I like airports. I mean, I hate—HATE—airport security because of how dumb people are, but I like airports in general. There’s the fact that it’s okay to drink beer early in the morning. There’s the weird shared existence that exists between so many people who are coming or going but not staying with any semblance of permanence. There’s even the cool stuff that you can see at different airports like availability lights in the bathroom or super long moving sidewalks or a Chili’s that serves breakfast.
But the best part of the airport is people watching. My wife thinks I’m insane because I enjoy getting to the airport way earlier than necessary just so I can have a couple drinks and watch people. People are so, so weird. Everyone’s weird: I’m weird, you’re weird, they’re weird. Airports are a great place for weirdness to shine through because they are spaces of temporary existence. Why should you care if someone sees you doing something weird at the airport? It’s not like anyone is going to see you ever again. Sure, maybe you end up on the same flight with someone who saw you do something odd, but then once you land in Tucson or wherever, you’ll never see or be seen by that person ever again.
While everyone is weird, there are some recurring characters you run into at the airport. Let’s break them down.
1. Mr. Super Important Guy
You will sport Mr. Super Important Guy as he smugly gets into the TSA Precheck security line that is about 95% shorter and faster than the line you’re in. He’ll have all of his stuff ready to be scanned and searched, and is probably wearing slacks and a polo but carrying a garment bag. He’s just making quick trip to his company’s corporate HQ in Atlanta, but because he does that every week he knows the airport like the back of his hand. If you accidentally get in his special security line, he will notice that your boarding pass doesn’t fit in there and will tell you politely but somewhat condescendingly that you and the other peasants belong in the other line. His garment bag and briefcase match and he has leather luggage tags with his initials embossed in them. If it takes more than two minutes to get through security he gets impatient.
2. The Food From Home Group
I’m going to tell you something that I wish fewer people knew: You can generally bring your own food onto a flight as long as you’re willing to let it go through security. God forbid anyone brings a bottle of water with them, but three quarts of garlic, onion, broccoli, limburger, and curried lamb chili is just fine. Normally this is a mother traveling with a family, but weirdly it’s never young kids. It’s like a mom, a dad, and a couple teenagers who know without a doubt it’s weird that their mom is bringing food and plastic utensils with them. The strangest part of this group is that the mom normally has no idea how to go through security. She figured out the food, but the bag, belt, shoes, jacket, metal objects, and travel toiletry restrictions are beyond her comprehension, and the result is that everyone is stuck behind the smelly chili for an extra ten minutes. This person always reminds me of one of my all-time favorite Saturday Night Live moments.
3. The Confident Dumbass
This is my personal least favorite person on the list. The Confident Dumbass is normally a mid- to late-twenties white guy who somehow manages to get every part of the security line wrong. “Please remove all laptops from their cases and put them in a separate grey bin,” says the TSA agent once every 15 seconds for the entire thirteen minutes you’re in line. But does Confident Dumbass comprehend that? Absolutely not. They are also wearing a belt made out of uranium and shoes that require a valet and special equipment to untie, and they’re carrying a pellet gun, several full sized bottles of shampoo, and a clock radio specifically designed to look like a bomb, all in the pictured bag. I love a good practical joke, but I don’t know that the airport security line is the property venue for that. If you’re really lucky, you’ll even catch him listening to music with his headphones in and being so engrossed in texting that he’ll have to be summoned eight or nine times before he realizes it’s okay to move forward.
4. The Unpack/Repack Matriarch
We’ve all been at the airport and seen a frazzled woman frantically unpacking an oversized, overstuffed suitcase all because little Sally or little Timmy can’t remember if they packed their sixth-favorite toy. And look, I get it. I can sympathize with that. I’m not judging this person. But they just radiate stress and anxiety. This vacation is not actually a vacation for them. It’s being a mom but with twice or three times the effort because now you’re having to keep track of kids and their crap in several different locations over several days. The search involves completely unpacking the suitcase, finding the toy, being told “okay, you hold it, I just wanted to make sure it was there” by a four-year-old, then repacking the entire suitcase only this time it’s not wanting to shut. Most of the time this person is already at the gate when they’re doing this, but sometimes it’s in a concourse or even a restaurant. Eventually the mom reaches her breaking point and ignores her kids just long enough to get on Facebook and make a post about how excited she is to be going on vacation.
