4 passenger disorders

by Terry Riley on February 23, 2005

For me, travel is not just a process of getting from point A to point B. As a psychologist, travel also provides me the opportunity to watch — and wonder at — the behavior of people who are often out of their elements, sometimes out of their time zones and occasionally out of their minds.

A rich and varied assortment of human behavior can be found on display while transiting by air. Certainly, much of that behavior follows well recognized fundamental principles of psychology. The dynamics of queuing, the management of personal space, the protection of territorial rights, the demonstration of narcissistic personalities, the causes of aggressive behavior — this is all well understood stuff.

Yet there are some behaviors displayed by my fellow passengers again and again, the explanations for which I can only guess. Four of these seem to be particularly common — so common in fact that I feel they need their own special clinical labels.

So I’ve taken the lead in describing these weird behaviors and their causes. (I call them “disorders” to give them more of an official, medical, respectable overtone.)

Sooner disorder (SD). Passengers who suffer from SD are easy to spot. They queue up at airport departure gates so they can be among the first to board their planes to claim seats that have already been reserved for them.

If the intention of these individuals were to board early so as to lay claim to some extra overhead space for their luggage, their behavior would make sense. (It would be rude, but would make sense.) However the majority of passengers displaying SD are people who are carrying little more than their tickets.

Psychological explanation of SD: As children, Sooners’ parents repeatedly told them, “If you aren’t ready when we are supposed to leave, we’re leaving without you.” And they did.

Rearversive disorder (RD). Rearversives have a strong aversion to flying in airline seats that face
toward the rear of the airplane. It is understandable that passengers seated
near windows much prefer to be able to see what is coming rather than what has passed. Heck, so do my dogs, but this front-facing tropism occurs even when there is little or no chance of seeing outside the airplane.

Psychological explanation of RD: It’s not the physical orientation of the body that is responsible for RD. No, it’s the unbearable anxiety caused by the increased chances of making eye contact with other passengers when facing them.

Acute deplania disorder (ADD). ADD is evidenced by passengers who immediately spring from their airplane seats as soon as their aircraft has reached its destination and arrived at its gate. (Sometimes they jump up even before the airplane arrives at its
gate.)

Once up, filled with anxious energy, there they stand. They look toward the front of the airplane restlessly waiting for somebody to move. They fumble with their purses and briefcases. They drag luggage out of overhead storage spaces thumping them onto the heads of passengers below. They stick their butts in the faces of still seated passengers. They are human bumper cars.

Psychological explanation of ADD: ADD arises from a psychophysiological condition whereby people confined in small places for more than 30 minutes tend to forget that they are not alone when the time to egress from that space arrives.

Baggage dash disorder (BDD). Immediately upon deplaning, Baggage Dashers tear off to the baggage claim area. There they stand at the designated carrousel, knees planted firmly
against stainless steel, waiting for their bags to arrive.

Psychological explanation of BDD: Dashers believe that their quickness will somehow influence the pace of the airport’s baggage delivery system: The sooner they arrive at the luggage carrousel, the sooner their bags will be delivered. Poor souls.

Note: It should noted that SD, RD, ADD and BDD are often shared by the same passengers. No surprise there.

If you suffer from any of these disorders, feel free to contact me for therapeutic advice. Just don’t fly with me.

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