Amateur Hour

by Steve Brock on December 17, 2010

I have to confess something.

I am, at times, a bit of a travel snob. When I’m in a hurry and in my “just get me there and back” business travel mode, I can be a bit disdainful of those who don’t know the rules of the road.

These “amateur” travelers are inevitably assigned to the last boarding zone and yet congregate at the boarding gate first like cholesterol in the artery of a person who’s dined on donuts every day for forty years. They haul on bundles of stuff that Air Force cargo planes would struggle to accommodate. And when they finally do board, the idea of row numbers and stepping out of the aisle seem as foreign to them as sushi to a Bushman.

So as we get further into the holiday season, a phenomenon I refer to as “amateur hour” goes into full swing. Flights that a month ago would have been filled mostly by white males on their Blackberries wearing either suits or company-logo-embroidered golf shirts now get replaced (or more accurately, overwhelmed by) high school and college students texting as they walk down the aisles or couples herding small children with more questions than a weeklong Jeopardy champion. Combine this with packed planes and flight attendants frantic for an on-time departure and you end up worn out before you ever leave the ground.

Case in point: Last week, I was on a morning flight to Orlando for business. Somehow flying to Orlando for business when everyone else is flying there to see Mickey and other fun things feels like going to the prom with your grandma. But I digress.

I get on the plane in the first wave with other frequent fliers and take my aisle seat near the front. Then, within a five minute period, the following occurs:

  • The masses begin their slow shuffle down the aisle.
  • The guy in my row’s window seat wants to get by. I start to get up but then he quips about crawling over me, etc. Great. A jokester. At this hour. I get up and let him in.
  • I overhear a flight attendant asking a boy why he looks so glum. The father tells her that his son may be grumpy now, but in 24 hours he’ll be on the Indiana Jones ride and let’s just see how Mr. Grumpy acts then…
  • More people herd by.
  • Among the voices of other children, one carries over the rest with this comment: “…and I had to get up at SIX O’CLOCK this morning!” A murmur breaks out among the adults around me with a common sarcastic sentiment of “My heart breaks for you, kid.”
  • An elderly man comes down the aisle and stops next to me, waiting to proceed. He wears a large black daypack that extends out like that of a porter on Mt. Kilimanjaro carrying a month’s worth of supplies. Behind him he hauls a roller bag and in his hand is yet another small bag. Where are the Carry-on Enforcement Police when you need them? But then, he hears the flight attendants say that overhead space in the back is now full. So, with some anxiety, he turns around to look for a free compartment…and whacks me in the face with his large backpack.

 He completes a full 360 degree turn and I hear the guy in the aisle across from me grunt when Quasimodo’s rear load cycles his way. The flight attendant six feet away sees this swath of destruction and tells him to stop, leave his roller bag behind and just proceed down the aisle. On hearing the word “roller bag,” however, he turns around again to make sure it is still there.

This time I see the backpack coming and block some of its impact with my arm. A second later, however, I hear the same grunt across the aisle as before. Some guys never learn.

Our friend with the pack now appears to understand the flight attendant’s command. He thus starts down the aisle literally dropping his roller bag behind him like a half-eaten sandwich in a passing garbage bin. The flight attendant squirms by him and other passengers like a greased salmon swimming upstream, picks up the bag and finds a home for it.

  • The person in the center seat next to me arrives. I stand up and step toward the rear to let her in. As she moves into her seat, the woman behind her immediately fills the vacated space in the aisle. Then she looks up and sees me. Understanding dawns on her that I need to get back to my seat. She tries to step backwards but she’s blocked by the onflow of people behind her. No matter. She just backs up anyway, pushing back the person behind her and creating a domino effect of pushing, stumbling, grumbling and comments that would definitely make Mr. Grumpy perk up. But I do get back to my seat.

 And this was all in about five minutes.

Amateur hour. This could have been really frustrating. But instead, it made me smile. I realized even as I was going through it that these are people just like me. We all just want to get to our destination. Our purposes there will be different. But we’re all heading in the same direction. Suddenly, all these diverse strangers and I shared a common bond.

I still prefer it when people know what they’re doing in an airport and on an airplane. But I realized one thing on this plane full of business people and families, students going home and vacationers traveling to theme parks: Even with the tight quarters you experience on today’s commercial economy flights, there’s room enough for all of us.

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