Checking in in SJC, on a paper ticket

I flew back from San Jose through Minneapolis and Amsterdam this week, on NWA. Luxembourg being one of the few airports around the globe that still haven’t decently implemented e-Tickets, I was traveling on my usual paper ticket for the entire tri…

I flew back from San Jose through Minneapolis and Amsterdam this week, on NWA. Luxembourg being one of the few airports around the globe that still haven’t decently implemented e-Tickets, I was traveling on my usual paper ticket for the entire trip.I knew that Northwest has replaced staff at smaller outstations with minimum wage workers. But the experience in San Jose was mind-boggling: The first employee at check-in obviously hadn’t ever seen a paper ticket before, and tried to coerce my passport into the e-ticket check-in machine (which first failed because she mechanically mis-handled the thing). When I insisted that I had a paper ticket and showed her the coupons, she mis-took them for boarding passes. “No. I need a boarding pass. This is not a boarding pass. This is a paper ticket flight coupon.” Employee number two at least found the right menu on the check-in computer’s screen; he then proceeded to get confused as to whether he needed to check for a visum to let me travel to the European Union. “I’m a German citizen who lives in Luxembourg. I’m in the US under the US visa waiver program for a short-term business trip. I don’t need a visum to travel back from the US to my country of residence.” That was apparently information he was unable to extract from my passport and his system. The next question was then whether the passport’s expiration date was 11 February or 2 November. (The date format used on German passports actually can be inferred from my birthday, but once again that was too much for this agent.) When the confusion was over, he didn’t even know how to properly staple together a boarding pass and a paper ticket.As the icing on the cake in San Jose, I got the dreaded “SSSS” on my boarding pass (although I’m a top-tier frequent flyer with a close partner of NWA); funny enough, the TSA agents in San Jose couldn’t be bothered and waved me through considerably more efficiently than a lot of other security droids that I have had fun with recently.Once in Minneapolis, things were mostly done competently — though agents there almost forgot to take the green visa waiver stub out of my passport. Hadn’t I thought of it myself, I might have faced not-so-funny interactions next time at US immigrations.The morale of the story is that, in times of cost-savings and automation in the travel business, you’re increasingly lost if you don’t know yourself how things are handled.