Let’s face it, at one point in time in the next year you will be joining the throngs of people standing in a decade’s long line waiting for the three TSA Agents who are actually working to finish tearing apart the old lady’s handbag so you can have your naked body imaged and saved for all posterity. Once that ordeal is complete you file with the rest of the herd to your gate and then sit and wait because the airline told you to show up two hours early. Unless you are an aviation junkie–of which I am a proud member… as I type this I am listening to ATC conversations between Denver Tower and incoming and departing flights–you are will inevitably become bored to death and possibly miss your flight due to your unconscious boredom.
And then, just when you think you will be called to get into a thin, aluminum tube for a few hours, they tell you that your flight has been delayed, or worse yet, cancelled. Now what?
Unless you are in Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport with its Rijksmuseum where you can peruse works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh, or Hong Kong International with its PGA regulation 9-hole golf course, or Singapore Changi and its two-story butterfly grotto, or Seoul Incheon where you can dress in traditional Korean garb or learn about about Korean culture at the UNESCO artifact museum, you are probably stuck in one of the other thousand airports that are dank, dull, concrete structures that reek of desperation and sadness. And then there’s La Guardia.
So, what are you supposed to do? Here are a few suggestions to make your next trip a bit more entertaining.
1. Look For Spies
Despite all the cyber espionage that is going on around the world, there is still a need for boots on the ground. And these people have to get from place to place, too! Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and stroll the concourse. Now, these people won’t be dressed in dark black trench coats with dark green Ray Bans over their eyes. Their government ids will be secreted within special pouches in their clothing. This will make it a bit more difficult to find them since they will be dressed like everyone else. However, you can spot some subtle differences between a regular traveler and a spy. Here are a few tips to help you be more successful:
- They’ll be more cautious about their surroundings. They may even be sitting alone.
- Are they exceptionally fit for someone their age? Do their hands show signs of fighting recently?
- Do they look too much like a tourist? It’s one thing to try to fit into your surroundings, but another to do so to the point of standing out.
- Are they traveling light? Most spies will have equipment waiting for them at their op-site.
Once you found the spy, what should you do?
Your civic duty, of course!
You should follow them. Follow them into Starbucks. Follow them into the bathroom. Sit behind them at the gate area. Make sure they know that you, a simple schmuck, were able to blow their cover.
2. Sit and listen to the shoeshine guys
These will be the cheeriest, happiest people you will see in an airport since the government did away with meeting your family at the gate. They greet every person who sidles up to their wooden and leather station with a hearty “Hello!” or “Glad to see you!” They take silence or grunts from the businessmen who plop themselves down on the seat and hide themselves behind a newspaper or magazine with the same innocent happiness a child has when you put desert in front of them.
And then the shoeshine guy goes about spit-shining and polishing expensive leather shoes scuffed from inconsiderate suitcases and narrow aircraft aisles and tells a story. Most of the time it falls on deaf ears as the men sitting on the worn leather seats fade into their own world. But the shoes, they listen. They hear a story about the time when the shoeshine guy was on patrol near Dak To and his unit stumbled upon a group of North Vietnamese soldiers withdrawing across the border. Those shoes hear about how his daughter is getting ready for prom and how the he doesn’t trust the boyfriend as far as he can throw him. But daddy’s girl is growing up and his wife says he needs to trust her. He can’t imagine letting her go away to college, and then walking her down the aisle. He tells them about his cousin in New Orleans who plays in a little jazz group and how Katrina nearly wiped out the club. But, he says with a boast, jazz survives anything. Every shoe gets a story whether the owner wants one or not.
Be the shoe.
3. Social deviance
Society has a set of norms that we all follow. Most are ones that we can live with. For example, don’t pick your nose then shake someone’s hand. The group-held “norms” help shape the society in which we live. We see them everyday from the handshake at the end of a sports match to the thank you cards you write after you receive gifts. These are the unspoken guidelines that help society move from day to day and give us, the peasants, an understanding of how we should behave in certain environments. Airports have their own strict set of social norms and that makes them the best place to be a little deviant. Now, be careful with deviance. Criminal behavior is considered deviant and we wouldn’t want you doing anything that prevents you from getting to grandma’s house. Well, maybe in some cases. So, here are a few suggestions for deviating from the norm in the airport:
- Walk an imaginary pet through the concourse.
- Go into the restroom, put all your clothing on backwards, return to the concourse and walk backwards going against the flow of pedestrian traffic, and, if possible, use the “wrong” moving sidewalk.
- Watch the airport television and laugh at your own show or cheer as though your favorite sports team just scored.
- Follow something incredibly amazing (though completely imaginary) along the ceiling.
- Strike up a conversation with the person in the bathroom stall next to you.
- Be polite. Say “hi” to people. Wish strangers a wonderful trip. Be excited for them. Stand at the gate area and welcome people to the airport, and if it is your hometown to your wonderful city and state.
Just as a side note, one of the biggest social norms Americans have are their personal space bubbles. I don’t suggest testing these invisible boundaries lest you find yourself in a small, white room with a flickering fluorescent light and two security agents with gloves on their hands telling you to lean over and relax.
