It seems that lately I have been spending a lot of time in airports. 10 flights in 28 days to be exact. It has been a bit of a hectic schedule and over all I am surprised to say everything has run quite smoothly. I have had no real problems with any of the reservations, pre boarding check in, baggage arrival (knock on wood), missed connections, long flight delays, whatever. The ten flights have been pretty smooth sailing. This being said, with ten flights, I have had my fair share of airport waiting time, sitting back and getting in some good quality people stalking, I mean watching, right.
I have become much more aware of the general airport process which affects every person in air transit to a varying degree. I have mentally noted this process before, but it never really dawned on me to put the ideas into writing until this morning. This blog is meant to highlight my experiences while on the road and as of right now airports are playing a major role. So, that being said, this morning while disembarking the red eye flight into Buenos Aires I couldn’t help but let me mind passively observe the movements of the people around me and I let it slip into the depths of airport etiquette. It was almost like being back in China, a spectator of people who were all seemingly pushy and flustered. Everyone was silently determined to get to wherever it is they were going before everyone else. Granted it was 6am in BA and most had probably not slept much on the flight, thus putting these people into a lack of sleep state, while surrounded by strangers in a potentially foreign atmosphere, it doesn’t really create the friendliest of scenarios does it. No talk, no eye contact, just movement. This is my summary of the general airport process.
Let me take you through my idea of the above mentioned, “process”. After the original purchase of the flight online via credit card I get my electronic ticket and reservation number emailed to me. I double check that I have a copy with the flight number, times, and airports recorded, I then mark the flight on my calendar and begin to plan around it. A day before the flight I will figure out how I am getting to the specific departure airport and also how I will be getting from the destination airport to my next hotel. This is almost always done by taxi or private transfer. If it is an international flight I tend to show up at least two hours prior to the flight, domestic one and a half. Honestly obtaining the boarding pass beforehand really doesn’t save much time and pre check in is not really necessary anymore. Just bring your passport to the desk.
Once I have my boarding pass in hand I move through security and have my carry on bag scanned. There is never any issue if you never have anything to hide. No scissors, water bottles, mini shampoo, pocket knives (obviously), or funny enough, metal of any kind (some airports are super anal….USA). I once had a wine bottle opener taken from me and a harmonica. Bastards. Anyway, I now carry next to nothing metal or liquid. Once through security I find the departure gate and wait for the boarding time, almost always 30min before the flight time. Hopefully the airport will have free wifi but most likely won’t. I then kill the time by finding a coffee and reading. Once the plane begins to board, with passport and boarding pass in hand, I join the others in the queue and shuffle my way onto the plane. Finding my seat, I store my carry on above my head making sure to get my book and ipod out before the stewardess shuts it completely. Sit down, wheels up. That is about that.
Now as boring as that process sounds, it is relatively necessary. This is how the airports have set up the most convenient way of rounding up the cattle and shipping it quickly from one place to another. Once I enter an airport, I enter into a mindset that works in the stages outlined above. Complete one stage and move onto the next all the while silently patient and unassuming. Becoming one with everyone else gradually making their way through each stage and eventually being given the okay to fly. Yet everyone is still in an apparent rush. This is where I get a little lost. I am at the gate waiting to board the plane and I hear over the PA system my flight is about to board. Okay, cool. There is then a mass of people who stand and begin to queue in front of the gate. Everyone is going to get their seat anyway and I don’t understand why some people feel they need to queue for ten minutes just to get in that seat before everyone else. Once in the plane you then wait again because the line has been backed up by people stopping to take off jackets and place their carry on above their heads, whatever. Eventually when you’re in the air all runs smooth enough and the flight attendants are generally nice, almost mechanic in their movements and organization.
Then the plane lands and there is this palpable anxious feeling. When will the seat belt sign finally turn off after taxi? When can I finally stand, and can I stand before everyone else? Bing. Sign goes off and like a rocket half the plane stands, beginning to open the overheads and take out whatever it was they were storing. These same people then stand amongst one another slowly pushing their way closer to the centre of the aisle, vying space so that when the plane begins to disembark they will be first to move towards the immigration counter and then eventually the queue for the baggage claim. Queue, wait, queue again, wait…. again.
In my mind airports have successfully brainwashed people into following this specific process and I am a part of it, willing to be submissive in order to create a smoother process. However, not everyone feels the same way and there are certain people who have a strong desire to be recognized as individuals and free thinkers. I think that certain people find it hard to be a part of the system, to be a part of a process or cattle herd feels foreign and controlling. These people want to have their opinion heard and to be treated as others may treat them, with respect and unquestioned loyalty, not being told what to do but telling others. This is sort of my description of the person who gets really loud and pissed off at the airline attendant when something doesn’t go right, or in their favour. I think you have all seen this kind of person at an airport before.
Okay, scenario, so something goes wrong, the flight is delayed due to weather, a malfunction in the electrical system, a crowded runway, whatever, anything can happen at an airport and it is almost always out of the control of the airline representative. Yet, in the case of this delay, it is seemingly always the airlines fault. Of course the representative couldn’t control the weather, but I have to take out my anger on someone and now my flight isn’t going to leave on time. WTF, now I am going to miss my next flight, or my meeting, or whatever it was I was travelling for. You see, it’s never about the journey for some people it’s only about the destination and the outcome of the visit. These kind of people piss me off at airports and I have trouble watching them rant at someone who can only stand and listen without the power to actually change the situation. The airline attendants represent some of the best customer service I have seen in action and still get treated like complete shit.
This being said, I have a lot of respect for airport staff. From ground handlers, to airline personal, to air traffic controllers, to truck drivers and maintenance crews, the list goes on and on I’m sure. It must be an incredible feeling to manage the movement of thousands of people daily all over the world without ever leaving your own seat, to have “the process” run smooth, and to leave work with no complaints from someone similar to the highlighted above. Imagine the stress of working as an airline control tower operator. It seems to me that people genuinely complain about airports and about air travel however I believe that probably somewhere around 98% of all flights everyday run smoothly and work in a very controlled fashion.
Air travel is something we should be taking for granted, to crisscross the world in only a few days, to leave winter and touch down in summer, to view the sunrise from 30,000 feet, to attempt entrance into the mile high club, to soar above ice cream coated clouds and dream of lands unknown below. I think I have come to the conclusion that I like airports and air travel. Even if I am definitely a part of the cattle herding process, it is convenient and I have a lot of patience. All I really need is coffee, a good book and my ipod. Time to move, wheels up.
What do you think of airports and of my so called “process”? Do you have any great flight experiences? I don’t want to hear about your worst, because that’s what everyone always thinks of. What was your best, most memorable airport/flying experience?