The completely correct guide to being back in an airport
The Washington Post July 15, 2021
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The airport is one of the most bizarre places mankind has created. You can drink without abandon in the morning, wear a neck pillow as an accessory, and eat dinner for breakfast and vice versa without shame.
It is a place that seems lawless, but in fact, it is a place that works best if everyone follows a few simple guidelines. Unlike hard rules, like not bringing a jug of milk through airport security, many of the airport’s most important guidelines are unwritten.
This can be confusing, particularly if you haven’t been to an airport in a long time because of the pandemic. So we’re spelling out the essential rules to existing at the airport to clear things up. It may have been a while since you’ve flown, and unlike riding a bike, you’ll be relearning the skills and finesse of traveling while surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers.
Here are the basics to help you prepare for your glorious return to the inglorious airport.
Dress for the elements
It may be tempting to dress for the Bahamas if you’re en route to the Bahamas, but the airport is not the Bahamas. The airport is not West Hollywood or Miami or Cabo, either.
The airport is a cold, filthy place - just about the opposite of whatever warm vacation destination is on your horizon. It is probably not a place for tank tops, crop tops, shorts and sandals. Commemorative Myrtle Beach boardwalk T-shirt? Fine. Leather pants? Sure.
The reasoning has nothing to do with aesthetics. It is purely practical. Dress for the upsetting reality of what you are getting into: floors, chairs and bathrooms shared with the flying masses, as well as frigid airplanes.
And for the love of god, please keep your bare feet in your shoes.
Get to the airport earlier enough to get to your flight with poise
We get it. You hate wasting time, and you really hate wasting time at the airport. You love the thrill of getting there as close to your flight as humanly possible. Good for you.
That tactic of airport arrival is perfectly fine when everything goes perfectly. But what if you hit traffic on your way there? What if they only have two out of the four TSA security checkpoints open and the lines are snaking through the departures hall? What if you forgot you needed a coronavirus test to get to your destination and you have to scramble to find an XpresCheck ASAP?
If your risky planning means you will be begging fellow passengers to cut the line at airport security, you are doing it wrong. Running through the airport to catch your flight looks a lot less James Bond to the public. Arrive at the airport early enough to account for things going wrong, then kill some time reading a book or getting your inbox to zero at your gate before takeoff.
Give the people what they want (they want space)
Going back to the airport is going to be a jarring experience for many travelers who haven’t been in busy public spaces. We are still in the midst of the worst global health crisis in a lifetime. People have grown accustomed to social distancing.
With coronavirus precautions loosening, staying six feet from others may be fading from your muscle memory. Don’t let it. Not just for fear of infection, but because it’s unpleasant to be crowded by strangers under pressure.
You are going to get through airport security just as quickly whether you’re standing two inches or at arm’s length from the person in front of you. You are going to get on your flight whether you swarm the gate or stay seated until your boarding zone is called.
Take a step back, keep a polite distance from other travelers and look up from your phone while you’re walking so you don’t smash into those other travelers who are also looking down at their phones.
And if you’re going to eat something that’s particularly fragrant or messy (a big bowl of soup? A saucy burrito?) make sure you’re keeping even more distance from others because it is incredibly uncomfortable to have a stranger’s meal splashing on you or your belongings. (What you eat on the plane is another story - another story that we have a story for, actually).
The moving walkway is for walking, or letting other people walk
Even though you’re the main character in your life, you are not the main character of the airport. The moving walkways - those magic people conveyor belts that get you through the terminals faster and with less effort - are there for everyone, not just you and your carry-on bag.
Do your fellow travelers a favor and keep it moving when you are on the moving walkway. Don’t want to hustle on the system built for hustling? Stand to the right, containing your earthly possessions, so that other people can pass by you without yelling, “GET OUT OF MY WAY, I AM LATE FOR MY FLIGHT.”
This rule also applies to escalators.
The airport can be your co-working space, but not your private office
No matter how mad you are that Richard in marketing isn’t leveraging client synergies, you do not have to yell at him at full volume while you’re sitting at Gate 3A waiting for your flight.
Send Richard a fiery email full of exclamation points. Shoot off a few texts in all-caps. Tell him over the phone in a hushed yelling voice. Whatever you do, remember that there are hundreds of other people around you that do not care what’s happening on your business call.
This also goes for loud calls of idle chatter, hot gossip and angry customer service complaints. Travelers are stressed out enough as it is; they don’t need a loud rendition of your life’s drama added to the already grating airport background noise.
Follow the rules of the airport like an adult
It is a weird time to be traveling. There are new regulations to follow, tensions are running high. But you don’t have to throw a fit because things are different. Throw a fit because an airport gin and tonic is $21.
Need somewhere to direct your anger and frustration? The people working at the airport are not the ones in control over the situations making your travel day so horrible. Do unto others, turn the other cheek, et cetera. It is a bad look to be that guy freaking out at the TSA agent because the security lines are long. It is bad karma to lose it at a gate agent over mask regulations (which, yes, still exist).
Go back to the airport with the intention of being the unshakable traveler who will not let a few headaches get in the way of being a sane, reasonable human being. You live in a society, you travel in a society, and you are not the exception to the rules of the airport.