Fellow Flyers

Man, it has been a long time since I opened a Word document with the intention of doing a bit of traveling writing. I’m not sure where I lost this thread over the last year, as it isn’t an issue of not having anything to write about. Since I last wrote a real “travel musing” post, I’ve been to several new countries and even a new continent. As I think about where the writing bug went, there isn’t much to pin it on, other than maybe just complacency since we are back in the States for a stint. Granted, I’ve spent a good deal of time working on the “book musings” part of this site and trying to get my Card Catalog Reviews off the ground, but lately I find myself missing the longer-form writing as well. (Typing on a library catalog card forces me into a 125-word limit—it’s like an old-fashioned Tweet-limit. It works well for quickie book reviews, but not so much to explore explorations.)

I sit pondering the lack of writing over the last year, killing a bit of time in the American Airlines terminal of National Airport in Washington, DC and can’t help but be overwhelmed by the crisscross of humanity that fills this small waiting area. (It is only early November. In terms of sheer numbers, I am terrified for my flight to Idaho at Christmas.)

Airports fascinate me.

They give you a glimpse into real lives; for just a moment you pop into a life, having a small conversation in the security line or overhearing one side of a phone call or catching a glimpse of a bigger picture as someone heads away from home or is making their way back. Whenever I sit in an airport, I can’t help but build stories from these snapshots, filling in the rest of the story from the few snippets to which I am privy. These are just a few of the tales bobbing around in my head as I chill (literally- this terminal is freezing!) with my fellow passengers.

 Grumpy -“I’m pre-check”-Guy

Seriously. What is up with this guy? Yes, the security lines at DCA were surprisingly long this morning, but TSA was doing a good job keeping them moving and getting people through to their gates, but the guy behind me in line was having none of it. His entitlement was painful. To anyone who would listen, he explained that he is pre-check and flying first class and even though it is not printed on his boarding pass, he should be allowed to use that line because his travel agent screwed up and he really is pre-check. Plus, his flight leaves in 45 minutes and how is he supposed to make it through the line in time to make his flight? He announced this many times (loudly) to anyone near him in line and then twice pulled aside TSA agents who were walking by (probably headed to a much needed break from the public) to complain about his missing designation. No one really cared. Needless to say, we made it through the queue to the security machines quite quickly and I figured he’d settle down now that he was definitely going to make his flight, but nope. It was not to be. He got flagged for something when he went through the full-body scanner and the agent wanted to pat him down. Rather than just getting it over with quickly, this guy decided to put up a stink about how he was pre-check and first class and of course they would pull him out of line and make his take more of his precious time to clear security. This whole rant took longer than if he had just submitted to the cursory groping and headed to his gate. Maybe he is someone super important that I just didn’t recognize and he was off to save the world somewhere or maybe his was a fan of the Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate who lost last night.  For sure his poor travel agent is going to get an earful this afternoon. The best part of listening in on this entire episode is that I too should have had pre-check (no first class for me), but for whatever reason it did not print on my boarding pass, so I too was waiting in that line. The difference is, I planned ahead and had myself at the airport with time to spare so there was no panic as I waited with my fellow travelers to be screened through to the boarding gates. I feel no need to know more of this guy’s story, as we’ve all spent time with a blowhard that is just too full of himself. (Trying to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, maybe he’s headed to a funeral or some other stressful event that has ramped up his attitude, but I get the vibe that this is just the way he moves through the world. Him first. You second.)


I rarely take a flight anymore without at least one dog being in the cabin, which I only have one issue with and that is that the pup is NEVER seated next to me. I would gladly take the seat next to the dog and happily entertain it throughout the trip, but somehow, I never have the right seat assignment. Today’s dog-lady is different in that I’ve been sitting here watching here as I type, her fluffy-blonde dog sitting on her lap as they both enjoy a bit of breakfast- together. The same breakfast. For every bite of the oatmeal-y looking mush she takes, she offers one to the dog. From the same fork. Yes, they are not only sharing a meal, but they are sharing a utensil. It is too early for this. To set the scene on this duo a bit more, I think it is important to note that the woman is rocking the “white, sorority girl” look, with skinny jeans and riding boots paired with a slightly sparkly white top and a puff-jacket that is less functional than it is fashionable. The pup, to fit in with the preppy theme, is wearing a pink sweater and is then wrapped in an animal print fuzzy blanket (I told you it was cold in this terminal!).  With breakfast done, it now appears to be canine naptime. Here’s hoping that pup is 7E!


