The ‘Airport Experience’
By Janice Lindsay, Contributing Writer
Once you’re on an actual airplane — excuse me, “aircraft” — nothing much happens, if you’re lucky. You just sit there and hand your life over to fate or the pilots, whichever you trust more.
The challenge is to survive the Airport Experience with your perception intact that you are an actual, individual, honest human being worthy of respect.
You must remind yourself: I am not a terrorist or a criminal of any sort. Because as soon as you step into an airport, it is assumed that you are. You must have a government-issued ID, or not fly. You must remove your shoes and other personal items before passing through security. You must pass through security. You must not carry on the plane anything from the list of things you must not carry on the plane. You must go through the harmful-device detector and prepare for further intrusion on your person. On my most recent trip, I passed the X-ray machine test, except that the female security officer felt compelled to pat down the barrette in my hair, which has a metal clasp. Good news: My hair is not a terrorist.
My general approach to airline travel, on the ground or in the air, is: Read a book and pretend you’re someplace else.
However, the airports’ recurring loud-speaker announcements worm their way into my brain, until I feel forced to listen. I wait for the one message that doesn’t come.
The messages are about don’t. Don’t leave your baggage unattended, or the security people will whisk it away and blow it up. Don’t carry anything for somebody you don’t know.
I wait for this one simple thank-you message:
“Thank you for visiting our airport today. We know that we treat you like inmates in Alcatraz, that we herd you like cows going to the slaughterhouse, and that we view you as just a bunch of bodies that we’re required to move through the system. We know that airport personnel are not inclined to smile at you, never mind be pleasant. Thank you for being passive and following orders without causing us any trouble.”
You can identify frequent flyers by their facial expression: impersonal, resigned, determined patience while walking through the airport; otherwise buried in the world of their electronic devices as I try to hide in the world of my book.
Now, for a little airline-industry vocabulary while you’re at the airport. You don’t get on a plane — oops, “aircraft” — you “board” it. Later, you won’t get off, you’ll “deplane”; you will not “de-board” or “de-aircraft.”
Some people “pre-board.” I have not personally experienced pre-boarding, but I’ll bet it feels exactly like boarding except that you do it before everybody else. The “pre” suggest it’s a practice run; get on, get off, and maybe the next time you’ll get it right.
Speaking of thank-you messages, which I was a few paragraphs ago, I’d like hear this one from an airline person: “We know there’s not enough room in the overhead bins for the carry-ons that you bring because we charge you extra to check luggage. We know your seats are custom-fitted to skinny ten-year-olds. And we don’t personally care if you weaken from malnutrition in flight. But thank you for choosing our airline anyway. We hope you’ll fly with us again but not too soon because, frankly, you’re a nuisance.”
Enjoy your flight.
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