Picture this: I’m at the Pittsburgh airport the night before my first international business trip. I’ve decided to stay at the airport’s hotel to avoid an early morning drive through a snowstorm to arrive in time for my six am flight.
At around 9:30 pm, I take the escalator up to the ticketing counter to check-in for my flight.
Not a single ticketing agent is around. The kiosks are turned off for the night. No security guards, no janitors, no other passengers. Not a soul in sight. All the evening flights have taken off. I will have to check-in the next morning.
On my way back to the hotel, I find a solitary working kiosk.
I scan my credit card and passport. So far, so good. The image of my passport comes up on the screen, along with a spinning circle as the computer processes my information.
And processes. And processes.
Three minutes go by. Five. Eight.
The damn thing is frozen.
With my passport page—containing my photograph, name, passport number, and a whole host of personal information—on the screen for all the world to see. (If there was anyone around.)
I can’t find help, and I can’t just leave my personal information there for identity thieves to stumble over like a late Christmas present.
I panic. Then I think about what I do when my computer froze at home, and figure, what do I have to lose?
With a quick glance around—now I’m quite happy for the lack of witnesses—I get down on my hands and knees and crawl behind the machine. I find the cord and follow it down the aisle to its outlet.
Then, with one last glance over my shoulder, I do it.
I pull the plug.
On the kiosk, my face disappears and the screen goes black.
I wait for the TSA to rush in an arrest me. Fortunately, the government is shut down so they are literally not being paid to deal with my shenanigans.
No one comes.
I plug it back in. The kiosk reboots to a screen that reads “Out of Order. Please contact the nearest ticketing agent for assistance.”
Good luck with that. But all traces of my passport are gone.
Early the next morning, I check in at the counter. I don’t say a thing about my late-night encounter with the machine. Neither does the ticketing agent.
I make it through security without issue, so apparently I’m not on any terrorist watch list.
I meet my colleague at the gate, and he asks about my morning.
“Oh fine,” I say, acting like a seasoned traveler instead of a hot mess. “Very relaxed. No problem.”
I think he bought it.
But you and I know the truth.