In 1938, Sociologist Louis Wirth wrote in his paper Urbanism as a Way of Life, that a city may be defined as a relatively large, dense, and permanent settlement of socially heterogeneous individuals. He noted that cities in America have grown to include a relative absence of intimate personal acquaintanceships, a complex pattern of segregation and the affiliation of the individuals with a variety of intersecting and tangential social groups. This definition has been widely accepted amongst the academic communities as it points out many of the complexities that make up an urban environment.
If viewed from the outside in, airports can very closely mirror the make-up and characteristics of any major city as defined by Wirth. Most visitors will wonder through the corridors of an airport with no interest in building relationships with others, they segregate themselves into in-groups based upon final destination and enter and exit all areas of the premises with no reason to maintain a group mentality once their trip has been completed. In the U.S., there is a tendency for some people to be energized by this type of environment and even thrive within the confines of almost complete anonymity. Others, however, find it to be very uncomfortable and long for the intimacy that is most likely to accompany a life within a smaller community. This group will be the focus of today’s post as they can navigate the complex nature of airports around the world but yet wear their lack of comfort on their sleeves. Because this group historically dislikes the city atmosphere and chooses to live elsewhere for most of their lives, from this point on they will simply be known as the “Outsiders.”
There are other more common names associated with the outsiders. They are sometimes referred to as hillbillies, rednecks, hicks, yokels or hayseeds; though I did not see they need to refer to them in a derogatory manor, since, come on, we all have our flaws. The name “Outsiders” simply refers to their residence outside of the major metropolitan areas which could be anywhere: middle of nowhere Kansas, a farm 30 miles outside of Chicago or even a trailer park minutes from Bakersfield. They don’t necessarily live in the hills or work on tractors every day; they’re mostly simple people who prefer a smaller, less populated habitat. The one common characteristics of all who fit into this category is that they are not used to the environmental pace that resides in airports. You can see this through their frustration in almost every aspect of the airport experience; whether it is the parking lot, the security checkpoints, and of course, the air travel itself.
Outsiders usually travel in packs; mostly family units which by observation adds to the difficulties they sometimes experience at the airport. Usually they can be heard well before coming into view since the societal graces that dictate oral volume are not normally part of their formal or informal social education. Yelling at each other even from very short distances is common and can be expected just about everywhere in an airport including, but not limited to, the shuttle bus, the security line, the gate and the plane itself. Their tendency not to use the letter “g” and the monumental length of their vowels give them a distinct sound that can be universally recognized.
Lack of preparation is another key characteristic of the outsiders. Again, airports are small cities with a diverse set of interconnected parts and services all working to maximize efficiency. The simplicity of outsiders can conflict with these processes especially as airports become more and more automated. The first sign of conflict can usually be seen at the ticket counter. Most airlines have installed self-serving kiosks so passengers can quickly print their boarding passes, pay for their checked luggage and be on their way. When faced with one of these fancy new airline machines, outsiders usually approach them with hesitation and even fear as things like confirmation numbers are not common in their everyday lives. Airline personnel usually spend an inordinate amount of time with this group getting through what I feel is one of the simpler parts of the airport experience. Lack of preparation amongst the outsiders can also be seen at the security check point. I will admit, the TSA rules regarding what can and cannot go through changes more than a presidential candidate’s accent so even the most seasoned traveler can never really be fully prepared for this part of the process. However, the outsider’s tendency to argue with TSA officials and loudly announce to the rest of the group what they are experiencing make this a particularly difficult task to undertake.
Once the outsiders negotiate the front of the house portion of the airport, it’s pretty smooth sailing from that point on. At least in their minds. Airports like any organized institution comes with a set of social norms that the greater population agree upon and act accordingly in order to maintain a sense of order. Much like the volume issue written above, the outsiders are not fully educated on these norms and instead take it upon themselves to make up their own rules. For example, they tend to treat the moving walkways as rides instead of an efficient means of traveling a great distance through the terminals. Because of the herd mentality of the outsiders, they clog up the lanes causing those behind them either to be torturously waiting for it to end or have to walk the distance these devices where created to eliminate with luggage in tow. The slow pace of their small town life also conflicts with the mores of an airport. Even those everyday passengers who are not late for their flights like to move at a faster than average pace as the designs of these buildings make this seem like it is the right thing to do. The outsiders however, walk at their own leisurely pace with no regard to those whose time is better spent at their gate or final destination.
Once the outsiders arrive at their gate the show is far from over. They spread out like locust consuming more room than is actually necessary for their own comfort. Once again the volume issue re-emerges as they constantly communicate their wants, needs, disgusts, issues, and bodily functions as if they were sitting in the privacy of their own living rooms. They usually wear very colorful clothing which in many cases attempts to communicate some sort of social or political position, their favorite reality TV show, brands of alcohol and/or tobacco products or the latest in camouflaging technology. Their wardrobe choices add to the ambience making them the center of attention whether that was their prerogative or not. Boarding procedures can produce even more confusion amongst the outsider as, once again, the lack of preparation rears its ugly head. They seem to enjoy congregating as close to the gate door as possible even when they are on one of the last zones to be called forward. This gives their fellow passengers the opportunity to wade through the entire herd getting a front row glimpse of the outsiders and all of their glory.
The outsiders are not bad people and should not be looked at as such. As stated before, the pace of airports is just simply more than some of them can handle. Just like Wirth wrote 78 years ago: “The city has thus historically been the melting-pot of races, peoples, and cultures. It has not only tolerated but rewarded individual differences. It has brought together people from the ends of the earth because they are different and thus useful to one another, rather than because they are homogeneous and like-minded.” The outsiders are just another piece of the of the puzzle that makes up these small cities we call airports. They to add to the experience of air travel and keep it interesting as we go from place to place. Cheers to the outsiders; we would not want to be without you!