First Classers (FCL)

Thoughts of first class travel bring forth a media manufactured image of grace and high society. This has been developed by years of movies and television programs showing the rich and famous sitting in the front rows of a 747 sipping glasses of champagne and having a short skirted stewardess cater to their every demand. jerry-macguireThe scene in Jerry Maguire where Renée Zellweger (Dorothy) leans forward to listen to Tom Cruise’s (Jerry) story about how he got engaged and then turning to her son saying “first class is what’s wrong. It used to be a better meal. Now it’s a better life” have been embedded in the minds of people everywhere.
Although this might have been based on reality back in the 60s, today the first class cabin is a much different view of what it used to be and has in many ways taking the glamour of high society out of the equation.

Those who frequent the first class cabin are no longer beautiful, rich people wearing expensive clothing and barking demands to the staff although that can still happen. mad-men-season-7Most who fly first class are frequent business travelers who have been awarded the seat through an upgrade and not by purchasing an outright first class ticket beforehand. The first several aisles are usually made up of men in jeans and company logoed jackets peppered along a few in suits, some desperate housewives and millennials who booked the flight using their parent’s credit cards. People who make a living traveling for work can build up their elite status fairly quickly which enable them to fly in luxury. Their constant time away from home is payment enough and many of them deserve the amenities that go with being in first class.

No matter how the ticket was awarded, the idea of a first class cabin still divides the airport population into two distinct classes: those who sit up front and the scrubs. Again, money is not really the issue. The high flying billionaires with ten thousand dollar handbags and ripped jeans that cost more than my car would never be caught dead in an airport. There are private airports for them that most of us will never see or experience. No, the first classers experience the flight in a different way than the scrubs starting from when they board to the plane, to the minute we step off at the final destination. They board first which makes sense in regards to priority however is not actually rational seeing that it would be easier for everyone to board the back of the plane first and build towards the front. Of course, logic is not a part of aviation so let’s not even analyze this little detail right now. The scrubs go through the preflight ceremonies, fighting for position amongst the others in their randomly chosen boarding group while the first classes are settled in, drinks in hand and ready to face the skies. The one fascinating thing about the first classes are their ability to quickly be engulfed into some sort of work or entertainment before the rest of us even get on board (BTW…why are first classers the only people on the planet who still read physical newspapers?). newpapers-memeLooking at them you would think that they had been sitting there for hours before having to endure the throngs on desperate eyed wannabes shuffling to their seats in the back. I have to hand it to the flight attendants and their ability to get the first classers drinks prepared and to them so quickly. Most of the time, they slip past you without you ever knowing they were there.

During the flight, the first classers are waited on by a prompt designated flight attendant and depending on the size of the aircraft, they have a separate restroom as well. Although, I have personally never flown first class, I can’t imagine it being any better than the ones in a normal cabin. Jerry Seinfeld’s questioning of the types of flowers in the bathroom are just another example of the media fed fiction that engulfs the first class world. seinfeldAgain, depending on the plane, the flight, the airline, etc., etc., the first classers can have many more advantages over their economy counterparts including free drinks, meals, enhanced entertainment options and sometimes seats that fully recline. When the expression “you get what you pay for” was first coined, I imagine the author was sitting in the cramped, middle seat in row 32 looking north and seeing a better world many aisles away.

One thing about the first class experience is that it really does begin and end with the flight itself. Many airlines have now even limited the access of their lounges to those who straight up bought a first class ticket and not someone who has been awarded one through their status or miles.majorca_airport_baggage_glitch-389949 There are no first class restaurants or parking options available and like the rest of us, they still have to lug their own bags on board or go through the painful ritual of baggage claim for checked luggage.
Even at the gate, until you start getting up to board, there is really no designated area for first classers and they are forced to sit with the rest of us scrubs. This keeps the first classers humble and their advantages concentrated to just one part of the overall flight experience.

I can say whatever I want about the first classers in order to justify my position but the truth is I would trade places with any of them in a second. Let me on first and give me my damn drink is what I’m shooting for and hopefully in due time, my own flight regiments will earn me the right to check that upgrade button and see my name flash across the confirmation screen. Until then, I will continue to waltz past them towards my place in the back and may or may not purposely let my shoulder bag brush the sides of their heads as I walk by. Enjoy yourself thoroughly first classers, I coming for you one flight at a time!trade-places


When you’re at an airport, men are everywhere. At Heathrow Airport in London, one of the busiest airports in the world, it is estimated that over 56% of passengers are men which I think is quite low just based upon casual observation. However, men are elsewhere throughput the facility. Men make up over 90% of pilots and over 75% of air traffic controllers. Of the remaining occupations at airports and for airlines, 66% of the work force are men. Men pretty much dominate the airline industry with the exception of flight attendants which we will cover another time. The point is when you are in an airport you are engulfed in a male environment from the minute you walk through the front doors to when you eventually reach your final destination.

With all the men running around the airport, it may seem difficult to categorize them into groups based on certain characteristics alone. However, the group being discussed in this post, will now and forever be known as the “Dudes” since they are easily identifiable and can be seen in airports around the world. the_hangover32Dudes are a specialized group of men who we’ve all encountered at one time or another and some of us may have even taken on their persona over the years. They are brash, unencumbered and come to airport on a mission to put their Y chromosomes promptly on display.

