Hell is other people when it comes to air travel

“What the hell are those people doing?”
It’s a phrase I utter in best Victor Meldrew fashion numerous times between checking in and arriving at the destination, except it’s usually not ‘hell’ I use.

Waiting for Binter, La Gomera
Waiting for the plane at La Gomera’s airport – tranquil bliss until you have to battle a horde of Canarian pensioners going on their holidays.

We arrive more than two hours before the flight, but by the time we reach the check-in desks we’ll barely have time to down a mouth-scalding coffee. The queue moves forward at the pace of a sloth with a gammy leg. Why are people so slow? There are periodic gaps in the line ahead but the guy in front is too fixated on his black mirror to notice the ponderous line has moved. A Tyrannosaurus Rex could have pounded its way into the queue and be about to chomp his head off and he wouldn’t be aware. His thumbs flick away at robotic speed. That bit impresses the hell out of me; a chimp could better my attempts at using thumbs on my phone. I clear my throat, he looks up and shuffles forward as he finally spots the gap in front of him. The phone might be smart, but…

Free from the crowd, Frankfurt Airport, Germany
Free of the luggage and check-in queue at Frankfurt Airport.

People seem to take an inordinate amount of time at the desks even though they’ve already checked in online. What is it that people actually do when they reach the check-in desk which takes so long? There are some passengers where it doesn’t require a ball of crystal to foresee they’ll have problems. The two pixie-sized girls three in front of us are definite queue-stallers. They both have over-sized cases which, from the difficulty with which they try to move them, look as though they’re filled with gold bullion. It’s clear the cases are way over the weight limit. Sure enough, when they reach the desk there’s an animated discourse, much hand-waving, and then they move aside, open cases which vomit clothes, and try to perform the magic act of making 25kg turn into 15kg. The girls are obvious queue-stallers. But it’s the others, the ‘ordinary looking’ travellers, which confound me. What happens when they reach the desk? Do they have deep and meaningful debates with check-in staff about the state of the world?

Finally it’s our turn. We hand over documents and passports, confirm we haven’t packed a bazooka or similar, check case weight (14.2 and 14.4kg respectively) as the girl attaches the labels to them and move away. It’s a done deal in under a minute.

Post security check, La Palma
Relaxing after clearing security at La Palma Airport. Although clearing security there takes all of two minutes.

We always end up behind people who are travelling for the first time. That’s how it seems anyway, because lots of people behave as though they’ve never been through airport security before. As the line shuffles along I take a few gulps of water before dumping the bottle at the last possible moment. I slip my belt through the trouser loops and stick it into a pocket of my rucksack, same with any coins, and the sunglasses perched on my bonce. Finally, I pat my pockets to make sure there are no rogue objects. By the time it’s my turn I’m ready to drop jacket, tablet, and rucksack into a tray and move on quickly. I can see the people in front of me are taking no such preemptive actions, it’s as though they have no idea of what’s coming. There are three security machines to choose from. At one is a family, so that’s out. At another is an elderly couple. At the third is a quartet of millennials. The last should be the clear choice as the generation which followed mine is far more used to travel than we ever were at their age. But I’ve learnt the hard way that frequency of travel doesn’t necessarily equate to savviness. I pick the older couple. Of course they’re not prepared, and they pack their trays in slow motion. But I’m still through that scanner before the millennials have finished emptying pockets and removing coats, hats, and general beep-inducing objects. One is called back four times before being deemed scanner ready.

Coping with the stress of other people, business class, Chile
Kick off the shoes, sit back, and watch the boarding ballet.

As we’re in seats 32A and 32B we board at the back of the plane, just behind a woman whose seat number is 5C. She clogs up all progress as she struggles her way forward, reaching an impasse when she comes face to face with a man who boarded at the front and whose seat is 30D.
We slip into our seats with a sigh, place bags under the seat in front, buckle up, and sit back to watch the same play which is performed on every single flight.

