My cell phone alarm goes off at 3:00 AM.  I drag myself out of bed and perform the morning routine to catch at 5:56 AM flight for work.  After scraping frost from my windshield and driving in the morning dark, I arrive at the airport, carry-on baggage in hand, to find my flight canceled.  Apparently there was damage to the plane and it will not fly – not soon anyway.  I’m in no hurry to get on a plane that has been damaged, but it always makes me wonder about the folks that just got off of the plane.  How badly damaged was it, and how lucky were they?

Anyway, I’m directed to a looooooooong line for re-booking to my final destination of Cleveland, Ohio – a destination worth waiting for.  As I stand in line with hundreds of glum folks with early morning bed-heads and surly attitudes, my email confirms the first leg of my flight has already been re-booked . . . for five hours later, putting me in Cleveland seven hours later than originally scheduled.  C’est la vie.

What to do, what to do.  Happily, I leave the line of crabby travelers and take a seat to watch the festivities.  I feel sorry for those folks who are starting their vacations/honeymoons with an early morning flight cancellation.  Although I, too, would have preferred to sleep in, subject to an unavoidable delay, I am giddy thinking of the possibilities.  I cannot go home, because it’s a few shuttles and then a 40-minute drive.  Not a very efficient use of time.  So, I think, “I’ll clean out my email!”  My Out of Office message is on, my calendar is clear, and most of my employees are in transit so not online.  Bummer – the free airport Wi-Fi is not working.  You get what you pay for.  I guess people watching it is!  I park myself at a Starbucks next to the security line.  I send a few texts, craving some love, attention, and acknowledgement of my plight; but, it’s still too early to catch those who really care.  They are still snug in their beds.

What I see: the little girl who spills her hot cocoa all over the family’s luggage, the catty SeaTac employees gossiping with the baristas, a curt airport police officer arguing the injustices of the Starbucks Rewards program.  He was kind of a bully – shame on him.  A kindly airport employee, 50’ish, wearing his reflective vest, sits at a Starbucks table doing homework.  It looks like math or accounting.  Two Homeland Security officers take a table next to mine.  They both lament the lack of Wi-Fi, and gossip about peers around the country – something about pensions and cushy assignments.  There was a couple kissing near security; clearly there would soon be significant distance between them.  She is kissing/crying/kissing/crying.  He is brushing her hair out of her teary eyes.  It’s very sweet and sad at the same time.

I love people watching.  I fancy myself an amateur sociologist and believe I can accurately analyze and diagnose the complexities of my fellow man.  This day, I watch the reactions of the travelers with whom I would have shared a flight and find there are distinct types of people:

  1. The Important People
  2. The Confused People
  3. The Chill People
  4. The Tired People

The Important People:

These are the folks who are the ONLY passengers inconvenienced by this cancellation.  They HAVE to be in Chicago at or before their originally scheduled time.  They talk yell over others and make it a point that they are much more important than any of the other 163 people in front of them in line.  They scream generalizations and expect special handling because they are so, well, Important.

The Confused People:

These folks have no idea what is happening, nor where to begin in figuring out what to do.  They rarely fly, or tend to get overwhelmed every time they do. To them, the airport is a busy, confusing place and they just want to have someone take care of them. They follow the crowd.  This is understandable, but dangerous and unfortunately, increasingly common.  It’s kind of scary that, with all of the information available some people are still able to insulate themselves for responsibility of knowing anything.

The Chill People:

These folks numbly stand in line watching others.  They realize they have no control here, and decide to just play by “the rules” and surrender to the airline’s whimsy.  I probably best fit here, although I was enterprising enough to check my email so to avoid standing in an unnecessary line.  I admire my fellow Chills though.  We are at peace, which is no small feat at a chaotic airport at 4AM.

The Tired People:

These folks have no business being at the airport at 4AM.  They show up in jammies, with Sherpa lined boots (if not slippers), usually carry a pillow and were probably a hazard on the road driving to the airport.  They are most concerned about the sleep they have lost, and lament how much longer they could have slept if the cancellation were known the night before.  They are close to crying.

I eventually make it to the security line in anticipation of my delayed flight.  In addition to my skills as a sociologist, I consider myself an efficiency expert.  So, staring at this security line is driving me nutso.  I am confident I can reconfigure this line to make it less confusing, and a happier place to hang-out before stripping and being randomly selected for a cavernous search.  After making my way through the disorganized line, something about me flags further inspection.  After the invasive scan of my internal organs, an agent pokes at my threatening floral headband.  Can’t be too careful, I guess.  I passed and can now re-dress and move to the gate.

On my re-booked flight, I am awarded a middle seat near the bathroom – so thankful.  I love the smell of a lavatory and people standing so, uh, close to me in tight quarters.  I certainly can’t be picky here but, seriously, why do folks find it perfectly OK to lean on your seat when waiting for the lavatory?  Space people, space!  Oh, must be The Important People.  Guaranteed, those are the same folks that complain about their lack of personal space on the airplane.

I really do use this people watching skill (ahem…sociology) for good.  I make a valiant effort to watch what annoys others, and ensure I DON’T do the same things – good ol’ self-awareness.  You won’t ever see me leaning into the poor suckers in seat 38 or yelling over The Confused People.

Can’t we all just get along?  (and can’t the Tired People just go take a nap?)


  1. I love people watching at the airport. And having extra time to wander about the concourse. I’m in the Tired but Chill crowd and am reminded why I never book flights for early mornings 😛

  2. People watching is the best! I always show up nice and early for flights. Also because I cannot stand the stress of cutting it too close!

  3. People watching! I love airports simply because of the strange mix of people you’ll get. I’m totally in the chill crowd, so much that my travelling companion (usually a boyfriend, friend, or family member) has to thaw me out and remind me that yes, we are in an airport, and yes we are going to an even cooler place to people watch. My uncle is a CEO and has to be very on time to meetings, but when flights are cancelled or delayed, he says that there’s little use in flipping out. I take that to heart:D

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