In the last year, I have made ten trips that required air travel. I have flown something like 100,000 miles and spent roughly the entirety of my adult life in layovers. If I had kids, I would have forgotten what they looked like. I am registered to vote in The Sky because I spend more than 50 percent of my time there. I am literally writing this on my phone from gate E4 of Miami International Airport.
In my travels, I have come to realize that many people seem to expect flying to be a tolerable—even enjoyable—experience. These people are wrong. Flying sucks, but it’s the price we pay to be able to get anywhere in the world in a matter of days. Let’s be honest—if the fastest way to get to Europe was twelve hours in a wooden crate with holes poked in it, people would still do that, and then they’d tell their friends that they’ve always found JetBlue to stack crates more efficiently than United.
With that in mind, here are some ways to make the whole experience a little smoother. I’m not talking about better food or more leg room—remember, flying is shitty, and we’re not going to fix that. We’re just trying to get through the whole process without murdering each other.
1. Standing one inch from the baggage carousel shall now be illegal.
99 percent of people seem to feel a compulsion to press their shins directly against the stainless steel of the baggage claim, thus blocking access for everyone else, long before their bag is actually visible. This is unacceptable. A line will be drawn in the carpet six feet from the carousel. You are permitted to cross that line when you can see your bag, and will then have ten seconds to get back across the line, like in basketball. Violators will be Tasered until supine, then dragged outside the line to recover. Stacking your multitude of suitcases next to the carousel while you look for a cart will be punishable by death.
2. Rolling suitcases as carry-on luggage are also illegal.
If what you are carrying on is big enough or heavy enough to warrant wheels, you are carrying on too much shit. Here is a comprehensive list of things that should be in your carry-on luggage:
- Things you need on the plane
- Things that are especially fragile or valuable (laptop, camera, etc.)
That’s it. Exceptions will be made for people who can pack so skillfully that they don’t need a checked bag at all. But if you’re checking a bag, you don’t also get to carry on a suitcase big enough to hold a small child plus a personal item that is, no doubt, a briefcase or backpack or purse of not-insubstantial size itself. You don’t get to bring a change of clothes and a toothbrush and hiking boots and your swimsuit just in case your bag gets lost.
Nationwide, just under half a percent of bags are “mishandled” every year. In more than half of those cases, the bag is simply late, usually by less than a day. In the meantime, every single flight I’ve been on this year has run out of overhead bin space, which means mandatory gate checks of bags, which means they’re being added at the last minute, which makes them more likely to get lost. Plus, it takes fucking forever to board because there is inevitably some troglodyte in row 11 trying to cram a rolling suitcase the size of a Mini Cooper into an overhead bin that could realistically fit a large movie popcorn, if you were OK with crumpling the container a little bit.
Addendum: Expressing shock, while standing on the jetway, that there is no more overhead bin space will result in being banished from that flight.
3. Sitting in my seat and then being upset when I ask you to move is super illegal.
You, like me, were given a piece of paper with a seat number on it. You, unlike me, chose to ignore it. I don’t give a fuck if you don’t like your assigned seat. Get up.
If you are flying Southwest and don’t have an assigned seat, but do have an assigned boarding order, and you attempt to cut in front of me despite having a later number, and I make you move, and you get upset, that is also illegal. Do as you’re told, read a book, and get off at the other end.
4. FaceTiming your grandchildren on speakerphone from the waiting area of your gate is tremendously illegal.
It’s 4:30 in the fucking morning and I have been awake for almost a full day already. Stop it.
Also, why are your grandkids awake? The US only has four time zones and you’re in the latest one. If anything, it’s even more obscenely early where they are.
Also, you are going to see them right now (I know this because your phone is on speakerphone at a volume that warrants ear protection). You will see them in real life, today. It is not important that they witness you smashing your faces together on a tiny screen before then.
5. Clustering interminably in front of the departures screen is extra illegal.
There is very little information on that screen. There is a destination (which you already know), a flight number (which you don’t need), and a gate number and departure time which probably haven’t changed in the 20 minutes since they printed your boarding pass.
Also, the destinations are in alphabetical order. Do you know where you’re going? Do you know how to spell it? Do you know what order the alphabet goes in? Excellent. Make a mental note and get out of the way.
Standing in front of the screen while you check your boarding pass, speculate about which way your gate is, look for signs to indicate which way your gate is, point out to one another which way your gate is, or lament a delayed flight will be a prisonable offense.
6. Cutting in line is, obviously, illegal.
There are only three reasons anyone cuts in line:
- You’re worried that the airplane will run out of overhead bin space and desperately want to stow your leviathan rolling suitcase before that happens, which is illegal (see 2).
- You’re flying Southwest and didn’t check in at a reasonable hour or spring 12.50 for priority boarding, so you’re trying to board out of order, which is illegal (see 3).
- You think that the next forty minutes between now and takeoff would be better spent in an airplane seat than almost anywhere else, which makes you a lunatic unfit to fly.
All of these reasons are terrible. Board when you’re supposed to.
7. Standing up as soon as the plane stops moving is illegal.
Why. What are you doing. You are in row 40 of a 42-row plane. You could watch a third in-flight movie before the aisle is clear enough to retrieve your bag and walk off the plane. And don’t give me that bullshit about stretching your legs. You’re standing in your seat, knees slightly bent, neck at an angle that would make an orthopedic surgeon faint, and you know it.