She’s young and flying solo and apparently has decided to carry her entire closet as a carry-on. (I can’t complain about this a whole lot, as I have done the same thing, not so much to avoid the baggage fees, although those are obnoxious, but to avoid having to wait at the carousal for my bag at my destination. I love just gliding out of the airport upon arrival.) But, on top of having a rather bulky collection of items surrounding her, this fellow traveler needs to go get the requisite airport photos of planes coming and going, tarmac workers loading baggage, and a selfie, because it didn’t happen if there isn’t photographic proof. The problem is, it is impossible to juggle your entire wardrobe AND take a good, high-angle selfie, so she’s asked a random stranger sitting near her to watch her bags. I always find this an interesting exchange, as the stranger never seems totally comfortable with the request, and yet it seems like most agree. I always wonder how this scenario plays out if something happens with the bags. Would the stranger be invested enough to do something if someone else came along, claiming to know the young lady and riffle in or take the bags? I can’t really picture what happens if anything other than nothing happens. Of course, this is unlikely, and today was no exception. Selfies were taken and posted to Instagram (I’m assuming) and the carry-on bags remained safe and sound for their onward journey.


This poor man was probably at work before I rolled out of bed this morning, and for that he gets a certain amount of lenience from the start. Working with travelers all day long is probably a tough gig and I’m sure he’s not rolling in the big bucks for it. On top of this, I think his soul may have been irrevocably crushed by humanity. A small regional jet was loading from the same area of the terminal as my flight to Miami, but earlier, so I was able to observe the entire process, including the frustration as people refused to wait for their boarding group before trying to load on the plane. I’m not fully familiar with American Airlines boarding procedures as I tend to end up on United flights, but they seem to have a slew of boarding groups, going all the way up to nine (!). Apparently, those people in eight and nine were worried about finding places to stow their carry-on luggage because they kept trying to sneak into earlier groups. (To be fair, maybe it was as unintentional mistake by multiple people, but it all added up to a mini-fit by the gate attendant.) After a few of these sneakers, the guy came on the PA system and made a slightly snarky announcement about all the seats going to the same location and the plane would not leave with people still on the jetway, so just get in your actual group and be patient. It was quite grumpy for 8AM, but I get it. Just follow the damn protocol, people.


Flights with babies- they are unavoidable. Doing the Foreign Service thing, we have many friends whose young kids have stamp-filled passports and they get their wings at just six weeks old. Babies fly. And babies tend to not like flying. It hurts their ears, they are physically confined, there’s a whole lot of loud ambient noise, and it doesn’t help that they tend to be with stressed out parents. This little one was up early and I am sure off of her routine, and she was unhappy about it. The wails started in the terminal waiting area and continued down the jetway and held steady, in the seat directly behind me. Yup. I’m not sure how that works, but it always seems like there is a little one within kicking radius of my seatback. This one, luckily, was too little for kicking, but also too little for consoling. She finally fell asleep as we waited on the tarmac for takeoff, only to be awoken by the roar of the engines as we accelerated down the runway. Flying can be no fun and probably less so when you don’t understand anything going on around you, so I try to have a whole lot of patience with these babies and even more compassion for their adult-travelling companions. It is enough work to get myself from city to city, country to country, without tending to a totally dependent seatmate.

As I continue my people watching in Miami this afternoon, there is a whole new crowd of people to ponder about, including the woman who I estimate could have been a contemporary of the builders of Machu Picchu, wearing a beautiful (I am guessing) traditional Peruvian outfit (adorned with llamas!) that I’m just dying to know more about. There’s a story that needs told.

At this point, a truly introspective traveler is forced to ask, what story would someone imagine about me? Yoga pants, hoodie, Chuck Taylors, Jansport backpack. Add them all together and they create the foundation of what narrative? And how close would that story be to the truth?

