The five people you’ll meet in travel hell

The five people you’ll meet in travel hell
The lights at O'Hare, home sweet home.

Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” If that’s true, then so is heaven. People just are what they are. It’s the “No Exit” part of Sartres’ equation that creates hell. Hell is standing in lines and sitting at airplane gates with the same 150 people for just over 10 hours. It’s not that they’re so bad. It’s just that you can’t get away from them.

I’m the type who goes inside her head in these situations. I disengage from the chaos and watch other people. And then I write blogs about them. I love to organize and so I began sorting the people into types. Here are five:

The Missionary

These women are drawn to me. I am their magnet. They are a tiny bit sassy, could survive alone in the woods with only a flashlight and a hairpin, and seize every opportunity they can to tell their story. On this trip she was wearing as many clothes as she could so she wouldn’t have to check a bag: her underwear, cuddle duds, socks, boots, a turtleneck, denim jumper, and a polartec jacket. I know this because she told me and showed me (all but the underwear).

She has had a torrid time with United Airlines, after that time when she had to travel from the Philippines to Boise in order to meet her daughter who was having a baby but got stuck in Orlando and the airline wouldn’t pay for her to go on another airline and when she finally did get to Boise she had to wait three days for her luggage, another reason why she doesn’t want to check a bag. And the wheel chair wasn’t waiting for her, so she just ran to her connecting gate despite the fact she’s just had surgery and she’s wearing a support belt on top of all these clothes and, boy is she hot, and she’s ok with the fact that the doors for that flight had closed just a few minutes before she got there, because “God is good.” 

Maybe he is but he needs to quit trying to remake “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” with random people just trying to get home from a conference. Really, no one is going to do better than the original.

The Asshole 

You know this guy. His definition of success is to be at least three people in front of you in every line. So hellbent on getting a place in line, he will elbow you out of his way at security and look crushed when you snap, “Back off.”

He’s the first person to yell at the Customer Service agent, and he rants with his body partially turned toward the folks in line because this is a performance. He rumbles, “No one calls me ‘Johnson.’” His last name is Johnson and the agent has no idea what his problem is.

But I do. He and Johnny Walker have become very close over the past few hours. “Mr.” Johnson is wasted after half a dozen drinks and is in desperate need of some inhibitions.

The First Class Businessmen

These guys don’t know the price of a gallon of milk. They are waiting to be rebooked in a line with eight other people. Three gate agents are helping them, so I don’t have much time to observe them from my line of 140 people with three gate agents helping us.

I do have a chance to overhear one of them saying to the other, “Who becomes a Customer Service Rep? I mean, really. Who says, when I go to work I want to be a United Customer Service Rep? I mean, these people chose these jobs.”

The other guy replies, “Well they’re probably grateful to have jobs.”

The Toddler

You gotta love honesty. Toddlers just speak their truths. “No.” “Down.” “Don’t want to.” There is no artifice, no baggage. They don’t project their own weaknesses onto you and they aren’t aware of first class and coach. They don’t care what has to go under the seat in front of them.

They just are. And sometimes the lucky little guys get moms who know how to have fun, who chase them from one end of the line to the other, who swing them around, and make them giggle and find crackers and then snap them into a baby carrier on their shoulders. where they fall asleep, exhausted and blissfuly unaware of it all.

The Gate Agents

This is not their first rodeo. (Well, all except for the ridiculously young one who makes you put your wallet inside your backpack before you board so you won’t have too many bags to carry on. You resist sharing your reflection that the wallet is there whether she sees it or not.)

They see us every day. They are abused and harried. They are the primary audience for the Mr. Johnsons of this world, whom they have to rebook whether or not anyone can comprehend why they chose their jobs.

They are sometimes long-suffering and kind. They ask to hold the babies and give you airline bling you don’t want and food vouchers for restaurants that aren’t open because it’s so late at night. They listen to the stories and laugh at just the right moment and then steel themselves for the next person in line.

Maybe hell is other people, but so is life. And, I have to say I was content to share my little piece of hell with this lot.

To read about the adventure I took just to get to the airport, read my previous blog post

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