8. Stopping in the middle of a busy walkway, staircase, or right outside the entrance to the bathroom, is stupendously illegal.
Pointing while doing so is even more illegal. Some of us already know where we’re going, haven’t lost our children, and have no interest in the fact that the newsstand sells that book that Carol told you about, remember, with the woman on the train or something? Move.
9. Getting to security and not being ready is very illegal.
You have done this before. Even if you haven’t, there are signs telling you exactly what to do, and a voice on the PA system telling you exactly what to do, and surly TSA agents telling you exactly what to do, and the people in front of you in line are already doing what you’re supposed to do. On mimicry alone, an actual chimpanzee could figure this out faster than some of the people I’ve seen.
One woman on my flight from Guayaquil to Miami had to be told to show her ID, and then had to dig it out of a purse the size of the Hindenburg. On her second flight. She had the same connection I did. She had been through airport security already, a mere six hours prior, and had already forgotten how to do it. This is, of course, illegal.
10. Speaking of which, this thing her husband did shall also and immediately be illegal.
I’ll set the scene. It’s 1 am. We’re waiting for our (very delayed) plane to board in the Guayaquil airport. This couple is reminiscing about the various incompetent wait staff they had on their trip, and I’m trying to fashion the items in my backpack, Apollo-13-style, into a sensory deprivation chamber so as to avoid hearing them do so. Periodically, the husband gets up to look out the window, get a snack, go to the bathroom, and generally meander about the boarding area. Five minutes before the plane boards, a nice Ecuadorian man comes over with a wheelchair and the husband sits in it to be pushed thirty feet to the gate so he can board early. His wife is obviously allowed to accompany him. At the other end, he walks off the plane and walks the (approximately) 74 miles from the gate, through customs, through baggage claim, and out into the main airport, with no apparent discomfort. Meanwhile, at my gate, a man on crutches arrives with a shiny new prosthetic leg and no assistance whatsoever. So fuck that first guy.
11. While we’re hovering around the subject, the Miami airport is now illegal.
The Miami airport is the least intuitive airport I’ve ever been in. I know it was very early in the morning but I had to walk legitimately two miles from my gate to my next connection. Doubled-back corridors, confusing signage, an unintelligible tram system, and needlessly tall escalators.
In addition, it is filled with ungodly loud music very early in the morning, seems to clean the floors with cologne, and only has free Wi-Fi for 30 minutes, IF you download the Lyft app and watch an ad, otherwise it’s $7.99 an hour.
12. Music on the plane is overwhelmingly illegal.
I checked into my flight out of Guayaquil roughly two hours before it was supposed to board, only to be informed that it had been delayed another two-and-a-bit hours. I resigned myself to waiting out those five hours at the gate, maybe taking a nap. But when I approached the security line, I was told I couldn’t go through until three hours before my flight, which was (now) still two hours away. There are no chairs in the check-in area, so I stood for two hours in one place with nothing to do, then went through security, then sat for another two while that one couple did annoying things, and then when I finally boarded and was about to welcome the sweet release of fitful sleep and impending neck pain, the music started.
Not the gentle, plinky-plonky music of elevators and hotel lobbies and department stores, but a radio station filled with Spanish-speaking singers who were either loudly sad or loudly something else (I don’t speak Spanish), broadcast over the plane’s speakers at a volume almost too loud to talk over. At 1:30 in the morning. The music didn’t stop until well after we were in the air, at which point the lights went out too and my tired brain promptly overcorrected into a very short coma.
No more music on planes, ever.
13. Finally, waking up passengers on planes is, and forever shall be, illegal.
Flying is a terrible experience, remember, but we endure it because it’s better than never going new places. And that’s fine. It’s a means to an end, something we have to put up so that we can move long distances in short amounts of time. And one of the best ways to endure flying is to sleep.
I make it as obvious as I can that that is my intention. I wear earplugs. I wear a hat, regardless of weather, that I can pull over my eyes. I wear headphones on top of all that. All I want is a window seat so I can lean against the wall and drool away as much of the journey as possible in a state of blissful torture.
So if you wake me up, there will be hell to pay.
Here are the reasons to wake a sleeping passenger:
- It’s time for him to get off the plane.
- He has explicitly asked you to.
That’s the whole list. Do not wake me for refreshments. Do not wake me for a turkey sandwich that has apparently been kept fresh by putting it through a dishwasher. Do not wake me for coffee, LIKE YOU DON’T SEE THE IRONY IN THAT. I will wake up when the captain informs me, in an eardrum-burstingly loud and yet somehow calm and low voice, that we are 30 minutes outside of Denver and the local time is 11:35 a.m.
The plane will land, and I will wait to stand up until the people in front of me have stood up. I will collect my one normal-size bag, walk to baggage claim, and stand at a reasonable distance until I can see my bag. I will collect it and walk to the curb, where my friend picks me up (side note: standing at the curb in Denver, keeping your eyes open for a Subaru, is a pointless endeavor). I will go home and tell my friends about my awesome week in the Galapagos.
Flying isn’t fun. It just isn’t. It’s not designed to be, and it shouldn’t be. It’s how you get from where you live to somewhere really far away from where you live in a reasonable amount of time. But if everyone follows some basic rules, as spelled out here, it’ll be slightly less horrible.
And the next person to play Candy Crush next to me with the sound on is getting suplexed through the emergency exit.