On my most recent trip abroad, I found myself at one of the worst airports I’ve ever been to for an extended layover. It was dirty and chaotic and most of the people I encountered were not the…’happiest’, let’s just say.
It got me thinking, what is it about airports that brings out the very best and worst of humanity? On one hand, you’ve got people saying goodbye, greeting loved ones, anticipating adventures and looking forward to making memories of a lifetime. However, on the other (not-so-attractive) hand, you have people who behave as if they were born in a barn or that their precious time is so much more valuable than everyone else’s.
Oddly enough, I’ve long since loved airports in a weird way. They are each like a little sociological study just waiting to be done – like a microcosm for the world at large. You see a lot of people from all over the globe, from all walks of life, all going about their lives, all with their own story and baggage.
The voyeur in me likes to sit and watch people’s airport behaviour, which is usually raw and uncensored. As sweet as it can be sometimes, it can also get ugly, and I’ve often wondered (and hoped) that it’s due in part to the stress of travel and not how people behave in their ‘real’ lives.
At first glance, most people seem to be so determined and organized and focused. But more often than not, these same people are invariably frazzled, annoyed and impatient with everyone who dare stand in their way to just about everywhere – from the bathroom to the boarding gate.
Don’t get me wrong, I get impatient sometimes too, but it actually helps calm me down every time I’m in a line up or at a checkpoint and there is the most annoying woman who insists on sighing as loud as possible, shaking her head with a furrowed brow, hoping someone catches her scowl and gives her a “I hear ya sister” look of commiseration.
And what’s with all the huffing and puffing at said line ups and checkpoints? Are you seriously annoyed that you’ve been asked to remove your belt and shoes? Perhaps you didn’t notice that every single person is going through the same procedure. And has waiting for people to put their belongings through the little scanner machine really thrown you for a loop? Perhaps you weren’t expecting this practice as it’s only been a part of commercial aviation dating back over 50 years.
Recently I was waiting for a flight to board at a smaller airport abroad where there was a second screening area as you entered the specific airline’s waiting room. I was listening to the conversation between the irate middle-aged woman and the innocent airport attendant. Why was she angry!? Well, this guy had the audacity to tell her he had to confiscate her wire cutters. WIRE CUTTERS. IN HER CARRY-ON. AND SHE WAS ANGRY ABOUT IT.
Then you get on the plane and things aren’t much better. I know that most people may not travel as much as some of us, but c’mon…isn’t airplane etiquette pretty much the same as regular ol’ life etiquette? Does your presence on an airplane suddenly give you reason to cough or sneeze in such a confined space without covering your cooty-filled orifices? Must you kick the back of my chair because you’re trying to adjust yourself and your legroom which I’m sure is smaller for you and you only? Do you think your personal space will perhaps expand if you push your seat forward long enough? And is it just me or have flight attendants not been telling us to put our seats in the upright position and seatbelt on during take-off and landing as long as commercial flights have been on the go? So why the look of astonishment when she calls on you to follow suit?
And then there’s the disgusting behaviour of clipping nails, picking noses, and perching bare feet on the armrest of the chair that belongs to the person in front of you…yup, real live humans do this, folks. In front of other humans. Because they think it’s acceptable behaviour.
I’m not the only person appalled at this, but I was still shocked to come across an instagram account dedicated solely to the trend known as “passenger shaming”. I’m all for venting and totally get the outrage at some of this behaviour, but I was a little surprised at it – not that people feel the need to passenger shame – but that people actually look through and even ‘follow’ what is essentially a collection of gag-worthy photos of feet and bare chested men. Isn’t seeing these images what repulses us in the first place? Needless to say, I didn’t browse through, nor did I sign up.
I did look through the passenger shaming website (http://passengershaming.com) and corresponding facebook page that boasts over 300,000 members and even more complaints. The tag line on their page says:
Are these assholes serious? Photos taken by anonymous flight attendants & passengers from all over the world. Don’t end up here.
And then there was the recent skit on Jimmy Kimmel Live by actor Patrick Stewart acting out the worst airline passengers (http://laughingsquid.com/sir-patrick-stewart-acts-out-a-list-of-the-most-annoying-airline-passengers-on-jimmy-kimmel-live/). It’s safe to say I’m not alone in my frustration.
Yet for all the shocking behaviour and annoyances, there is some airport behaviour that I find touching, for it shows the beauty of people and their relationships. For example, I love to see people who are waiting for their loved ones, and the anticipation has them checking their watches every five minutes or looking at the flight boards incessantly, as if the plane might arrive quicker if they will it to.
I especially like the sad goodbye where the grandfather or the dad gets teary-eyed, saying goodbye to his kids and making sure they’ve got everything. I also like the reunion where someone runs into someone’s arms, kids are jumping up and down, flowers are given and tears of joy are flowing. I always wonder where they were and how long it’s been since they’ve seen each other. Often times, if I can’t hear them, I’ll make up little scenarios about their conversations and what their stories are. More than once I’ve found myself in tears at the scene before me, which is usually followed by a mad dash to hide it so that nobody sees the creepy lady in the corner all up in their faces, crying over something that is clearly none of her business.
I also like it when you’re on a plane and you get lucky enough to sit next to someone who is friendly and interesting, but not too chatty and gets the hint when you close your eyes and lean your head on the window. I’ve been stuck next to many a mindless blabber, but I’ve also had a number of chance encounters that were quite profound. There are also those rare occasions when there is something so beautiful to see out the window and everyone whips out their cameras as the pilot excitedly draws your attention to it. Definitely the silver lining of having to be 35, 000 feet above ground.
So the next time you’re in an airport and you are pushed aside by the lady whose time is clearly more valuable than yours or you’re seated in front of the man who’s convinced he won’t be understood unless he screams every word, remember that on the other end of the journey they could turn out to be the sweetest people who greet their loved ones in a way that gets you all misty-eyed. Sure, you want to clobber them now, but remember, they’ve got just as much baggage as you do, maybe more.