Random Notes from the Airport (Part 1: Economy)


Think about this: When Kate and I teach across the country, it can easily take up ten hours of a day to get to the airport, fly over there, get picked up, and taken to a destination, preferably one with a good wine selection. (By which I mean, with a red.) It’s another ten hours going back. We tend to teach eight hours of classes in a weekend.

We often spend more time in an airport or on an airplane than we do teaching at a weekend. For some people, airports are simply a stepping stone to a vacation — they go through the process in a dreamlike state, far too inspired by the destination to concern themselves with the journey. For others—those on the way home to a funeral, for instance— the lifeless interior design and the crust of make up on the passive aggressive flight attendant all to easily magnify the frustrations and futility of life.

For a third type, though, the business traveler, the airport becomes a second home. A home in a strange, strange neighborhood.


An airport, I imagine, is probably the best approximation of what life will be like after the apocalypse.

And it’s not just the general sense of chaos and the attitude of “every-man-for-himself” that permeates the place. It’s also in subtle things. Like the fact that a bottle of water costs more than a year’s salary. Or the strange feeling one develops to stay away from people with children, knowing on an instinctual level that their presence will only alert the hordes.

In 1984 fashion, the chaos of the airport is broken up by the occasional armed personnel, and flight staff who attempt to bring a sense of order and civility to a wasteland peopled by crazed loners who’ve only had three hours of sleep.

Also, there is nowhere comfortable to lie down in an airport. You might argue that the apocalypse wouldn’t be like this, and if you’re right, then you may have just found the thing that makes airports technically worse than the apocalypse.


Random airline etiquette

— Please don’t wear perfume or cologne when you fly.

—Try to recline your seat slowly.

—When boarding, please pay attention to what you are doing with your bags. As someone who sits in a lot of isle seats, you’d be amazed at how often I get hit with oblivious people’s bags.

—When in lines, don’t tailgate. I totally understand the urge to get through lines. But people in airport lines all too often crowd each other and make an already claustrophobic day at the airport even more so. It does nothing but add to the group anxiousness, which we need less of in an airport.


I am not made for airline seats. And I mean this realistically. I am six foot two, and only in exit row seats do I have enough room for my knees not to hit the chair in front of me. I have broad shoulders that are wider than any airplane seat I’ve ever been on that isn’t a first class seat. (But more on that in a future airplane post.)

This means that if I don’t have my elbows resting on the armrest, I have to physically keep my arm in front of my body. Without realizing it, I will slowly lean either to the left or to the right in order to give my body more room. Since there’s usually a stranger on one side of me, this means I almost always, without realizing it, lean into my partner Kate, and no one already forced into the confines of an airplane seat appreciates their precious personal space taken up by a six-foot-two guy, no matter how attractive he is and how good he smells (cough).

I have recently decided that I am going to battle for the armrest, after one too many times of letting assertive four-foot tall people stretch out their limbs and spend the flight drooling and snoring while I sit there like a broken umbrella shoved into a small trash can. It’s my fault for allowing them to hog the armrest the entire time.

The secret is to not be afraid to touch arms. To win that one-inch-wide slab of armrest, you have to be willing to give up your personal space until they surrender. This may mean having some smelly guy’s brillo-pad arm-fro scratching against you, but that’s when you can’t show weakness. He’s expecting you to buckle. How do you think he so confidently took the armrest in the first place? But, mark my words, sooner or later they will be weirded-out enough to give up the armrest. At which point, you just have to make sure to not to touch the movie touch-screen with that hand, or you may have to refight that battle.

In reality, I do try to share the armest. Either I get the back and the other person gets the front, or vice versa, and allow for times when I don’t use the armrest so the other person can have it for awhile. However, my battle one time caused a very large, muscular guy to look at me in a way that said, clearly, “what the fuck’s your problem?” I apologize for the language, but it’s a direct quote from this guy’s stare.