A thirty-something guy with designer stubble stands in the aisle next to his seat, making it difficult for people to pass. Despite getting bumped over and over he’s oblivious to the blockage he’s causing. He probably thinks people are staring at him because he looks good, not realising they’re actually thinking “what a dick”. Then there’s the forty-something bloke who treats every flight as though it was the one he took to Benidorm when he was seventeen. He’s downed three pints of lager whilst waiting to board and now he’s desperate to use the toilets. He goes at least three times before we take to the air, the last being just as we start to taxi.

Relaxing with views of the Alps, Switzerland
Once everyone is finally seated we can sit back and enjoy the flight.

Mr OCD can’t leave the small case in the overhead locker alone. He’s up and down every couple of minutes to make sure he’s still got his passport/wallet/travel docs/house keys. I know this guy, I’d be the same if I didn’t have my rucksack at my feet. Similarly, the woman dressed by Punta Roma desperately needs something from her bag in the overhead locker. She needs something every 60 seconds or so on a loop until the stewardess tells her to belt up. All of them stop other people from getting to their seats. I wonder how many flights take off later than they should because of people like these.

Touch down
Although I can hear the clicking of seat belts being unbuckled long before the wee seatbelt light blinks off, I know most of the unbucklers won’t actually be ready to leave by the time the plane’s doors are open. It’s one of the great mysteries of travel, why people take so long to exit a plane when it lands. You’d think they’d be keen to get wherever it is they’re going, but they seem to want to linger. The air steward announces, in three languages, that passengers can exit the plane at both the rear and the front, yet everyone in the rows behind us is standing in the aisle looking forward. I see light flooding in at the back of the plane as the door is open. Nobody moves, they’re still looking forward. I’m stuck behind a bear of a man, so my increasingly frantic gesticulating is blocked. It is a pantomime but nobody else in the audience is shouting “look behind you”. Eventually a stewardess points out the obvious and we start to shuffle out.

The bus
Many people head to the same – the closest – door of the bus, take a couple of steps inside and then stopping, making it difficult for those who follow to get on. That’s just the way it is.

Waiting for a train, Lisbon
We nearly always miss the train we hope to catch as baggage reclaim in Lisbon takes so long.

Baggage reclaim
I don’t trust people, so I head for the same spot at baggage reclaim every time; a spot a few metres from where the bags will appear. It’s easy to tell which direction they’ll travel when they’re spewed out, yet lots of people congregate at the farthest point from the source. There is a mini stampede when the bags eventually do appear and people realise it’ll be a long time before the bags arrive where they’re standing. My ‘airy’ spot suddenly becomes claustrophobic as I’m crowded. The real novices have trolleys between them and the conveyor belt, realising too late it’s a barrier which will prevent them from being able to grab their cases. The scuffle which follows usually involves innocent bystanders (i.e. me) getting my ankles rammed as they shove their trolley aside in a panic. When I said I don’t trust people I didn’t mean I think a fellow passenger is going to steal our luggage… not deliberately at least. A girl to my left illustrates perfectly why I’m obsessive about this. She grabs a black case as it passes and toddles off. Seconds later she’s back, humping the case back on to the belt. It’s not hers. A few minutes later she grabs another. The same scene replays. Finally, a look of recognition spreads across her face as she spots what really is her case. It is red.

Our cases appear. I grab them and we escape the airport. Free of the herd I can now finally relax and look forward to our trip.

About Jack 799 Articles
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a Slow Travel consultant and a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Facebook for more travel photos and snippets.


  1. And breathe Jack! You’d have surely loved to have been behind us in the queue at security at Nantes airport last week – just about to load all our stuff onto the belt when John started frantically patting his pockets and spluttering ‘where’s my phone??! And looking accusingly at me! We had to push our way back through the muttering queue to leg it back to the car hire office, where – apparently – I’d left it in the car (jury’s out on that). Frayed tempers all round. God only knows why we keep on doing it.

    • LOL. I can picture that scenario only too well. We have had plenty of similar moments; lots of accusations being bandied back and forth. I have a particular talent at being able to prove why anything that goes wrong is Andy’s fault. But mostly we’re pretty efficient 🙂

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