The Perpetual Mysteries of Flight.

Summer is nearly over, bringing to a close yet another great season of clueless migration. Every year, before the seasonal influx of the befuddled, I think to myself surely the basics of airline flight in 2011 cannot have escaped the travelling public in the age of wireless texting, HD satellite television and multi-media interaction. How can anyone not know the basics of airline flight from A to B?

But apparently, I’m wrong. So, in the interest of next summer and for the purpose of de-mystifying the basics of travelling by air, here are my top three “secrets” that seem to confuse certain passengers, a fact they divulge at the airport, usually when I’m talking on the phone or otherwise trying to accomplish requirements of my job.

Disclaimer: If you are very young, very old, or do not speak English–you are exempt. That is, I will do anything to help you in your travel because you need and deserve that. It’s the guy in the wife beater shirt or the Peg Bundy wannabe migrating to or from some vacation I probably don’t want to know about that are the truly yet unnecessarily clueless.

Mystery #1: Is this my gate? Let’s examine this puzzling question. First, I’d have to know where you’re going, wouldn’t I? If it’s early in my work day I probably have the patience to play twenty questions, beginning with “what is your destination,” and then the curveball you hate, “what’s your flight number?”

Sure, a big pain in the ass (you roll your eyes pointedly so I know) to dig into your bag and find your crumpled ticket–probably the wrong one, I’ve come to expect–to find your flight number. But here’s The Big Revelation (I hate when reality shows call it a “reveal,” which is a verb, not a noun):

1. There’s often more than one flight to your destination in a day. So if you get the wrong flight number, besides not being allowed to board, you’ll miss your booked flight.

2. I know this pisses you off, but if you’re more than two hours before your flight, it probably won’t be listed yet because the gate could change prior to departure time. And the chances of you updating your info are pretty slim–even though my airline will send the gate info and updates to your cellphone (I use it myself as a crewmember). Which will leave you waiting at the wrong gate endlessly like Hachi the Faithful Dog except nobody’s making a cutesy movie about your lost vacation.

That’s not going to end well. So, know your flight number and the correct departure time in the current time zone (I know, seems obvious, but . . .), find a monitor, get the current info and check it again within an hour of your boarding time.

Mystery #2: Why is there no food on this flight? Okay, that’s easy: because you said you didn’t want any. Well, that’s not exactly what you said . . . you said you didn’t want to pay for it. Right? You demanded the low-cost carrier fare (and they NEVER did have food) but the full-service carrier catering. Wonder how that would work at your local supermarket: “I want the food–but I don’t want to pay for it.

Try that out and report back. Meanwhile, your “I don’t want to pay” message was received loud and clear: now you don’t have to pay the airlines for that food you eat on the plane. Instead, you have to buy it at McDonald’s before you board. Hey, I do that too: their salads are great, portable and easy to enjoy at your seat on the plane.

Anyway, you saved $10 on your fare–but you had to give most of that to the airport concessions to get a carry-out and a bottle of water to take on board. Still confused? It’s what you said you wanted. And if I may add a personal recommendation, at least on my airline: the “buy on board” turkey sandwich is excellent. I’ve actually passed up First Class fare for it. It’s not really any more than you’d pay for it in the terminal either. Bon apetit.

Mystery #3: All right, this is really hard to believe–but a friend of mine, a practicing attorney in a large law firm, actually hit me with this. “Why,” he asked, “don’t I return to the same gate I left from?”


“You know–I flew to San Francisco from gate C-31 at DFW. I don’t understand why the return flight didn’t arrive at C-31. I think it always should return to where you start out”

I had to think about that for a while. He actually saw the world from such a self-centered viewpoint that he didn’t even notice the fact that many if not most of the people on his outbound flight weren’t from DFW. They’d actually connected from other cities and really didn’t care where the jet parked. In fact, many of them were likely from San Francisco, having started their trip there. They didn’t care about the DFW gate any more than he cared about the gate in San Francisco–and it never occurred to him that they might.

Clearly, the act of flying miles above the earth at near the speed of sound for thousands of miles is an easy concept to grasp–but thinking about gates, food, or flight numbers is beyond the full range of humanity from the clueless traveller to the counselor at law.

All of this makes me realize that the above mysteries are not at all mysterious and in fact, stem from a much simpler cause.

That being the case, I guess next summer will be a lot like this past season. Sigh.



4 Responses to “The Perpetual Mysteries of Flight.”

  1. I love standing behind the counter and listening to the questions. It is entertaining. Good job Chris.

  2. blackwatertown Says:

    My worst one was getting on the shuttle train to the wrong terminal. Cunningly it was designed to only carry outgoing passengers one way, and landing passengers the other – so muggins (i.e. me) had to walk back under the runways.
    Still, at least it saved me from having to hang round the shops.

  3. I always enjoyed the bonehead that hurried into the terminal in the middle of a raging thunderstorm or blizzard with the question, “Are the flights running on time?” Or the idiots that tore me a new one blaming the airline for freeway traffic and demanding to know why “the airline didn’t call to tell them there was heavy road traffic.” Duhhhhh.

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