True story, submitted by Slate reader KB: A man tries to cut to the front of a line of delayed passengers at San Diego airport. When the ticket agent tells him to get to the back of the line, he says—you guessed it—“Don’t you know who I am?” In response to the inquiry, the agent picks up the public-address microphone. “Excuse me for the disturbance,” she says. “But we have a gentleman here who does not know who he is. If anyone recognizes this man and can help him, please raise your hand, and the people around you will hold your place in line.”
This story, which we feel as if we may have heard before, is just one of many great ones from Slate readers. Apparently, we’re all amateur anthropologists. My call to the Slate community to identify the personality types on display during flight delays brought out the Margaret Mead (or, rather, the Jane Goodall) in you. I’ve taken your stories, mixed them, and added some flourishes of my own based on personal experience, literary license, and hokum. What follows is the official Slate catalog of personality types that present themselves during moments of airline discomfort and delay.
Outside Flight Ninja
Responds to a delay by immediately calling his or her travel agent or assistant and plotting routes around the problem. Is there a train station near by? What’s the drive time to the nearest airport, if I rent a car? These people walk away from other travelers so their solution won’t be copied. They know the tricks of the major airports and departure times of alternate flights by heart. Confession: I am this person. I once got home from a campaign stop in Vegas by flying around a storm in the Midwest by quickly rerouting myself through Houston, flying to Philadelphia, and taking the train to Washington, D.C.
Tedious Storytelling Flight Ninja
Similar to previous Flight Ninja but with detailed stories about how efficient he is in getting around travel delays.
Inside Flight Ninja
Is nice to the airline personnel but to no one else. If there’s another flight and it only has limited space, he’s going to charm his way onto that flight.
Amateur Flight Ninja
Similar to previous Flight Ninja but charmless. First, he tells gate agents he’s late for a meeting. After a little more delay, it’s his grandmother’s funeral he’s late for. Finally, he’s a live organ donor. The agents see through his game and have no sympathy.
Prosecutorial Flight Ninja
Knows more than the gate agents. Berates them because they’ve been lying for hours about how long the flight will be delayed. He holds up an iPhone with notification from the Web site that the flight has already been canceled.
See Here Now! Man
A cousin of the fellow in the introduction of this story. He believes that the mechanical problem, personnel issue, or weather will be improved if he loudly proclaims his place in the universe.
The Hysterical She’s been captured on film.
“He seemed so nice,” someone will say. “He just sat over there quietly the whole time,” another will add as the police lead the man away in handcuffs while he continues to make threats to airline personnel and their families.
This is what See Here Now! Man is like when he hasn’t been paying attention. He demands to know why the plane isn’t taking off when through the glass window it can be seen engulfed in flames. Sometimes referred to as an American traveling abroad.
Old White Man
Has his reservation right here on this piece of paper. The gate agents are ducking behind the counter for protection from the tornado, but he insists that this piece of paper, which his wife has a copy of at home, entitles him to an on-time departure.
Makes asides that are funny at first but soon get tiresome. (Behavioral observation: Ability to maintain ironic detachment falls in direct correlation with length of airport delay.
May not be entirely sure that the building he or she is in, the one with all the planes outside the windows, is an airport. Asks gate agents questions answered by public announcement made seconds before. In an office environment, often calls to reiterate what he or she has said in the e-mail and fax they’ve just sent you.
Dick, the Frequent Traveler
Dick travels a lot. He has too many bags and has offended everyone by delaying security, taking up every overhead bin and knocking down the toddler. Dick becomes See Here Now! Man once the delay is announced.
The Big Family
The longer the wait, the bigger this family seems to get. Like their luggage, the entire unit is held together by straps that ultimately can’t contain it all. The parents are sweating and have given up. Young children are climbing under the seats, knocking over drinks, and screaming. Teenagers in shades are sprawling and laconic.
May have started out like a Travel Ninja, but when frustrated, gets litigious. Often starts building a case against the airline, frequently by passing around a petition or handing out business cards so that fellow disgruntled passengers can contact her when they get home and decide they want to press charges.
Walks around with a sign on chest that reads “This Airline Sucks.”
Tries to calm down See Here Now! Man. Delivers praise to gate agents for not drooling and exhibiting other minimum levels of competency.
