Gate Crashers – July 11th, 2008
I write this entry as I sit at the Manchester, NH Regional Airport waiting to pick someone up. The following is a quick look into what goes on when people board a plane, and the accompanying observations and thoughts I often have as I see it going down. Look around the next time you travel – you will see all of these people.
Let’s talk about the Gate Crashers. So, if you travel a lot like me you know the ritual of boarding a flight. The airline tells you that you need to be checked in at least an hour before the flight, and to be at the gate at least 45 minutes before the scheduled departure. At exactly 34 1/2 minutes before your set to leave strange things begin to happen in and around the gate.
First, the businessman in his pleated pants, golf shirt, and black leather computer bag gets up and begins to slowly stroll over toward the boarding lane. He’s on his Nokia cellphne and his new hands free bluetooth headset. He is talking to someone about a shipment of widgets from Korea and his golf game earlier today with the purchasing manager from the regional grocery store chain (probably Food Lion or Winn Dixie).
The family with 6 kids, who always seems to be seated 3 feet from me, begins to get restless. They are on their way back from a week at Disney. They are all sun burned, A few of them have on silly hats (mouse ears, duck hats). Their youngest is running around the seats, carrying his little sippy cup, and screaming. I sit there and get a good look at this family because the odds are they will be sitting right next to me.
The college kid over in the corner is typing away on her laptop, listening to music on noise canceling headphones, and texting her friend in Omaha all at the same time. While all of this is going on she still manages to maintain a sense of complete oblivion to all that is happening around her.
Just to her left is a group of 5 college kids. Spring break must be over. They are sipping on their lattes from Starbucks (my thoughts on them to come in a future blog entry). Back to the story. All have their cups in their hand, trying to look cool. They talk loud enough so that it is impossible not to hear everything they are saying. They are 10 feet away from me. Here’s how the conversation goes “Oh my God, last night I was like, I mean oh my god, I was like, you know, talking to this guy and he was like a Sigma Chi at Virginia…..and like, I didn’t know what to do. It was like, so unbelievable. Oh my God”. I make a mental note to myself to remove the word “like” from my vocabulary. But as I think about it I realize how much I like to say like so I decide to keep it in the mix. These kids do annoy me though. Even though I used to be one of them I think of myself as if I have never acted like that. I have, so I move on to analyze (and make fun of) the other people in front of me.
32 minutes until departure. The gate agent comes over the speaker and announces that this flight is over sold. She then goes on to say that the flight will be boarding in a few minutes and that we are to board in an orderly fashion by boarding group. This is evidently the newest thing in flying, the boarding group. Before she calls for general boarding the businessman (and 8 more like him) all begin to walk toward the gate.
The family, sensing that the action is starting, is getting their backpacks pulled together, hoping that the agent calls for families traveling with small children (one of my favorite classifications). The father – the poor old Dad who has just spent his life savings and his one week of vacation waiting in line, 100 degrees, at Disney – is trying like mad to figure out how to fold up the 3 child stroller his wife bought before the trip. He begins to sweat.They too make a mad dash to stake out some turf in front of the gate. Kids running everywhere, the crying begins as the little one can’t find his sippy cup anywhere (it should be noted that I have kicked it under the row of seats a few feet away just to distract them as I try to cut in front of them in line).
The college girl is still oblivious. As I look to my left there are 6 people sitting in a nice row, all in wheel chairs.
The agent calls for volunteers, promising to the passengers who gives up their seat a free snack and a pass to check their bags for free the next time they fly on this fine airline. They used to offer free tickets – now they offer free baggage check-in. Six people head for the desk, all in hope of getting the coupon, hoping they hit the jackpot and get put on the flight that is due to leave in 6 hours. These people have nothing better to do than head over to the smoking lounge, grab a beer, and sit in the airport for the rest of the day. Me, I need to get the hell out of this place – and fast.
31 1/2 minutes to departure. The agent has passed out the coupons. The winners have headed to the bar. The businessmen, all still talking on their blue tooth headsets, are getting restless. Are they really talking on the phone or just trying to look cool. Hey guys, walking around with a goofy little contraption on your cheek isn’t cool Never has been, likely won’t ever be. They are platinum medallion flyers and they want to get on the plane so they can get their free vodka martini prior to take off. It’s been a long day after all. They move a little too close to the gate. The airport staff workers arrive and begin to push the wheel chairs toward the gate. The businessmen look at them with great disdain, with a look in their eyes as if to say the Vietnam Veteran’s in the wheelchairs are faking just so they can board early. They aren’t faking but the businessmen could care less. The right to board first belongs to them. Corporate America makes the world go ‘round, so the mid-level managers should get the special treatment they deserve, shouldn’t they?
I stand back, taking it all in. The rush for the gate is full on. The posturing, positioning, and the claiming of space is at its peak. The gate is jammed with people. It looks like the road just in front of the Lincoln Tunnel in NYC at 5:30pm on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend. 10 lanes merging into one. Everyone trying to be the first one on the big silver jet. It’s all about the overhead space. The first one on gets the first crack at jamming the over sized, over-stuffed, roller bag into the overhead compartment. Businessmen need leg room you know.
To me, it also looks a lot like a mob of people in a 3rd world country just after a disaster – all positioning for an aid package from the Red Cross. This place is out of control. I scream (well, maybe just in my mind) to the mass of people ‘ “hey, take it easy people – there is no rice up there……it’s just an airplane”
The boarding begins. Wheel chairs first, no call for families traveling with small children or people who might need a little extra time in boarding (nope – screw them – get the businessmen on damn it!), then first class, then boarding group #2 – this includes premium flyers of this airline. Exactly 4 seconds later she announces that premium flyers from their “partner airlines” can also board at their leisure. People everywhere. Lines merging. People walking up from the side and cutting into the line. Me, I am still sitting back, taking it all in. Its time now for group 3. Hey, that’s me. I get in line. A businessman runs up and cuts me off. He is talking on his blue tooth headset so he says nothing to me. He just gives me a look like, “sorry buddy – I just got upgraded”. I step aside.
I finally get on the plane. I am in seat 34B. Yep, last row, middle seat, right by the bathroom. I look up and guess who is heading down the aisle. Yes, it’s the Mickey Mouse club and they are heading right for me. They have located that sippy cup and Mommy is looking at me as if she knows I kicked it under the row of seats. It’s clear she doesn’t like me. Oh boy. The screaming kid sits to my right, on his mother’s lap. She appears to be from somewhere in Mississippi. You know what I am talking about……looks like she may have had a bucket or two of KFC this morning for breakfast…wearing a Minnie Mouse tank top, with a little more than I’d like to see hanging out of the side…. a Dale Earnhardt Jr. tattoo on her right forearm (not yet converted from his former #8 to his new #88 – she is clinging on to the Budweiser years as she likes to call them)…..she takes up a seat and a half and she smells like a bucket of the Colonel’s finest extra crispy. This is going to be a long flight as the fun begins……4 hours and I am home.
OK – so this was my second blog entry. I know that I write like I think…and I do it as I am thinking about it. So, the end result is a bit unedited. Sorry about that.
Thanks for listening.