As I had given him my isle seat, I had no sympathy. I responded by keeping my arm on the armrest, and he went back to sleep and didn’t seem to care after that. Afterwards, I wondered what would happen if he had followed his stare with actions, if he had confronted me with all the stereotypical anger a tubby-but-muscular guy with a shaved head and tattoos would in a movie. I think I would have explained my reasons for taking the armrest, and he would have mentioned he had a similar reason to hog the armrest, perhaps with more four-letter-words than I would have used. At which point, I would have said “Well, you know who’s fault it is? The airlines.” It would only take a moment for him to agree that it’s simply not fair to expect modern people to sit comfortably in chairs obviously designed for depression-era ectopmorphs. Like any two people who share a common enemy, I think we would have found a mutual appreciation for each other, and have probably spent the rest of the flight sharing the arm rest and discussing the finer things in SkyMall.

By the way, when we got off the plane, the guy acted like the nicest guy in the world.


True story. One time we were making ourselves comfortable on a full flight that was boarding. There was an empty seat next to me (the isle seat), and soon what can only be described as a morbidly obese man sat into it. However, he didn’t actually sit into it; he was too big. His girth was caught above and over the armrest, and it spilled over into my seat.

A flight attendant came and sized up the situation, then went off to have words with a colleague. The attendant came back with a seat belt extension, but the belt still didn’t fit around the man, and the fact that he wasn’t physically sitting into the seat was a problem.

By this time, all the passengers were seated. The attendant went to the front of the plane, whispering things to the other attendants as she passed. The man himself was totally and utterly unfazed. In fact, I had the strange feeling he was slightly bemused.

Time passed, the plane stood still, and anxious moans and sighs occasionally came from people throughout it. The attendant finally came back to our row to tell the man they had a seat for him in first class. With a bemused look on his face, he made his way to the front. In my frustration-fueled imagination, I heroically stood up and asked if all of us could have a free upgrade to business class while they were at it. But in reality, I just muttered it to Kate.

A few minutes later, the captain came on to apologize for the delay, saying there had been an mechanical issue. Several people around me scoffed, including us, but no further words were said. The flight, if I recall correctly, was 45 minutes late, once they had taken care of the exiting flyer’s baggage.

The fact that it was a full flight meant they had to ask (see also: bribe) someone in First Class to take a different flight. The fact that it took half an hour to do so made me imagine they had to cough up a lot to do it. (Recently I heard them offer $500 travel vouchers, first class tickets on a next flight, and a free hotel room just for someone to give up their economy seat on a full flight, while everyone was still out in the terminal. I can only imagine what it would take to kick someone out of first class on a flight they had just sat down and started getting comfortable in.)

Kate and I spent a good portion of that flight discussing what had happened, and the various things it said about our time and our culture. We also talked about how looking at our world through airlines is like looking at our society through a twisted fun-house mirror. But even twisted mirrors can only reflect reality.

12 responses to “Random Notes from the Airport (Part 1: Economy)”

  1. Next time you’re in the UK, take a Ryanair flight. You’ll love it.

    For airline etiquette see George Clooney in “Up In The Air”.

  2. I can only hope that some day I will develop my wine taste to be able to distinguish between red and white.

  3. Hmmm. I thought it was commonly accepted that whoever has to sit in the bitch seat (that horrible middle wasteland with neither window view nor aisle access) gets *both* armrests…

  4. Best Short Story (Humor) this year but please tell me your tongue is just a little bit in your cheek
    ’cause if it aint – you ARE in the wrong job!

    • I know I concentrated on some negative things in airports, but on the whole I don’t have a problem with them. Especially in the time of smart phones, lap tops and kindles, I get a lot of work done at airports, and occasionally even some dance practice done. So, yeah, tongue a little bit in cheek.


  5. I hope people understand your short comment about reclining your seat slowly. I had a laptop screen crushed when someone reclined fast. The top of the screen got caught on the back of the seat. You think losing your luggage is bad; see how you feel when your $1000 laptop becomes worthless. The person not only was un-apologetic, but questioned why I yelled so loud the moment it happen.

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