Group Conflict-Resolution Manager
Sightings are rare, but reader Matthew Robbins writes of observing an entire group of passengers who tried to help a man get back for his daughter’s graduation. The plane was at the gate but the door had closed. The group tried to convince agents to open the door. For 20 minutes they pleaded. They even started to make a pleading sign to show the pilots. It didn’t work.
Asleep on luggage (usually a backpack) or listening to music while also playing a video game. Wears a permanent scowl and sometimes flip-flops. Occasionally carries a pillow. Sulk more pronounced if traveling with parents.
A young adult who is too afraid to be sullen teenager. The delay upends their view of the world and their place in it.
Usually quiet, but responds to airport delays by telling you every detail about their lives—their job, family, and dreams. Offers to show you browsing history, etc.
Drone (Adventure Model)
Has details of previous travel scrapes that were even worse than the one you’re all now experiencing.
Receives a lot of bad information which they disseminate quickly. There’s a bomb on the plane. The engines don’t work. The airline has chartered a new plane. Tells passengers trying to make alternate arrangements that there are available flights out that don’t exist.
Doesn’t spread rumors but has lots of theories about the situation that he presses on people like campaign buttons. Talks about struts, cumulous clouds,and labor disputes. Has never been known to be correct.
Reader Mats Keller writes that he once sat next to a jet mechanic on a transcontinental flight. After the attendant said they had to fix some generic-sounding part, the mechanic said: “This plane will not take off today. Follow me.” The two got off the flight and headed to another plane.
It’s only going to get worse.
Living in Alaska often means that you’re subjected to delays. These travelers plan ahead, packing food and entertainment material.
Making the Best of It
On an eight-hour layover in Taipei, reader Emily Kline got her hair cut, jogged through the terminals listening to This American Life, and downloaded—and watched— Revolutionary Road.
Makes the best of it by going to the bar and ordering the best it has to offer. Once flight takes off, if it does, is a little pink and giggly.
Find these people. Befriend them. They buy drinks for everyone.
Hi, Nice To Meet You Drinker
Be careful of this guy. He starts out like Expense-Account Drinker but soon becomes Drone, and then, quickly, you’re looking for Lawyer to get a restraining order.
Q, of Her Majesty’s Secret Service
After hearing of the delay, unfurls a wide array of gadgets (many of them Apple products), taking up every available power outlet. Isn’t using them to get out of his predicament but merely to stay connected during the delay. The overhead projector is a bit much, though.
Childless Middle-Aged Couple
Beware: Extremely ruthless. Usually work in tandem. Their path of destruction starts from wherever they are in line and emanates outward. Typically bitter, fussy, and very demanding. Announce their discomfort to everyone around them as if they are the only ones inconvenienced.
The longer the delay, the crummier the hotel, the more these people smile. They aren’t just able to endure, they seem to get ever-more happy. Who are these people?
No sign of discomfort. Wears comfortable pants.
Flamboyant Zen Master
Like the Zen Master but pushy. Wears high-priced outdoor gear with exciting logos. To passers by, smells either alluring or un-showered. Often found sprawled across high-traffic corridors, turning their relaxation into performance art.
Secretly Happy Martyr
Reader Jon writes in and nails this one a little too closely for my taste: “Acts frustrated that he (used generically) will not be able to get home on time, makes half-hearted attempts to see if there is some other way to make the trip, ostentatiously calls his office/family/friends to explain that he will miss that meeting/soccer game/birthday party, and then happily enjoys some alone time in the hotel (maybe a movie, an extravagant room-service meal), feeling that he has a valid excuse to not get any work done. After he gets home, he dines out on the story of his arduous journey for at least a week.” If he is a reporter, he might even write about it.
Member of the Military Knows about hurry up and wait. Never complains. Is helpful. A model to everyone but those people acting like maniacs around him.
Appears only moments before the delayed flight takes off. Has been in the frequent-fliers’ club lounge until he learned of the flight delay, then booked himself into some swank hotel rather than the cut-rate one the airline is providing.
Finally, reader Kevin Forbes notes that most people aren’t born to one category or another but go through stages of delay, much like the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous stages of grief:
- Denial: This can’t be happening!
- Anger: Who is responsible for this?
- Bargaining: Just let me on the plane …
- Depression: I’m never getting out of here.
- Acceptance: Might as well make the best of it, who wants to grab a latte?
Thanks to everyone for helping us put together this list. If we missed a few types, let us know in comments.