Being processed through Gatwick airport one day, I indulged in a little people watching and was reminded of the many different characters that struggle through the departure lounges at airports daily.
Airports may not seem the most interesting places to visit despite the number of reality television programmes that try to convince us otherwise. Apart from young children for whom flying can be a great adventure, most of us consider airports and flying an obstacle to be overcome to reach our final destination.
However for people watching they are ideal locations and can be a great way of wiling away an hour or two while waiting for the inevitable delayed departure. Disregarding the airport staff, they attract all manner of humanity gathered together with one intention, to emerge unscathed from the airport experience at their destination. They can also seem to exaggerate any idiosyncrasies to the point of obsession.
Frequent flyer – dressed smart but casual, a small wheeled carryon user, smartphone, netbook or tablet ‘broadsheet’ newspaper are the identifiers. They have speedy boarding privileges, probably use of the airport lounge and will repeatedly ask about the possibility of an upgrade. They will sleep through the safety briefing and be the last to turn off their phone before take-off and landing. They usually wake up miraculously once seatbelts can be unfastened to retrieve their pocket-sized netbook from the overhead locker.
The disorganised – odd socks or even shoes, several carrier bags of duty free goods, juggling magazines, coffee cup and sandwiches whilst constantly dropping their boarding pass and looking stressed out are the usual tell-tale signs. They will be unable to find their passport at check-in, practically have to undress at security check and get lost finding the boarding gate due to looking for a bin for the coffee cup. They may have to return to the bin to retrieve their boarding pass. Once sat in their window seat they will need access to their bag in the overhead bin at least four times before take-off.
Last minute chancer – a fresh, steaming cup of coffee when the rest of the plane has been seated ten minutes is the obvious sign of a chancer. Totally unfazed, they will also likely be carrying a couple of bags from duty free bought after the final call for boarding was announced. Thick skinned and probably wearing headphones as a defence against the insults which are being directed their way. Confession I was once clapped onto a plane after going to watch a film at the cinema after checking-in!
Party animals – they are usually a group wearing colourful sombreros, shorts and t-shirts despite it being minus ten degrees. They’ll be carrying duty free bags also, but will have arrived at the airport in plenty of time to enjoy a pre-flight tipple. Often initially appearing a little sheepish and quiet in an attempt to disguise this, but after take-off and a few more drinks are prone to impromptu practicing of their karaoke routine. Pray none of them are sat in a window seat next to you as they will require frequent trips to the toilet.
Family vacation – two pushchairs, enough luggage for an expedition to Everest in the form of large wheeled suitcases and several children of varying ages (possibly not all actually theirs) towing mini replicas of the adults cases, families are hard to miss. The kids will be excited, bored or crying and the parents will appear to be wishing they were back at work. They will be well fed for the flight having stopped off at the airport McDonalds which will keep them happy until they find the one in their destination.
‘Firsts’ – another fan of tiny carryon’s, they will have checked-in online, and been through security before most have even arrived at the airport. Dress is likely to be streamlined and they are easy to spot once the gate number has been announced, they will be waiting at the desk, boarding pass in hand. When seats 25 – 40 are asked to board they will be the one arguing with the cabin crew why they can’t board with seat number 1. On landing their eyes will be glued to the unfasten seatbelt sign, hands on clasps like a coiled spring. Once extinguished they will jump from their seat, opening the overhead locker, removing their carryon in one fluid movement and be making their way to the exit before anybody else has twitched. They’ll only be observed wearing a smug grin strolling past baggage claim by airport staff.
Independent adventurist – wearing a Gore-Tex jacket with soft-shell trousers despite the heat wave, mountaineering boots and carrying a large climbing pack with trekking poles they usually appear as if they just got out of a high altitude bed. Carrying enough equipment to tackle K2 alpine style but if you ask where they are travelling to it is more likely to be Rome. Easy to spot, as apart from sweating profusely they will be continually apologising for knocking people about with their pack and poking out eyes with the poles. One bonus is if the plane crash lands all passengers will be able to survive on the contents of their pack for several months.
Business people – suit, small wheeled carryon, mobile phone, laptop and ‘Financial Times‘ are the tools of their trade. They are possibly the unluckiest travellers of all as they are not travelling for pleasure, the flight will be spent checking their presentation and when they arrive at the destination if is often a quick round of meetings and then a return flight back home. All the hassle without the benefits, so no facetious comments they deserve our sympathy.
This is just a small selection of the characters that frequent airports, I am sure that you can think of many more. So help complete this exercise in people watching and add some that you have met whilst passing through the airports of the world.