5. The Obscure Destination Bachelor/Bachelorette Party
If you’re looking for this crew you will normally find them at a bar, sitting in tables closest to the concourse and talking loudly. If it’s a bachelorette party, they will probably have shirts that say #BrideSquad or #InItToNguyenIt, if the groom’s name is Nguyen. They’ll be having fun, throwing back a few drinks, and generally talking about whatever. Then, an hour later, you’ll spot that same group at the gate next to yours and it turns out they’re going to Omaha or Des Moines or Cincinnati, and that’s when your brain breaks just a little. Now you’re trying to figure out if they’re on their way back FROM a bachelor(ette) party instead of on their way TO a bachelor(ette) party. I mean, what kind of stuff is there to do in Omaha that would be worth flying to? Does the party have some weird shared interest and there’s a convention in Omaha for that fandom? Or maybe they all met when they were freshmen at Creighton and are going back to relive college for a weekend? Surely they didn’t rule out Florida or Vegas or New Orleans or California in favor of Omaha? Who knows. This is a disappointing group to see because you’ll likely never get the full story.
6. The Middle Aged Women on a Girls’ Trip
I’m not a parent, but I’ve heard it’s exhausting. Especially for moms, who, let’s be real, are more likely to be the ones cooking, cleaning, and generally overseeing the day-to-day for kids for the most part. And when those kids are grown, that’s when mama gets to party a little bit. You’ll see a group of 2–6 women all in their forties or fifties traveling together. Maybe they’re going to Mexico or Hawaii or whatever, but they might also being going to Galveston to catch the Foreigner/Journey/Loverboy “I Love the 80s” cruise, or they might be going somewhere like Napa for a weekend of shopping and wine drinking. There’s always a lot of somewhat nervous excitement with this crew. For the most part they probably haven’t traveled without their family in many years, and maybe they’re uncertain how enjoyable it will be under those circumstances. I’m always rooting for this group, though. I want them to go have a blast and annoy the crap out of other friends and family with stories for a few months. Seeing that kind of happiness on the faces of people who truly deserve it is one of life’s great pleasures. (Note: the picture is from the movie Wine Country, which is on Netflix and might be the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame because Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Ana Gasteyer, and Maya Rudolph are some of my favorite actresses/comediennes out there.)
7. The School Trip
I was actually able to go on a couple school trips that involved flying and they’re normally pretty fun. But these have to be broken into two groups: high school and college. The high school trip normally involves some extracurricular activity like band, sports, academic decathlon, etc. Most often the kids are wearing some sort of matching ensemble and are rowdy in a very high school way. No alcohol, no homework, just high school kids excited about traveling with one to three paltry overseers. The college crowd is normally on their way to a study abroad. Some of them are old enough to drink, and they’re not as close to each other as the high school kids so the socializing is more subdued. Either way it’s fun to strike up a conversation with either group because allowing people the opportunity to talk about themselves is another of life’s fun moments, provided you know you’ll never see them again and have a quick out if they get weird. My go-to is always, “well it was great talking with you but I need to run to the restroom one more time before we take off,” then I just leave.
8. The Drunk Strangers who are Friends Now
This is the most recently discovered group for me, and I have the story of my discovery as an example. One time I was flying from Lubbock to Austin for a friend’s wedding. Because I was flying Southwest, I had a layover in Dallas that lasted about three hours. I decided to go to Cantina Laredo and have a few drinks and some chips and salsa while I waited for the connecting flight to Austin. At the bar sat two middle aged men, one empty seat between them, drinking margaritas and talking loudly about everything from the 1977 Dallas Cowboys to the circumstances surrounding a prostate exam. They were pretty funny in the same way it’s funny to see your dad interact with his friends in a casual setting. They kept drinking and eventually began to seem a little tipsy. Finally, after two plus hours of being there, one of the guys stood up, said he his flight would be boarding soon, and then asked the other guy what his name was. At least two hours of fluid conversation had taken place since I got there (and there’s no telling how long they’d been talking before I arrived) and they didn’t even get each other’s names. These guys didn’t know each other from Adam, and yet for two hours they talked like old friends. Since that time I have noticed similar interactions at almost every airport I’ve been to, and it’s hilarious to me. They always remind me of those Bill Brasky sketches from Saturday Night Live.
