Rushing to Catch A Flight: A Special Kind of Hell
At a time in America when arguing has become the norm, we can all still agree on one thing. Having to rush while flying is the fucking worst. I’m not talking about the “teenage girl describing her parents” definition of worst. I mean the actual definition of worst, which our ol’ friends Merriam and Webster so eloquently describe as “worse than all others”. (Come on, guys. Be better than that). Running for a train sucks. Sitting in traffic blows. But nothing quite compares to the stomach churning, mind numbing, wildly infuriating experience of rushing when you need to catch a flight.
Everything is meticulously planned out the night before. You stared at your phone for 3 straight minutes, waiting for it to be exactly 24 hours before departure time so you can check in. All the items from your hand-written list on the back of a Duane Reade receipt have been accounted for. You’ve quadruple checked that your phone charger hasn’t mysteriously disappeared from the securely zipped pocket on your suitcase. Secretly, you feel like a total bad-ass because you know the TSA liquid limit is 3.4 ounces, but your favorite body wash is 6.3 ounces and you’re not going to let Uncle Sam keep you down. People may as well call you Agent 006.3! (Man, that was a bad joke). You’ve packed and unpacked 4 different times because it’s summer where you live and you truly can’t remember what to wear when it’s 58 degrees out. Hell, you’ve even considered the minuscule possibility that something slips through the cracks of your flawless packing operation and have the universal fix. A wallet full of credit cards. The solution to all your forgetful needs. You’re ready.
A palpable chill runs down your spine. It’s been 8 minutes and your cab hasn’t even gained a first down. Apparently your answer to the driver of “whichever way you think is best” was taken as “whichever way makes this fare large enough to put your kids through college”. Frantic, you pull up Google maps and become aghast to find that the route you’re on is redder than the Presidential voting results of middle America. There are just 2.1 miles to go, but your ETA by walking to the airport is only 3 minutes longer than staying in this jerk’s yellow price-gauging torture chamber. You begin texting your friends about the current situation and receive absolutely no help. Their responses of “ugh, that’s the worsttt” and “is there any other way to get there faster?” are fucking useless. Like, yea Kyle, there are tons of better options, but I’ve recently become an adrenaline junkie and I much prefer agonizing travel situations to the mediocre thrills of BASE jumping. Not only are you going to miss this flight, but you begin to think you need new friends.
By some miracle, you make it to the airport and begin your Jack Bauer-esque task of racing against the clock. The extra 5 seconds for the stupid chip in your credit card to authorize feel like an eternity. You bid the driver farewell with a look of disdain to which they literally couldn’t care less and are on to the next step in this awful process. The security line. As you enter the terminal, a small bit of confidence washes over you. There’s a lightness in your step and a twinkle in your eye. You’re no amateur when it comes to this game. With zero bags to check and a boarding pass saved on your phone, there’s no way you actually miss this flight. You were worried for nothing. All you need to do is make it through securi…..OH MY GOD, THAT CAN NOT BE THE LINE.
Your heart sinks to the bottom of the shoes that will have to be removed in 6 hours once you make it to the end. Why is the line this long? Are they releasing the new iPhone up there? The thing doesn’t even have a damn headphone jack! Your light step has devolved into a thudding sprint. The once known confidence has dissipated. Defeated, you take your place on the end of the line, making sure you walk fast enough to beat the 3 people in front of you headed towards that spot. Of course this won’t make a difference, but you’re in desperate need of even a minor victory wherever you can find it.
You plead with the TSA workers to let you skip the line. Without fail, they assure you that you “have plenty of time” or “the plane isn’t going to leave without you”. Oh yeah? Tell that to all the message boards appearing when “will a plane leave if you have a boarding pass” is Google searched. (Not that you were reading every single post from Yahoo Answers in the cab about this topic or anything). Either way, skipping the line is a no-go and you’re right back where you started.
Now you’re mad. Like really mad. Everything and everyone around you is pissing you off more than having to answer for the millionth time that you know guac is extra. The sound of laughter coming from the group ahead of you is exasperating. What on earth could these people possibly be so happy about? Don’t they know they’re ruining your life? Then, it happens. The line moves 3 feet, but Daniel Tosh and his crew in front of you has remained stagnant while they finish their blubbering laugh-fest. It doesn’t matter that there are thousands (exaggeration) of people in front of them. In your mind, these 3 feet are the difference between you getting on the plane and having to walk of shame your way up to the gate and ask “when’s the next one out?”. All you’re picturing is the joy of Leonidas front-kicking these clowns so they claim that valuable real estate. Alas, they moved.
