Sometimes you have to wait in line — a long line, without really knowing what is going to be said to you at the end of it when you finally get to talk with the person in charge at the counter. It’s part of life, and at the airport, it is a chance to observe human behavior.
Our flight out of Japan was delayed by a day. We were deplaned after two attempts by the mechanics to fix a “part that is needed to fly over water,” according to the pilot. Since this was an 11 hour flight, most of which is over the Pacific Ocean, I was really fine with the decision to not fly. Some passengers grumbled. As we left the plane, there was already trash everywhere. Discarded candy bar wrappers, plastic wrap from the complimentary headphones, and on each screen, a still of whatever movie was being watched. It was like walking through the last vestiges of a preteen sleepover.
We returned to our original gate seating, and waited for word on the delay. When the announcement was made that the flight was canceled, and wouldn’t be rescheduled until the following morning, we were told to “follow the woman with the yellow vest” through the airport. All 300 or so of us followed one tiny woman. We lost her at a couple of points, and had to rely on the herd of faces we’d already memorized as our fellow plane mates — the young Texan with the loose blonde ponytail, a Japanese man with his grandmother, a guy wearing white-rimmed glasses. A few airport employees held up handwritten signs with arrows along the way. What our pilgrimage amounted to was a very long line at the airline check-in desk, where we’d all started our day.
We stood with a young woman from Laos who asked us if we’d been through anything like this in our travels. Dan explained that we’d either be offered a hotel and meal voucher, or we’d get rescheduled flights. She seemed relieved. The line snailed along. Dan noticed that attendants at the counter had to share a stapler. Then we realized they had no printers, and had to walk away from their posts to print out hotel vouchers and boarding passes. Some of them rode the luggage belt to get to their desks faster.
I watched a woman at the desk pull out her hair from the same spot just in front of her ear, strand by strand. Another woman, at the counter the entire time we waited in line (about two hours), must have had a complex travel itinerary which was disrupted by the flight change. She took out her laptop to consult a world map. Her flights were rescheduled.
Americans are not good at waiting. It’s like they’d never spent time in a line before. There was a group of impatient, entitled ticket holders who decided to start their own line by complaining. One man oozed his way to the front of another counter and demanded to know why he and his wife had to wait. He was given a hotel voucher. I overheard him tell his wife, “It’s ok, we got meal vouchers too, and I have plenty of snacks.” No one was going to starve (I sat near this man on the plane the following day, and he ate during the entire flight). Then he felt empowered to let others know his success, and made an official announcement that “this line is the line to get into if you want a hotel voucher.” Some went into that line, which took away one or more attendants who could manage all the people in the first line.
The rube and his wife, the guy in the white rimmed glasses, and several others who befriended them, were the boisterous Americans who had all the answers before anyone else did. At the bus queue, one of them decided that one bus was designated for each hotel, and actually moved someone’s luggage. Each bus dropped people off at either hotel since the hotels were near each other. They were wrong. So they had the wrong answers first.
I have never liked the adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Sometimes the squeaky wheel is just a total embarrassment to the rest of the vehicle, and needs to be removed and replaced.
You know, like Trump.
When our plane took off, people applauded. My takeoff anxiety was in full-swing. We had 11 hours to go. Let’s make it over the ocean first. The pilots have a job to do.