Observations from the airport
I’ve spent way too much time in recent years sitting around airports all over the world waiting for flights. Because I lack the initiative to use that time to work and the intellectual prowess to spend it reading, I have become a very experienced people watcher.
I’ve spent hours literally just sitting around airports and watching people come and go. Sometimes, I wear my earphones so I don’t just look like a creepy old guy sitting around staring at people because I like to think of myself as a writer doing research rather than a leering pervert that people move their kids away from. You see the difference… right?
I’ve noticed that no matter where you are there are certain groups and patterns that seem to be consistent in airport terminals. There are always the business types who are either busy on their phone, working on their computers or both as they wait to board a flight to that I always assume is taking them to some supremely important business meeting.
For all I know they’re heading to Dubuque (that’s a real place … seriously, I’m not clever enough to make that up) to sell plumbing supplies and they’re talking to their wife describing the weird old guy at the airport who keeps staring at them.
Business travelers are way too cool to check luggage so they always have nice designer roller bags and matching computer cases (formally known as brief cases). Generally, they are dressed in a suit (because you can’t pack a suit in a carry-on sized roller, no matter how fancy it is) and seem impatient and annoyed with everyone who isn’t a business traveler.
Technically I am a business traveler because I often travel for work, but since I am not a businessman and have never been to Dubuque, business travelers don’t accept me as one of their own and are generally annoyed that I am allowed to take up space in the overhead bin with my backpack.
Another group commonly sited in airports are just that….groups. Church groups, traveling sports teams, bowling clubs (not to be confused with a sports team…if you can drink beer and smoke while participating, it’s a game not a sport) and tour groups are fall into this category.
Groups are fun to watch because, unlike the business travelers, they are happy to be there and they’re generally busy telling funny stories about hijinks or shenanigans that they have or are about to get into with their friends. They dress comfortably and carry a hodgepodge of carry-on items including stuff they bought at the duty free shops or airport tourist places.
If you want to see what frustration looks like, watch the face of a business traveler when a short chubby lady blocks the aisle during boarding trying to stuff an oversized bag full of souvenir shot glasses, collectable spoons and I “heart” Dubuque t-shirts into the overhead bin while boarding. It’s quality airport entertainment and I recommend it.
Adventure travelers are also annoying to business travelers, so they are also among my favorites. This group includes skiers, climbers, campers, bike riders, hunters and people on their way to or from any non-work activity that requires special gear. Again bowling teams are exempt from this group because, let’s be honest, bowling can be fun but it’s not an adventure (unless you do it blindfolded and drunk).
Adventurers travel alone or in groups and are almost always either animated and excited about what they’re traveling to do or exhausted from doing it. Either way they are usually more than willing to tell the total stranger sitting near them at the airport all about it. If that total stranger happens to be a business traveler it’s fun to watch, but when the adventurer grabs their skateboard, backpack or sleeping bag to attempt to stuff into the overhead bin, it’s freakin’ hilarious to watch and about as good as staring at strangers gets … I mean its quality writing research!
There are other people worth watching in the airport that don’t fit into any of these groups; toddlers are great fun to watch at airports because they are thrilled to be there and want to runaround and touch everything. Their enthusiasm and joy is fun to watch partially because it’s pure and genuine, but mostly because they are not my toddlers and someone else’s problem! That’s my favorite part!
It’s time to board my flight … I guess my research is done!
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.