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Airport Musings

by Hilary Coman

November 8,2009

During the last year, I have had the opportunity to pass a good bit of time in airports. Alas, I have not been traveling the Rio, Jakarta, Paris route but the more pedestrian ones – Charlotte to New York, Charlotte to Columbus, Chicago to Indianapolis, etc.

As a frequent flier, I probably have better airport experiences than most travelers as I’m able to go through lines quicker, check bags for free, and I know up to the exact ounce what I can and cannot take aboard the flight with me. I always park on the same parking floor deck in the same general area. That way, the chances of me finding my car when I return go up exponentially. I know who the drivers are and which ones manage to be cheery at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning. I also know which security lines make sense. (Note: Sometimes it’s quicker to go to the D/E gates line than wait at the preferred line at the other gate.) After stripping down, going through the security gate and reassembling, the experience gets pretty general for most of us.

Sitting in the boarding area, if I’m not reading, I’m people watching. It’s a highly entertaining sport. You see the business woman, the sales guy, and the grandmother; the family with children, the student and every other possible combination. I’m always amazed and impressed by the men or more typically women traveling alone with children. I travel light and it’s a major pain just hauling my roll-on bag and briefcase. I see these women carting strollers the size of Subarus with the kiddies onboard and I am truly impressed. How do they stay sane? They must work out a lot. I figure that’s the only way they can make it happen.

The fun really begins when the gate announcer makes the following statement, “We will begin to board in a few minutes.” Now, while the announcer always gives preference to those who need extra time down the jet way, the entertainment commences just after he or she is done. That’s when all the frequent fliers begin to congregate like lions about to go after a bounding antelope. The magic words are then announced, “Zone 1.” (FYI- after reaching a certain level of frequent flierdom on US Airways, you are always in Zone 1 or 2.) And since a good chunk of my flights are on regional jets, there is no First Class cabin so Zone 1 is, well, Zone 1. To all of us who have been waiting, this is wonderful news. Everybody has already been inching closer and closer to the podium with our boarding passes clutched in front of us. Then, we’re off to the races. He (or she) who moves quickest, boards quickest and gets to put their suitcase actually in the overhead bin associated with their seat. I have often said that a YouTube video of a typical boarding process would be very entertaining. Business folks really can move when they have to.

Getting the overhead space is a small victory, but an important one. The overhead bin space is getting to be as rare as livestock on airplanes, especially on the smaller jets. People don’t want to pay the baggage fees so they haul it aboard. Mathematically, there is just not enough space, so if you board late, either you sit in 3A and your bag rides over 21A, or you get to check them to your final destination right there on the plane. That sort of bag checking has always made me nervous. It seems informal and iffy. I just get worried and that’s when I thank God (or US Airways) for letting me board in Zone 1.

Then, finally settled into our less than commodious seats and assuming we’re not flying to La Guardia, we actually take off. With luck, the seat next to you is empty, and there is no oaf seated in front of you who has reclined the seat back into your lap. The flight attendant pours you a very full glass of Coke with little ice and the US Airways magazine has a fascinating article on something called Airport Musings. Bon voyage! 

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