The “Joys” of Boarding


by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger

I’m in Chicago, waiting to board my flight. The “depultures”* are circling, and the gate attendant is about to begin to “pre-board”(?) travelers deemed worthy to enter the aircraft before everyone else.

Near the gate, a pole has a ridiculous sign at the top that shows two options to either side of it. One arrow indicates that “premiere access” passengers should walk to the right of the pole and step on a special 4-foot-by-3-foot carpet to present their boarding passes. The other arrow indicates everyone else should keep their filthy shoes the hell off the carpet by walking to the left of the pole to give the attendant the modern-day equivalent of a “steerage” boarding passes.

Turns out there were rebels in the group. A few people who didn’t have “right” access walked on the carpet anyway. The attendant actually turned them around and made them walk up a second time—to the left of the pole, for God’s sake—and present their boarding passes again. I’m still laughing about that.

This would be so much more amusing if we hadn’t also endured the “Mystery of the Missing Flight Crew.” We were waiting to board what turned out to be a delayed departure when the gate attendant announced, “Ladies and gentleman, we’ll begin boarding as soon as we locate your flight crew.” Okay, great…wait…as soon as we…what? Where are they?

Believe me, when the crew showed up and strolled through the door, I think everyone at the gate scrutinized them. It didn’t help that the pilot looked like he had attended a Pitbull concert the night before. Is he old enough to rent a car? Is he wearing his dad’s uniform?  God, I’m getting old.

But here’s the part I really don’t get about this whole pre-boarding process. As a frequent flier, the last thing you want to do is spend even more time on a plane. Plus, you know the ropes: What goes up. What goes underneath. When to buckle up and when you can lower your tray table from its full upright and locked position.

The people who need time are infrequent fliers. When seated on the aisle, they buckle and unbuckle—twice—before their row is full. They can’t quite grasp the ABC concept on the right and the DEF on the left. They can’t decipher the graphics that indicate aisle, middle, and window on the overheads.

Any airline could have the most successful frequent flier program of all time by making one teeny-tiny change to its procedure: Frequent fliers should be allowed to jump into their seats as the Jetway is just about ready to pull away from the door. We get “rewarded” by spending the most time on the plane? As it stands, attendants can make whatever announcement they want, but this is what we really hear:

“Thanks for being our very best customers and flying with us week after week after week.  Thanks for ditching your shoes, jackets, and watches for “security,” although we all know that not one bit of that makes a difference. Thanks for continuing to fly into Minneapolis despite the fact that you have to walk six miles to reach your rental car; into Philly despite the relentless delays; and into Atlanta, which we all know is worse than O’Hare but sounds friendlier.

“Thanks for being grateful for the opportunity to buy horrible mini-food from us—cash only!—and for understanding that we probably won’t be able to locate your flight crew; yes, that happens a lot these days, those scamps! Thanks again—and, for your continued loyalty, you get to be on this plane longer than almost everyone else today! Welcome aboard!”

We get it. We know about limiting our carry-on bags to two and how to store them (we share the overhead space and must utilize all of it). Our other item fits securely under the seat in front of us, and we exercise caution when opening the overheads because objects may have shifted during flight.

We understand how to pull down on the oxygen mask, and we adjust our own before assisting others. We know that although the bag will not inflate, oxygen will be flowing. We remember that in case of an emergency, floor lights will illuminate a path to the nearest exit, and we keep in mind that the nearest exit may be behind us. Seat backs? Tray tables?  Got it.

We’ve read Skymall over and over and, in a moment of recirculated-air delirium, have come within seconds of actually ordering the Martini Mister.

Good idea: “Attention, Frequent Fliers: Your flight’s leaving in about eight minutes. Come on over and join us.”

Better: Come tap me on the shoulder while I’m sipping my latte and cracking the cover of Gone Girl.

Best: (After checking in) “You’re all set. Just leave your bag; we’ll stow it in the overhead and call you when we’re ready to depart.”

I’d be there just before the flight attendants prepare the doors for departure.

Can you imagine?

* Travelers who circle an airline gate like vultures, anticipating an announcement and angling to be first in line.

What are some “joys” you have experienced while boarding?

Renee-JamesRenee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (Or wants to, anyway), and welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.


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4 Responses to The “Joys” of Boarding

  1. Donna in Delaware May 23, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    Renee, it’s been a long time since I took a domestic flight. When my husband and I flew, it was usually first class or business. Being treated as though you were ‘special,’ (even though you knew that you weren’t) sort of, kind of made you feel that way. It made you feel great knowing that you got on board first, without having to wait in a long line of people, and had great seats, service, and food, especially on international flights. Domestic flights, well, that’s another thing all together. I hated the (non) service, the stale sandwiches, or always bland chicken dinners, when food was offered, the way that you were treated like a leper, talked down to, and no blankets or pillows to use for your so-called comfort, when the air conditioning was -20 degrees. Delays, OMG!!

