Monday, June 25, 2007

Naughty words are a federal offense

The following is a detailed account of how I was almost put into jail for a federal crime. My offense?

Saying "The F Word" in an airport.

After a wonderful week hanging out with all of my friends in Houston for John's wedding, I was pretty tired. Each night, my friends and I would socialize into the wee hours of the morning and each morning, we'd be up before noon to start all over again. It was a great week. Fast forward to Sunday, it was finally time to go back home to Seattle.

We left the hotel and had some breakfast. Although we knew it would be cutting things close, we stopped at an authentic country bar so that Elizabeth could have a drink there before we left for the airport. For some reason, visiting such a bar was a big goal for her while in Texas. I had a Coke while Greg, John and Elizabeth all had more interesting drinks. Ah, the joys of being the one driving the rental car.

Elizabeth's flight was leaving first, followed later by the Continental Airlines flight John and I were sharing. We left the bar with about 45 minutes to spare for our trip to the airport. Seeing as how it hadn't taken us more than 30 minutes to drive there all week, (I'd made three trips out there myself to pick up rental cars and friends), I figured we'd be fine. About a mile from the airport, we found ourselves in the middle of a huge traffic jam. Traffic had slowed to a crawl and eventually stopped.

After being parked on 59 South for awhile, we noticed trucks and SUVs driving off the freeway and across a ditch onto an access road on the side of the freeway. Up ahead, more cars were taking the freeway on-ramps in the wrong direction to reach this same access road. Eventually the cops came and attempted to direct this traffic nightmare. It turns out there was a huge wreck ahead that had stopped all lanes of traffic. A helicopter had landed right in the middle of the freeway, presumably to take people to the hospital. People were standing around outside of their cars watching the whole thing unfold because they couldn't drive anywhere. What a mess.

The 45 minutes we had reserved for the trip had come and gone, Elizabeth's flight was taking off in less than an hour. We somehow got her to the terminal just in time. After that, we were supposed to drop off our rental car...but I missed the rental car return exit. After a full revolution around the airport parkway, we finally found the exit again...and returned the car. It was now time to take the shuttle to my terminal and check in for my Continental Airlines flight.

This was where the real fun began.

The first line I got into turned out to be a line for people with no baggage to check. I had a bag to check, so I traveled to another line. No big deal, I had plenty of time.

I got into another line and stood there for a few moments before a line attendant closed it with a rope saying it was full. She directed me across the terminal to a third line. She pointed to her right...and I walked that way. As it turned out, there was no check in line that way....just a line for security and baggage check.

At this point, I was pretty frustrated. I had walked to three separate places and had been unable to check in at any of them. Several feet away, I see a young woman about my age wearing the Continental Airlines uniform. I walk up to her, still frustrated and say:

"I've just been to three different fucking lines and I can't check in at any of them. I just need to know where to check in. Can you help me?"

She looks at me, irritated and says: "I don't understand the language you're using. I'm not going to help you."

I say: "Seriously?"

She says: "You can go find someone else to ask. I don't understand your language."

I quickly realize I shouldn't have cursed in front of her, but I'm also not going to stand around and go through a big apology just so I can ask her the question. Still irritated, I say: "Well, try learning English. It's a pretty fucking common word." Then I walk away.

I roll my bags on back to the other side of the terminal and talk to the original line attendant who had sent me to the wrong place. I explain to her that I want to check in and mention that I have bags. She directs me to a 4th line, which turns out to be the right one. John shows up a few moments later and we wait.

While we're waiting, we talk about what has just happened. I mention that I know I was a jerk and I probably shouldn't have sworn in front of the lady, but I can't believe she just shut me down like that. She could have helped me, but all she did was make my experience with Continental Airlines just a little bit worse, all because I said a naughty word out of frustration.

We get closer to the front of the line when I see a man walking my way. He's a Continental representative of some sort and right next to him is the offended employee. Apparently, she'd decided that not helping me wasn't good enough and she needed to "tell on me" now. He asks me in an Australian accent if I will step out of line so we can talk. I oblige.