As you continue moving forward through this tortuous labyrinth, all the usual suspects from your previous security line experiences begin to appear. The little kids running around and ducking under the retractable seatbelts keeping you in your lanes. You decide that you’re never having kids. The girl taking selfies while her phone and head tilt at angles which make no photographical sense whatsoever. Ha! She probably doesn’t even get triple digit likes on Instagram for that picture. The foreigners who have really nice luggage. Is that Louis bag real? The couple taking selfies so you can keep a scrapbook at home of their trip to Cancun. Since everyone wants to do that. The guy talking way too loud on his cell phone saying how as soon as he “touches down” he’s heading straight to the bar. God, I’d love a drink right now. The kind of hot girl with windshield sized sunglasses on so any form of even incidental eye contact is impossible. Whatever. The other guy who is dressed way, way too nicely to be in an airport. Really dude? If you’re that rich, why aren’t you flying private? And finally, the people just like you, standing there in a cold sweat, praying the aviation gods would smile down upon them today. I fucking hate this place.
You’re one person away from the ID/boarding pass check. You know, the part where the TSA employee looks at your ID, stares at you for just a little too long, and then scribbles hieroglyphics all over whatever sheet you need to hand them. As predicted, the person in front of you isn’t ready. How is that possible!? Freaking Paul Revere was over there alerting us to have this stuff out since before I decided I didn’t want to have kids! These 5 seconds are even longer than the chip authorization process. But now this seems like a personal attack, not just a technological devolution in the efficiency of digital payment. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Breathe…
You’ve reached the X-Ray/Body Scanner/I’m Choosing a Pat Down Because I Don’t Trust the Body Scanner portion of the process. All you have to do is make it through this section and you can Usain Bolt your way down to your gate, try to order 2 cocktails on the plane before takeoff (doesn’t work), and immediately claim the shared armrest in your row. You’ve earned it.
One more line to go, but this time you get to pick your poison. You scan the field, looking for who you deem will be the most efficient group to get through the last obstacle before reaching the promised land known as seat 18B. Any line with elderly people or children is immediately thrown out. You don’t have time to worry about ageism right now. Foreigners will be tricky. They can either be experienced world travelers or will be slowed after their first trip to America and consuming 4x as many daily calories as they’re used to due to previously unheard of portion sizes. You decide you can’t let a Wendy’s Baconator be a determining factor in your quest to make the flight and move on. Now there are 2 choices left. Get behind the hungover mid-20's group coming back from a weekend bender (gender non-specific. Ageism was fine, but you draw the line at sexism) or the seemingly well established business people that all have a carry on bag as well as a “personal item” (aka backpack). Your head tells you to go with the corporate sheep, but your heart says the bloodshot eyed millennials are the right choice.
Early returns aren’t looking great. You overhear the Jack Daniels smelling person (gender non-specific) in front of you claim “I’m moving at about 30% right now. My brain and liver hate me”. Meanwhile, the conference call crew is moving with an efficiency Henry Ford’s assembly line could only dream of. You’re about ready to admit defeat when the unthinkable happens. A new lane opens up! It looks like someone from the TSA woke up from their 3rd nap of the day, realized they have 8 scanning stations but were only using 4, and actually tried to make this process easier on the masses! Hallelujah!
You nearly tear you hamstring sprinting over there. After all, you just spent the last God knows how many minutes of your life shuffling like a penguin 3 feet at a time and now you need to run a 4.4 40. Disrobing faster than a kid getting lucky on prom night, you slam all of your necessary clothes into a bin, toss your bag on the conveyor belt, and wait for the attendant to summon you into the scanner.
Arms raised in victory as well as the interest of national security, you stand in the machine waiting for this glorious invasion of privacy to be over. You step out, glare at the blank screen holding your destiny in it’s metaphorical hands, and wait. You’re good! Robing like you just heard the other party’s parents get home on prom night, you grab your bag, shamelessly sprint to the gate, and sit in seat 18B like it’s the Iron Throne. You did it.
Having to rush while flying is an unavoidable anomaly. Sometimes it’s your fault. Sometimes it’s not. Either way, it’s going to happen and I need to figure out how to make enough to fly private so it never happens to me again.