    Boarding, that was a nightmare. Starting from the back of the plane to the front, people could never figure out where to stow their bags in the overhead because it was usually overfilled by the time you got on. Or they were blocking the aisle because they couldn’t get it in the overhead or figure it out. If you placed it under the seat, the steward(ess) made you take it from underneath most times, and try to jam it into the overhead, where there was little or no space, or made you get up and check it in. By then, everyone else seemed to be in their seats waiting for a schmuck like you to hurry up and sit down (you should have known better or prepared better) so that the plane could take off. Now, if possible, I just drive and see the country without having to go through it all. It is a nightmare, although I can understand why. Getting up earlier than normal, having to be at check-in 1 to 2 hours earlier than normal, practically disrobing before the public, etc., etc. My days of international flying is mostly over and my domestic flying has been over for many years. It’s been great, and a disaster, but all-in-all, it’s been an experience, sometimes even fun!

  2. Alice Green May 23, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    I used to enjoy it before it became a nightmare as it is now. And I guess the thing I am most grateful for is that now I never will be flying. Not by choice but necessity, my back is so bad I can’t sit down for more than 1 hour unless I’m in a LaZboy chair. And I’ve never found a plane that had one. I haven’t had to fly since they started ‘patting’ you down. Good thing as I am so ticklish, I’d probably get thrown out of the line for jumping and giggling like a kid. But I do get a kick out of your very on-the-mark description of life in the airport. If you didn’t have such a great sense of humor it would probably be a lot worse for you. Hopefully, one day you won’t have to do so much flying and you can just ‘remember the good ole days.’ Thanks for sharing, it gave me a good laugh, something we all need.

  3. Shawn May 24, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    Too funny, Renee. I am a pilot for a regional airline, we fly out of O’Hare all the time. Your description of the boarding process is spot-on. If enough folks who were in the “premium level” fliers ever made a point out of asking to be notified and boarded they way you suggest, you never know, the airlines might just go there.

    The Safety Briefing, is, sadly, beyond the control of the airline. I’m pretty sure that our FAs would rather not have to show folks how to operate a seat belt (believe it or not, there are folks who DON’T know how to operate their belt) and talk about the Oxygen mask system. The FAA unfortunately has different ideas about what needs to be said, and at the end of the day they win all arguments, and in reality I’m with them on the emergency equipment brief.

    I wish that the airlines would start to exercise a bit of common sense, and charge for carry-ons and let travelers check their first bag free. Not only would that free up overhead space from the massive rollaboards that wend their way down (and then back up) the aisle it would accelerate boarding and deplaning by a factor of about 10. The baggage tracking systems are much better now that everything is scanned and processed in real time via the wifi on the ramp, and unless there is a misconnect chances are pretty good bags will make it with travelers. Unfortunately the airlines have gotten addicted to that revenue stream and will have a tough time being convinced to let it go.

    As for crews not being there, well the new FAA regulations that govern rest requirements might be partly responsible for that. I don’t know your specific circumstance on that flight, but recently we have begun to “time out” sooner than we used to, and that leads to crews having to be replaced (pilots anyhow) and many regionals don’t have the spare pilots to throw onto a new flight. There isn’t a shortage of pilots, there’s just a shortage of pilots willing to spend upwards of $60,000 and several years to be trained and then be paid $20,000 a year to start the job. This problem won’t get better any time soon, unless the pay, quality of life and career progression improves for regional pilots. You might well find yourself on a flight cancelled for crew, because there’s literally no one to fly the airplane from point A to B.

    We try and do the best we can to deliver a good experience when the door is closed and we’re off the gate. That much we can control from the “front office” as much as weather, ATC and random events let us.

  4. Renee June 9, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    First, my apologies for my very delayed responses here. I loved reading your stories, Donna and Alice! Believe me, if I didn’t have to fly for work, I would fly very selectively only to places that were restorative and lovely! That would make the airport mayhem worth it – absolutely.

    Donna – I always think the same thing about people who seem to holding up the works. I’ll bet it’s usually not even their fault! As you say : crowded overheads that leave them no room, etc. This is where flights attendants sometimes work miracles.

    Alice – you may need to hop online and check out the first class cabins on Etihad or Emirates Air. I think British Airways has them, too. Practically little apartments in the air! Unbelievable.

    Shawn – Thank you so much! A voice of reason and authority amidst my mini-rant. I have nothing but gratitude for every single pilot and every crew member who has gotten me safely from Point A to Point B, sometimes despite some rather random and unwelcome events. If the biggest challenge I face on any flight is listening to the safety protocol one more time, I’ll call that a very good thing.

    Thanks again everyone!

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