

when you face the toughest of fights

searching for a sign

lost in the darkest of nights

the wind blows so cold

(you're) standing alone

before the battle's begun

but deep in your soul

the future unfolds

as bright as the rays of the sun

You've got to believe

in the power of love CHORUS

you've got to believe

in the power of love

Blazing emotions

there's a light, that flows from your heart

it's a chain reaction

and nothing will keep us apart

Stand by my side

there's nothing to hide

together, we'll fight to the end

take hold of my hand

and you'll understand

what it truly means to be friends


it gives meaning to each moment

it's what our hearts are all made of

You've got to believe, in the power of love


Sailor Moon July 24, 2010 at 6:10 am

w00t, that's my song from the English dub 😀


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