9. The Sunburnt and Exhausted Returners
You have to look quick to see these folks normally because more often than not you see them as they are getting off the plane you’re about to board. Some flight returning from Cabo or Corpus or Destin or whatever lands at your gate, empties out, and then after some time you board the same plane. But in those few minutes, you’ll see some folks who truly look like they’ve been rode hard and put away wet. Advanced sunburns cover large sections of visible skin, and the wincing tells you there’s some discomfort beneath the clothing, too. They probably should have stayed one fewer day than they did. Their expression shows mixed feelings. On one hand they’re glad to finally be off the plane and heading to the parking lot so they can get home. On the other hand they have been traveling all damn day and for some reason the 45 minutes from the airport to their home is going to be the most exhausting part. If you’re exceptionally lucky, this will be one of the bachelorette parties from earlier, and you’re finally able to figure out that they were only flying to Omaha so they could catch their connection to Daytona Beach.
10. The Backpackers
They’re almost always in pairs. Either two guys, two girls, or one of each. When it’s one of each, they’re for sure a couple and one of two outcomes are inevitable: This is the trip they break up, or this is the trip they get engaged. They’re flying to Denver or Salt Lake or Atlanta, but only to catch a smaller flight to Montana or Wyoming or the head of the Appalachian trail. They also might be going to Europe to backpack around less touristy countries like Slovenia, Estonia, and Croatia. Their clothing is intense, with many pockets and sippers. Their backpacks are enormous and will come back home at least nine or ten shades darker from all the grime they’ll get on them. If you’re catching them on the return home, at least one of them will be a day or two past when they were first in desperate need of a shower. If it’s an experienced duo, there will be a million patches and stickers on their bag. As much stuff as they have in those backpacks, they’ll be quick in the security line.
11. The Campers
I don’t mean people who are at the airport to fly to a camping destination. I meant the people who somehow manage to take up 400 square feet of gate space even though there are only two of them. One of them will be lying down across several seats, and the other will be sitting on the floor with their legs spread wide. Bags, food containers, clothing, and other minutia will litter the area around them and the result is that two people are taking up 18 seats plus all of the floorspace between them. The worst part is that they normally don’t even start packing up until the boarding announcements have been made, and as such they impede the path to the boarding line. These people woke up seven minutes before they left for the airport, and both should have taken the time to shower and brush their teeth. Sometimes it’s a family that is just allowing their kids too much freedom at the gate, too. That’s annoying as all get out, but I at least kind of understand that one. You don’t want kids being too cooped up before they get on a plane and have to be cooped up for several hours.
12. The Boarder Buttholes
I’ve saved the most hilarious for last. I want to start by saying that I enjoy getting on the plane as soon as I am able to, most of the time. For one thing, I’m a big guy and on airlines like Southwest where there are no assigned seats, I like to get in and grab an emergency row or something near the front because the seats themselves are bigger there. But on a flight with assigned seats I still like to board when I’m first allowed to because I want to make sure I can access the overhead bin if I can and I just generally don’t like feeling like I’m behind schedule. But there are some people who insist on staking their claim in the boarding line about 15 minutes before their group will be called. As soon as the gate attendant calls for disables passengers, activity duty military, and priority access members, the Boarding Buttholes from Group D are gonna be standing right at the head of the line. Oh, no, they won’t actually be in the line, but they’ll be standing close enough so that when Group D is called they will be first in line. Unfortunately, even not technically being in the line is super inconsiderate because they are blocking points of ingress and egress and are confusing people who are actually supposed to be boarding at that time. But the funniest thing of all is trying to figure out what their logic is. I can almost—almost—understand it if it’s a Southwest flight with no assigned seats. But if your ticket says “Boarding Group D, Row 28, Seat A,” then there’s no real advantage to being the first or last person in your boarding group. And if you’re really that concerned about overhead bin space, then buy the earlier boarding group. Sometimes these folks are even rude to you. It’s weird. I asked one if he was in line one time because I honestly couldn’t tell, and his response was “can’t you read the sign?” So I said, “oh, I know I’m in the right spot, but I was wondering what you’re doing here and was giving you a chance to not look like an asshole.” I get impatient with people sometimes.
But there you have it. Those are the twelve people you’ll see at the airport. Safe travels, everyone.