He says "We have a bit of a problem here".

"Yes we do". I say. "Your employee here was very rude to me and refused to help me simply because I used a word she didn't like."

He asks me what my side of the story is. I tell him that I didn't insult her or call her names, I'd just been to three separate lines and I was very frustrated. I explained that I used the "F-word" to describe that frustration. I emphasize that after getting sent to the wrong place three times by three different employees, all I wanted was some help. I emphasize that instead of giving me that help, she sent me away because I used a naughty word when speaking to her.

He informed me that I could be in big trouble here.

I asked why and told him that I wasn't aware it's against the law to use "the F word" in an airport in Texas, but if that's the case....I'll be sure to remember that for future reference. I believe I smiled after making that comment.

The man proceeded to tell me that this was no laughing matter and that I could be refused service or even taken to jail if I don't present myself in an acceptable manner. I said "Who determines what is acceptable?".

He says "I do."

I say: "Fine. How am I doing right now? Have I raised my voice to you? Have I called you names? No. I'm just a frustrated traveler who expressed that frustration to one of your employees and she sent me away because she didn't like my language. That's not good customer service and I'm understandably upset."

He tells me that I can be upset but reminds me again that I have to present myself in an acceptable manner.

I say: "I think I have."

He says: "You cursed at her"

I reply: "I acknowledge that, but I was frustrated. Look, if you have to kick me off the airplane for saying the F word in the terminal, I won't put up a fight. I've got a couple of lawyers on retainer and I'll be happy to sue your airline. I'll win, because last I checked...using the F word is still legal in this country. What I won't do is apologize. I admit I used that word, but I was upset. It's unfortunate that she was offended, but I'm not sorry for what I said. I was a frustrated customer and she should have helped me out. Instead, she sent me away. I'm not going to stand here and apologize because she has a problem with a word I used."

Next, I turned to the lady who has been standing there silent. I told her "If you would have told me you didn't appreciate my language and then helped me, I would have apologized to you and thanked you for your time. I didn't mean to offend you until after you sent me away. At that point, I think you deserved it. You certainly offended me."

She had nothing else to say and she wasn't going to get her apology, so at this point, he sends the offended lady away. Once she's gone, I add one final comment: "Look sir, now that she's gone, I'll tell you one more thing. When I walked up to her, she looked like a peer to me. If she was an older woman, or an older man...I probably wouldn't have used that sort of language. I didn't use that word to be rude to her, I was relating my frustration to her as I would to anyone else my own age. Had I known this lady had issues, I would have used a different word."

He reminds me that we're in the Bible belt. I tell him I understand, but that still doesn't mean I am required to censor myself. If she can't handle hearing naughty words, she certainly shouldn't be working customer service in an aiport. I suggest that perhaps a thicker skin is required for that job. I point out that I have many years of customer service under my belt and when someone is angry, you reply calmly and you help them. That response always calms them down. Refusing them service just escalates things.

Realizing his threats aren't going anywhere with me (and that I'm remaining perfectly calm during the conversation) he finally gives up on the lecture. Without warning, he changes gears and asks how he can help me. I say: "I want to check in".

He walks me to the front of a line, where I finally check in for my flight. He leaves and I turn my attention to the guy behind the counter, who is smirking after watching this whole conversation go down. He's clearly been enjoying watching this whole thing go down. I tell him "I'm having a wonderful gosh darn day.". The counter rep smiles again...and I get a seat in the exit row.

For the next hour, I'm on my best behavior. Despite my frustration with everything that has happened, I feel like they probably have security watching me or something...and I don't want to give them any excuse to think I'm not presenting myself in an acceptable manner.

I left the great state of Texas without further incident. When I arrived to Seattle, my bags weren't there waiting for me (turns out they were on the next flight in).

Well played Continental. Well played.

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