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No Such Thing as Too Early

While obsessive-compulsive might be a bit too dramatic, the label of hyper-worrier probably isn’t too far off. Once a small kernel of an idea plants itself in my mind, there is nothing I can do but stew on it until whatever it is has been taken care of.  Sometimes it is a question of whether I left my curling iron plugged in on the bathroom counter, which I then fret over all day long, or possibly it is something as trivial as needing to make a list and check it twice to make sure no one is forgotten in the cookie plate festivities.

Most recently, this ability to worry unnecessarily was employed for the sake of our holiday travel plans. As “Holiday Flight Fiasco” details, there were some issues with arranging tickets home for the Christmas season and Thad did some rather impressive networking to make the trip happen. The fact that I was able to so smoothly book flights with our “won” tickets actually made me nervous.  Was it possible that things were going to go off without a hitch? On top of worry about the tickets not causing any problems, a flight out of Baltimore’s BWI meant a much longer commute to the airport than our usual one-stop on the Metro to Reagan National Airport.

The plan was to use an airport van service to get from Arlington to Baltimore, so in order to schedule that ride, I needed to start at the flight departure time and count my way backwards to the necessary pick-up time. Thinking our flight was at 11AM, I figured we needed to be at the airport a minimum of two hours early since we were flying just two days before Christmas. In my mind I imagined ticket counter lines weaving back and forth, Disneyland-style, as far as the eye could see. Once clearing the first hurdle of checking bags (free when you fly Southwest!), my mental picture continued on to the security check area, where people in various states of undress shoved gray buckets filled with bags, coats, shoes and laptops through the x-ray machine while other people were getting their personal bits and pieces electronically scanned for all in some locked away back room to peruse. Two hours were going to be necessary.

With all of this in mind, I called the airport shuttle company and booked a pick-up time of 7:30 AM. As our travel date neared, I couldn’t help questioning my original timeline. More than once I wrote it out on a piece of paper, counting and recounting the hours and minutes available. Would three and a half hours be enough to be picked up by the van, pick up others also scheduled for rides at the same time, get through bag check and survive the lines at security? Doubtful, my mind told me.

Wednesday afternoon, I decided I didn’t want to lose anymore sleep over this issue, so I once again called the van company, this time rescheduling our shuttle for half an hour earlier- 7AM.  Content that we would have sufficient time to make our flight, I turned my worrying back to more mundane concerns such as whether or not I had remembered to throw all of the used towels into the tub before leaving for class, making the housekeeper’s job just a tad bit easier.

Before we knew it, Chinese textbooks were stashed away, bags were packed and early morning alarms were set. Our shuttle not only came without a problem, but was actually early. We were on the freeway, headed into downtown DC by 7AM. After making two other pick-ups, we pulled up to the flight departure area of the airport right around 8:30AM. I was surprised to see the ticket counter fully staffed, with the Dinseyland-esque winding line being less than two 180 degree turns long. The magic tickets presented nary a problem and soon, very soon, we found ourselves standing in another line, security this time, worthy of being called a Christmas miracle. From the time we walked in to the front doors of the airport to the time we were standing in front of the mystic stack of TVs listing arrival and departure times, less than thirty minutes had elapsed.

It was at this juncture, standing with just our carry-ons slung over our shoulders, checking our gate number that we realized our flight was not at 11AM like I had thought, but it actually left at 11:30.  That’s right. Due to my excessive (and apparently unnecessary) worrying, we were at the airport, ready to go, three hours before our flight took off.

Thad, being unusually calm about the fact that I hauled him out of bed hours before his normal wake-up call, suggested breakfast at McDonalds (pre-flight pancakes are a bit of a morning flight ritual for me) and then some window shopping in the odd array of airport stores.

Yes, we were there stupidly early, but in reality, I was so much calmer from the time I rolled out of bed until the moment we stepped foot in the jet-bridge leading to the plane than I would have been otherwise, so it was all okay. I figure if I can’t stop the hyper-worrying, I can at least manage it through a ridiculous amount of planning and list making. Luckily, Thad has had thirteen years of experience with my lovely quirks and just lets me obsessively organize and plot as much as necessary until the mental chaos is calmed. Be still brain, be still.