Travel People Watching – Airport Characters

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.

Like waiting at the airport the travel blogging world at the TBU Manchester conference on Mallory on Travel adventure, photography

Ok so not an airport but plenty of characters!

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.

Iain Mallory at Windermere railway station in the Lake District on Mallory on Travel adventure, photography

Dodgy character that can’t afford to fly

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.

Waiting for friends and family at arrivals Manchester airport on Mallory on Travel adventure, photography

I may have forgotten the fashion conscious

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.

Arrivals making a quick getaway from Bastia airport, Corsica France on Mallory on Travel adventure, photography

So quick I almost missed this ‘first’

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.


Comments 12

  1. Leah Travels

    Don’t forget the school/church trip people. You can’t miss the thirty-plus kids walking around in their pajamas wearing their headphones. They are followed around by teachers/parents/sponsors looking haggard. I want to crawl into my carryon if this group is sitting at my gate.

  2. ciaraysabel

    Entertaining post. I haven’t traveled much abroad but some characters I’ve been with on local flights in addition to the others you’ve mentioned are the students (who head home during breaks), the first-timers (who’ve never been on a plane before – with such cheap fares now, there are always a number of them around), and the late-comers.. Of course! I think the last group just love to make grand entrances, that is waiting for everyone to be seated and their names paged more than once before boarding themselves.

  3. Marina

    I love airport people watching. It’s the best part of flying. You totally nailed the characters. I like to think up soap opera style stories about everyone. It really helps pass the time during long delays!

  4. Doreen Pendgracs

    You forgot one category I’ve often noticed: The Oblivious!

    These are travellers who are oblivious to what is happening around them. Usually, they are plugged into numerous electronic gadgets and therefore can’t hear announcements and choose not to engage in conversation with anyone around them. And then there are those who are oblivious due to an ignorant, inconsiderate nature. They may be talking too loud on a cell phone or to those who are with them, they may be hogging a seat for their suitcase when there are people standing, they may be sleeping and not hear boarding announcements. They are oblivious to the world around them!

  5. Nancy

    Oh, yeah. Many of these characters are well familiar to those of us who love to travel. Nicely profiled. Is this how TSA does it, do you think? The question is, what profile do we see when we look in the mirror? I’ll never tell . . .

  6. Hjortur Smarason

    People watching at airports is great. Specially international airports where you have people from all over the world in different dresses and outfits, some traditional, some high fashion – according to where they come from. And seeing the joy in peoples hearts when they are reuniting with friends, children coming home from being away for a year as exchange students, couples bringing their adopting child home for the first time and the family their to great them, couples, business people, students, it’s like a double rainbow of people and emotions 🙂

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  7. Arline Zatz

    I like the SLOPPY, INCONSIDERATE traveler who gets a large Coke, bagel or hamburger and proceeds to eat it in the lounge. BUT, when he/she gets up, all the wrappings and the ice in the Coke cup either get tossed onto the chair next to his/hers or thrown beneath the seat. Why not? He/she thinks — the clean-up person gets paid to clean up my mess!

    They do the same thing on the plane forcing people to step on plastic cups, kick newspapers out of the way, etc. Or the toilet slob who makes a big mess in the sink but doesn’t have the intelligence or consideration to use a paper towel to clean it up. Or, tosses toilet paper on the floor. Ugh! Disgusting.

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