Free Flights and National Parks

Ideas and Issues

            Cleveland        Ok, what does airline travel have to do with national parks?  Good question, but somehow, they came together for me, maybe because both have to do with access.

I read a story about a young, 26-year-old man who managed to get on a flight from Salt Lake City to somewhere like Oklahoma.  Seems he had been trying to fly standby to home and had missed out in the evening flight and then again on the early morning flight, so he was desperate, he claimed, to run from his snowboarding and get to the family home.  Airport videos made no mistake.  He was taking pictures of various people’s boarding passes.  Not sure who might have been leaving their boarding passes laying about, but maybe they are really casual in Utah.  Anyway, he just held his phone over the scanner and somehow was greenlighted onto the plane with this false picture.  He hid out in bathrooms until the attendant realized that all seats were full after they took off, and the seat he claimed was already occupied.  Busted, the flight returned and he was arrested.

Wow!  How was this possible in these days and times, and how did he get away with this?  Why didn’t the scanner balk at two coming in for the same seat?  Seems like a software problem.  More than 40-years ago, during ACORN’s expansion, we were able to get on flights willy-nilly when the now departed USAir offered Liberty Passes.  You could go anywhere in their system for 2 weeks or so for about $400, as I recall.  You often had to go through their hubs, especially Pittsburgh.  These were pre-9/11, so more relaxed times.  We would buy a pass with initials, and literally hand them to another organizer in the airport, so we could keep people in the air at all times and get the most trips for our team from the purchase.  The airline didn’t check much.  Maybe once or twice it didn’t work.  I don’t think the Salt Lake trick is going to work often, but press reports indicate that some have managed to stowaway at great distances.  If there’s a will, there’s a way.

Getting into national parks is getting harder as well.  I have a lifetime pass, but half the time I can’t remember where I keep it, so I won’t lose it.  Now the US Park Service is putting in a system that requires non-cash payments to enter.  That’s just wrong.  Parks are for the people – all the people, not just people with an active credit card, for goodness’ sake.  They aren’t a commercial operation like an airline trying to bleed every buck from you.  The parks are a public service.  We want more people, especially people who might have trouble getting and keeping a credit card, to be able to access the wonder of our parks.  What were they thinking?  Their convenience can’t replace their mission for Americans.

Are we going to a place where someone has to figure out how to hack their way into a park, just like this young dude was doing, to try to get home?  I’m not saying he was right.  I’m just saying, I understand.  Don’t we all?  There has to be a better way.