Dudes at the airport are usually meeting up with other dudes to go do dude related things at dude-like locations. They head to bachelor parties in Vegas or hunting trips in Alberta. They go on guy’s weekends in New Orleans and fraternity reunions in College Station. One of the more common reasons for dudes to grace the airport scene is the pilgrimage to support some sports team outside of their home turf. drunk-fanThe Super Bowl, NCAA tournament, and NASCAR Races all attract hordes of dudes, every one of them needing to be transported one way or another.

Dudes have characteristics that are unmatched by just about every other group of individuals. They gawk openly at young girls, sexually harass flight attendants and bartenders and usually make at least one reference to the mile-high club. Their favorite clothing is fan gear coupled with larger than average tennis shoes, ankle socks, cargo shorts and baseball caps. They are loud obnoxious and pretty much loathed by everyone else in the terminal. If you happen to be in their proximity, listen closely and you will probably hear the words “douche bags” muttered under the breath of those who are situated closest to them. Most of the time, dudes can be found at the bar nearest to their gate, downing domestic beers and telling lies that the rest of the group have probably heard a hundred times before.


On an individual level, these are probably decent humans who are upstanding citizens, admired by their families and work hard in their occupations. However, once they meet up with even another member of their tribe, the dude mentality takes over and they are transformed into ape-like beings losing all sense of decency and self-control. Dudes can be further categorized into those who are married and those who are not. Most of what I am describing leans towards the married type since they seem to use these little getaways as a means of escape from their everyday domesticated lives. Their left hands are permanently imprinted by the wedding bands in their pockets thinking that somehow their perceived availability would distract women from their beer guts, ill fitted clothing and receding hairlines. Married dudes usually soak buzzlightyear-douchebagsup the airport Wi-Fi looking for the closest Hooters or strip club to their hotels. These are the guys that give the married world a bad name yet somehow get away with their antics time and time again. Some people would feel sorry for their poor wives waiting at home, yet I’m certain they themselves take these opportunities to relax, draw a bubble bath and look up old boyfriends on Facebook while fantasizing about what could have been.

In some ways, dudes need to be celebrated since they do add an air of excitement to the otherwise run-a-day routine of an airport. If you not easily offended (or female) their jokes can be funny and they do sometimes accept new members into their group even temporarily while waiting at the gate or on the flight itself. Dudes are never shy about conversing with others in the terminal which is a refreshing change since most passengers are absorbed into their laptops or smart phones. The dudes bring us back to a time when meeting new people did not include a screen swipe or friend request. For this we should thank the dudes, or at least forget one or more of their transgressions which are inevitably going to happen.

Dudes go forth and enjoy the things that make you happy. We will watch, laugh and be entertained while waiting to take our turns in the skies. It’s those like the dudes which make the ever growing airport society interesting and keep those like me coming back for more. I’ll close with a simple phrase from Jeff Bridges in the cult-classic, The Big Lebowski: The Dude Abides….The Dude Abides!the_dude


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.”clampetts

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. redneck-2When 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. duck-dynastyThey 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!

People, People, Everywhere!

According to the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), over 3 billion people fly every year.  That means, on an annual basis, almost half of the earth’s human population takes to the air to get from one point to another.  Airports with all their glory, mystery, and sometimes misery, are the main hubs of this activity which makes them interesting places to say the least.  With millions of people navigating airports around the world everyday, there is bound to be some great opportunities for people watching which is why this blog has come to exist.

I spend a good amount of time in airports.  Even with all their craziness: the parking, odd setups, terrible food options, molecularly thin toilet paper…I can’t seem to help it but I absolutely LOVE AIRPORTS.  It’s been this way the first time I stepped foot in the Nashville International Airport at the ripe, old age of 16 on a school sponsored trip to New York.  The sights, sounds, and general perception of organized chaos, I was hooked from that point on.  That obsession has led me to seek out jobs that give me the opportunity to fly whenever possible.

The thing I love the most about airports are the people.  Where else on the planet can you find such a diverse population made up of virtually every racial, social, occupational, and socio-economical group, all together and on the same mission which is to navigate these manmade labyrinths only to be put on a large, aluminum, winged-tube and be shot 30,000 feet into the air.  It’s an amazing Sociological phenomenon that’s been present since the first airports were built during the 1920s.  This makes those who make up the airport populations worthy of investigating to the fullest extent possible.

Of course, the thing I love more than airports is people watching.  In my opinion, people are the most interesting creatures on the planet and never fail to provide me with hours of entertainment just by sitting around and observing those around me.  Being at an airport regularly gives me plenty of opportunities to practice my favorite past-time.   I watch them at the ticket counters, going through security, while waiting on my departure and even while collecting my bags at the end of a journey.  There everywhere I and soak it in like a sponge.

This blog will be dedicated to my own personal anthropological study that I conduct during my airport observations.  Creating categories is a cognitive process that we as humans have evolved into our brain functioning in order to simplify our thinking and allow us to process more and more information.  I have done this myself with the people I see at airports.  After enough time, patterns start to emerge amongst certain people which allows us to categorize them with those who act the same way.  What I plan to present here is a snapshot of those categories and highlight the behaviors that make up their group dynamics.  Each group will be presented with their corresponding three letter code to stick with the normal airport protocol we’ve grown to know and love.  I hope you find some humor and entertainment in these posts.  Feel free to leave comments plus your own observations as well.

I mean, if we’re going to be at the airport anyway, we might as well have some fun!  Enjoy!