Airport: the cast of characters

by James Wysong on March 27, 2007

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about odd seat neighbors you might encounter on an airplane. I had a great response from readers, and some of them pointed out that there are plenty of weird and frustrating airline employees as well.

Let’s take a look at some of the characters you might encounter as you make your way through your airplane trip.

1. The Lady of the Keyboard. This is the ticket agent who appears to be typing a novel — and faster than any typist you have ever seen. After a while, she starts talking to her screen as if she has an ongoing relationship with it. Just when you think the system has lost your booking, the computer spits out baggage tags, boarding cards and itineraries, but before you can say thank you, the gate agent is on to the next customer.

2. The Security Tag Team. The one out front talks as if he has had way too much coffee, yammering about metal objects, laptops and liquids; the other one, behind the monitor, looks dazed and about to doze off, like a couch potato glued to the television set.

3. The Berated Gate Agent.This poor woman has heard every upgrade ploy and excuse for an aisle seat known to man. She rarely makes eye contact, knits her brow a lot, and appears to be contemplating serious matters. What she is really thinking about is how wonderful her life will be when your airplane doors are finally closed.

4. The Condescending Flight Attendant. This employee has developed a bitter attitude over time and treats all passengers as if their only goal in life is to make her miserable. She assumes you’re an idiot and treats you like one.

5. Biff and Bruce. These fellows represent the two extremes of behavior among male flight attendants. Biff rolls up his sleeves, sticks his chest out, and tells macho jokes to prove to everyone that he is not gay. Bruce, on the other hand, is so effeminate that he practically floats through the aisles.

6. Ms. Don’t-Mess-with-Me. This flight attendant, who seems to have come aboard fresh from a fight with her better half, answers the first passenger complaint with a glare that unmistakably says, “Make my day — one word from me and the cops will handcuff you.” Good thing she’s not carrying a gun.

7. The Strong, Silent Pilot. Airline pilots are generally uncommunicative and given to stretching the truth. There are some who feel no need to tell their passengers anything about why the airplane has yet to leave the gate or why it has been sitting on the runway for three hours. Others tell small, folksy lies: “OK, folks, keep those seat belts on. We should be at the gate in just a couple of minutes.” It is interesting that these pilots can fly complex instrument approach routes but can’t estimate time worth a damn.

8. The Garrulous Pilot. This pilot wants to talk you across the Atlantic Ocean. Forget the sleep you were going to get on board, because this guy is going to point out every whitecap along the way. Spare me! If it was the ocean 10 minutes ago, I can assume that it is the same body of water now. And if these chatty pilots are going to constantly talk over the loud speaker, shouldn’t they have to take a speech class to eliminate all the long, drawn-out “Uuuuuuuhhhhhhh’s”?

9. Ms. Welcome Wagon. This is the ground agent who welcomes you and announces your baggage-claim area. Why does this person always have such a strong accent? Half the time I can’t understand where I’ve landed. Shouldn’t the one welcoming you to the United States have a firm grip on the English language?

10. The Unflappable Customer Service Agent.This is the one you go to when your flight has canceled and you need to be rerouted. He’s heard it all — from how you “can’t believe this is happening” and how your trip “has been totally ruined” to how you are “never going to fly with this airline again.” The fact that the agent remains completely unfazed gets you riled up even more.

11. The Burly Baggage Guys. You see these big, capable-looking fellows when you look out the airplane window during boarding. Your equanimity is shaken as you see them hurling the suitcases onto the moving ramp with enthusiasm, probably exploding all the liquids and gels you were forced to pack in your checked-in luggage.

12. The Sticky Maintenance Crew. These guys come on board to fix a last-minute problem, armed with stickers that say “Inoperative” or “Deferred,” ready to slap them on anything that’s not crucial to flight safety. The idea seems to be: If it’s broken, don’t fix it. Just put a sticker on it.

13. The Smiley Faces. Then there are the flight attendants who have not cracked a smile the entire flight, but manage to flash a drop-dead-gorgeous smile as they utter their monotonous “Buh-bye!” to each and every one of the passengers.

What kind of character am I? I’m the flight attendant who tells you exactly what I’m thinking — quite candidly — but I do it in a humorous tone of voice. For example, “Four carry-on bags? Where’s the kitchen sink?” So instead of getting angry, you just chuckle and get annoyed later.

Did I forget anyone? Do you have any more to add? Send them to me — I’m listening.

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