It is fitting that the Icelandic volcano that has brought European air travel to a virtual standstill for the last several days would be named Eyjafjallajökull. Like an airline’s explanation of a flight delay, the name is indecipherable, unnecessarily complex, and seems designed completely at random. Though we may not have experienced the “ash out” itself, any of us who has traveled frequently by air knows the existential dread that comes from hours sitting on hard seats, eating packaged food, and plotting recriminations.
On a recent daylong delay on a flight to Washington, D.C., from Cancun, Mexico, my seatmates and I experienced several of the usual indignities: the serial delays with the constant promises of more information in 45 minutes, the jockeying in line for the hotel voucher, the six different sets of instructions from six different gate agents, and the standing—hours and hours of standing in line.
During ordeals like this, standard personality types slowly emerge. My fellow travelers and I took on our roles as if they’d been assigned to us by the director of a very avant-garde play. There was the “Now, see here” fellow raising his voice and making threats, the exasperated mother whose children slowly took on deeper shades of red, the lawyer who promises a scary letter to the airline. The quiet few who stood to the side working their BlackBerrys and computers and trying to find a way around the delay. The conflict-resolution expert who tries to calm everyone down. The sarcastic joker who isn’t helping matters at all. (Hi, Mom!)
In an effort to define and classify the many types common to this particular phenomenon, Slate is asking readers for help. Offer your most precise characterizations of those you’ve met in airport purgatory in the comments section below or by e-mail at email@example.com. We’ll use your submissions to create the ultimate Taxonomy of Airport Delay Personality Types. We can’t promise this anthropological guide will help you better enjoy, or even endure, your next unwanted delay. But at least you may be better informed about it.