4. Play hide and seek
Though it might seem like the endless rows of uncomfortable leather-like chairs would make for a rousing game of duck, duck, goose! people these days just don’t like being pat on the head like we did when we were children. While it may seem that hide and seek would belong under the social deviance section, this version of the game is not so much deviant as it is slight of hand.
The trick here is to get people to notice you. No. You shouldn’t jump up and down and shout that you have a bomb or that you see little gremlins on the wings of the airplane. Remember those gloved agents? The goal here is to be subtle. Casually stroll the boarding area; feign looking for a nice seat to stack your mountain of carry-on luggage upon. Make eye contact with a few people. Get them to follow you with their eyes. Get into their mind. They probably won’t follow you for long, but if you’ve done your job you’ve piqued their interest and they’ll look for you again. Once you have the attention of one, two, and, if you are real good, dozens your goal is to then disappear from sight. I would suggest finding a few hiding places before you begin. Make sure that you will be able to see the “seekers” from hiding place. Once out of sight, watch as they sit in a confused wonderment, maybe even a slight panic, as you mysteriously vanish from the waiting area.
5. Ruin someone else’s flight
Maneuvering into your seat these days is like trying to get your hips into a toddler’s swing on the playground. And really, airlines haven’t changed the seat all that much from the 1970s. They were 18 inches then, 17 inches now. What’s changed is our waist size and that dastardly thing called seat-pitch–the distance from any one spot on the seat in front of you to that exact spot on your seat. In the ’70s that distance was an average of 35 inches. In today’s modern coach, that distance has shrunk to 31 inches. Don’t think that four inches matters? The average seat-pitch in a stadium style theatre is 37.5 inches. Plenty of room to cross your legs. But this isn’t about seat-pitch or our growing butt sizes.
This is about they way people travel.
Option 1: You can earn the title of Mr./Mrs. Dastardly Evil.
They are everywhere in the airport. The wedding party heading out to a hedonistic bachelor/ette party, most likely in Las Vegas. The Spring Break group heading to Mexico or Florida or Texas. The buddies heading out for a weekend golf trip. And what do all these groups have in common? They are looking to party. Help them get started. Buy them round after round at the pub. Ply them with liquor. Odds are they will either…
- Be down right annoying during the entire flight, or
- Cause the flight to be delayed or, if the flight makes it out onto the taxiways, have to return to the gate. The is the evil part in all this is that you are messing with over one hundred other travel itineraries, and that is only for that flight. You are also impacting the people at the next airport and so on.
Option 2: Be the optimist
For some reason we love to hate everything. “Oh, you believe the opposite of me? Well, you are wrong and I hate you.” We champion mediocrity–see the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, et all–and then grouse that mediocrity surrounds us. We demand cheap products, but sue because of defects and complain because “we deserve caviar for chicken egg prices.” We are, each and everyone of us, precious in our own worlds. We tear down those who have succeeded where we have failed, but we don’t look to see what we could do to be successful. And these are your fellow travelers.
Nothing ruins a sour mood better than an overly positive person. When the person lugging a mattress-sized carry-on launches into a tirade with the gate agent because they have to gate check the infernal beast, quietly offer to carry their haul down the jetway to the aircraft for them. When the person sitting next to sourly accepts the tiny bag of peanuts and sip-sized soda, politely remind them that a third of the population of the Sudan is facing starvation right now and would gladly accept the food presented them. Remind them that their personal desire to fly the cheapest fare possible has made this situation possible. When they turn around and throw “But the CEO is a greedy, corporate slug.” Nod knowingly and remind them they could have driven. When they say they won’t support the oil and gas monstrosity, give them the option of walking instead. Be positive and find solutions to their litany of issues, because the days of flying with happy people who dress up for the occasion are long gone. Find joy in the dreariness of the airport. Relish in child-like excitement of flight as though it was the first time you were going to soar above our great nation.
6. Build a fort
Nearly every child in America has had the opportunity to build their own little fort out of furniture and sheets. Imagine the creations you can think of while sitting bored at the airport. Claim a few rows of unused seats and start building. You can use your rolling carry-ons as sliding doors, coats can be used as “tent” covers, and your remaining carry-ons can be stacked up to serve as your throne.
7. Have fun with your phone
There are a couple of things you can do here.
Option 1: Set up your own hotspot wifi. If your phone allows for a wifi hotspot (tether) create a wifi for the people in your waiting area. Give it some creative name. I’ve included a few for you here:
- IP freely
- Don’t Get On That Plane
- Unsecured Virus Infected WiFi
- Get Your Own WiFi
- Amish LANd
Option 2: Take your phone and stand near the windows that overlook the ramp area. Begin an intense phone conversation with no one. If you are a guy, you could say things like: “But it was supposed to be his baby!” or “No! She thinks I’m going on a business trip, I promise!” If you are a girl, you could say things like: “Oh my God! Seriously, how much wax could they possibly need!” or “It was so sad. He thought it was a billy club, but it was more like a toothpick.”
So, next time you find yourself in one of the world’s most depressing airports, remember, there are always things you can do to keep yourself entertained.