Just flew in from Indianapolis, and boy are my arms tired. Actually, that joke is, and I’m sorry I used it. But air travel is tiring in its own way. A lot of it has to do with waiting at the airport. And the longest wait of all is the wait by the gate.
If you are like me, you got to this final stage far too early and waited a very long time. Luckily there are seats there; lots and lots of them. Kind of strung together like those at movie theaters, but not as comfortable. After my trip to Indianapolis and back, I’ve noticed some things about how these chairs get used and how I and other people wait.
When I approached the rows of chairs, I looked for one with lots of space around it. I would never sit next to a total stranger when there were other options. I would find a suitable spot, set my duffle bag on one seat and myself on the one next to it. Looking around, it seemed that everyone else did the same. As the seats filled up and departure times grew closer, I saw the same pattern everywhere – person, bag, person, bag, etc.
Everyone, not just me, set up their own personal buffer zone.
Putting luggage on a chair meant for a human might seem strange. But it sends a message. “This chair belongs to my bag, and don’t even think about sitting here.”
On the last leg of my trip, I performed a little experiment at Gate F28 in Philadelphia. The number of chairs available was far fewer than I had seen in other airports. Soon, I thought, there would be more people than chairs. As more and more of them gathered, many standing, I did a noble thing: I removed my duffle bag from its throne, leaving it up for grabs.
What would happen now? Would someone take this newly freed up seat, or would it remain empty?
An older gentleman with a pot belly moved in nearby, settling for a post to lean on. He looked tired and probably wanted to sit. But he would have had to sit next to me, and that was unthinkable. Then a middle aged man with a large, solid frame came over and took the seat. He seemed uncomfortable at first. He spent a long time going through his bag on the floor, sorting out a mess of travel related papers. When he finally zipped his bag and leaned back with a sigh, I got my first good look at him.
He had short, dark hair and a full face. Dark grey T-shirt, shorts and sneakers. And a hat: olive green with a floppy brim. He might have gotten it from an army surplus store, or maybe Australia. It had a jaunty Outback look about it. In any case, he seemed to have settled down; I had not spoken a word to him, only pretended to read my paperback book.
Then, out of nowhere, the Missus appeared. My god, he had a wife! The possibility had not occurred to me. She looked like a missus. They had probably been together a long time. She smiled and handed him a styrofoam food carton. “You wanted a steak and cheese sub, so I stopped and got you one.”
He seemed dumbfounded. “I wanted a steak and cheese…how did you know?” He said this in a state of total wonder and puzzlement.
“Oh,” said the Missus. “I just knew.”
He opened the container and out surged delicious smells of grilled meat, cheese, maybe a few peppers and onions. Now I wanted a steak and cheese too. As he took the first bite, his wife sat next to him and watched him enjoy his sandwich. I noticed that the person three seats away had cleared off his “bag chair” so that she could relax and steal a few of his French fries.
The airline people started calling passengers for boarding, so the Green Hat guy had to wrap things up mid-meal. Later on the plane, still wearing that jaunty hat, I saw him finishing it.
I’m not sure what my little experiment proves. If people really want to sit, I guess, they will sit. Even next to a dangerous, up-to-no-good stranger. And for those of us who let them sit, our reward is getting to eavesdrop on some really good stuff.