With a delay in opening the remodeled E-Concourse at SFO, United Airlines is stuck using several gates in Terminal 1 in addition to its main operation in Terminal 3 and the International Terminal. That means a free airport tour between terminals on an airside van each time I fly up from Burbank and also a funny story.
United Express intra-California flights primarily operate out of Terminal 1, so it seems like every Sunday night I am traveling back to Philadelphia I must make the terminal switch. That involves going downstairs in T1 and taking a five minute shuttle ride over to Terminal 3. I always fly at night going east, so it's not like I am getting a cool tour of the tarmac--I usually just zone out or read e-mail on my phone during the trip over. Last time, though, the ride was a little more interesting.
In addition to the driver, there is a helper to direct people onboard who rides back and forth on the shuttle. A conversation between him and a passenger sitting in the back is transcribed below. The helper looked to be a guy in his mid 20s and the passenger in the back of the van looked something like Ken Curtis from Gunsmoke. Let's call him Festus.
Festus (yelling): Hey, can I smoke in here?
Helper: No sir.
Festus: Well where can I smoke? I got me a two hour layover.
Helper: You'll have to go outside.
Festus: You mean I gotta go through that security stuff again?
Helper: That's right.
Festus: Aww shucks, in Denver I just go upstairs. They got a great bar there.
Helper: Oh, man. Sorry about that. They're pretty strict here.
Festus: You know how long I been smoking?
Helper: No. How long?
Fetus: 42 years. Since I was 8!
Helper (yelling): Dddddaaaaaammmmmnnnn!
[the way he said it was just hilarious and you have to understand he was in the front of the shuttle, Festus was in the back, and they were having this back and forth conversation with 15 passengers between them.]
Festus: Yeah, 42 years.
Helper: You ever tried quitting?
Festus: I tried a couple times but I've given up
Helper: Oh, sorry to hear that.
Festus: It's not so bad.
With that, the bus pulled up and passengers made their way off the bus and up the stairs. I happened to be walking behind Festus on my way to the United Club and heard him engage one of the AirServ clerks guarding the exit who looked like Stanley from the Office (and was about as lethargic):
Festus: Can I smoke here?
Festus: How about in there? (pointing to the Yankee Pier restaurant just past security near gate 71)
Festus: Well, do I just go down these steps?
* * *
Although it wasn't appropriate for the helper to yell "damn" in a shuttle full of people, the whole situation just made me laugh. But it also made me recall this blog post from June 2010 in which I lamented the lack of airport smoking lounges in the United States.
My opinion has not changed at all--asking passengers to drag all their belongings outside then back though security again just to take a drag is not reasonable. Leading world airports continue to offer reasonable accommodation to smokers without causing harm to those who steer clear of the designated smoking areas. I find it sad that international gateways like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston are all now smoke free past security.
Airports like Atlanta still offer the best solution in my mind--easily accessible smoking lounges throughout the airport--but perhaps a smoking lounge like Denver's Smokin' Bear lounge could be a compromise. I think one pay-to-use lounge in a separately-ventilated room with no employees having to staff it is not asking too much. Still, I hate to see those specially-constructed patios at LAX go to waste just gathering dust.
Poor Festus. I hope he made his flight.