Travelling long distances to new places has been part of my life since I were just a child. The first very long journey I recall clearly was the vacation to Pinellas Park Florida with my family in 1978, and I’ve traveled many a weary mile since then.
Last week I flew once again to San Jose for a training class and to meet up with some co-workers in the region whom I rarely get to chat with in person. I had an early morning direct flight from PHX to SJC on American Airways and in typical fashion I arrived at the departure gate well before boarding had begun, and so I quickly scanned the waiting area for a free chair.
Some recurring themes came to mind as I looked about the room, and I began to tick them off as I came upon them. Observation 1 is that the airport waiting chairs are typically the same type. A row of 6 or 8 seats attached together on a shiny metal frame, with wider than an average leather-like seat-cushions which put an additional 2-3 inches of room between waiting passengers. Even with the extra room it’s obvious that complete strangers still do not want to sit side-by-side and so it is customary to see several passengers sitting on one of these benches with an unoccupied seat between each of them. As additional passengers arrive at the gate and find seats available but not contiguously, they will typically choose to stand with their bags rather than squeeze between *two* complete strangers and occupy one of these remaining seats.
After looking past numerous inconsiderate individuals, you know – those who have their ass in one seat and their bag in the seat next to them instead of on the floor in front of them where it should be – I spotted a seat between two nerdy looking fellows in the corner near the boarding ramp door, and made my way over and took a seat without compunction. No one complained, and so I wondered why the others preferred to stand rather than have a rest.
Being the conscientious individual that I am, I placed my backpack on the floor in front of me and tried to take up as little room as possible. I put my prescription distance glasses on and waited for the cattle line to form.
At every airport the story is the same. You listen for the barely intelligible announcements made by speed-talking-operations-crew, who sprint through their sentences with the pronunciation agility of an auction barker who has become completely bored out of their mind from having to babble the same information every day of every week, repeatedly and, seemingly ad infinitum.
“Attention all passengers, American Airways flight 667 with service from Phoenix to San Jose will now begin boarding at gate B-Seven.”
More instructions are given that First Class, Preimum, Executive, and upgraded passengers are to board first. Then any passengers with disabilities or small children. Then they board the remaining cattle in three groups. Tickets marked Group 1 will board when they call for Group 1. Tickets marked group 2 will board when they call Group 2. My ticket is marked Group 3. Guess who boards when they call Group 3?
At any rate as soon as the first call comes up that boarding will begin, approximately 75% of the sitting passengers will stand up immediately. People who are First Class etc will start filing toward the gate attendant with ID and boarding pass to be scanned, and then they trundle on down the jetway to the flight attendant waiting by the open aircraft door. People in groups 1, 2, and 3 will start jockeying for position and before you know it, there is a relatively steady stream of cattle being scanned in at the gate door and lining up down the jetway as traffic backs up in the tiny aircraft aisle.
This is where it gets fascinating to me as I remain seated, watching the procession. People moving in baby steps. Inching forward, shuffling one step at a time. Shuffle forward, pull the bag, adjust the purse, fish out the ticket, hand it to the lady, get it scanned and read it two or three more times to remember your seat number. Shuffle forward into the jetway. Stand in line. Wait. Step. Wait. Step. shuffle on down the line and wait.
Eventually they get through the important people, the infirm and young, then groups 1, 2, and 3. Just after Group three they start making final preparations to sign off on departure.
The whole time I sit there watching them until the last one goes through the door and the gate attendant starts checking to see that they have all passengers checked in. In my mind, I’m calculating how far down the jetway the last passenger is. The gate checkers know I’m not on the plane, so they can’t close the doors and they have to wait. I stay calm. I wait for them to say “Final Call for flight 667 with service from Phoenix to San Jose.”
This is my most suitable moment. Now it’s time for me to go. I stand up from my comfortable seat, discard my coffee cup and walk toward the gate attendant and hand her my boarding pass. I walk slowly, but freely down the jetway without a soul in sight. No waiting. No rushing. No anxiety and best of all, No standing in line for me. I get to the jet door, step in and greet the flight attendant, turn to the right and walk to my seat with very little delay. A few passengers are still getting situated and one guy is apparently trying to stuff a carry-on the size of a large dog into the overhead compartment. I dodge around them and get to my seat at row 21. But I have the middle seat so the aisle guy has to stand up, but I don’t care and neither does he. I stuff my bag in the overhead, grab my soda, purse, and fleece jacket, then dive into the seat and strap in for the trip.
I haven’t delayed us. I haven’t made us late. There is still lots of work for the flight attendants to do when the door is closed and they set about getting it done without delay. I was simply the last person to board, and I boarded well before departure was scheduled. I didn’t get anxious or nervous or jockey for position. I knew we had a scheduled time to depart and I used all of my available time until that point to read a few more paragraphs of a book, without wasting of my time in line.