Airports are palaces to the power of human progress. Armed with nothing but the ability to notice when we’d fallen over, we worked out the law of gravity and then built at it until we won. A plane is tanks of aviation fuel designed to catch fire and explode, whirling turbines designed to make it do both, wings so it all happens several miles straight up, and a tube full of people along for the ride to make sure someone sees how awesome it all is.
Unfortunately these architectural embodiments of the wonders we can work are usually full of @$$#()!%$. That’s because most people are @$$#()!%$. Worse, an awful cause and effect then makes most of them right when they say that airports suck. But if we can triumph over the gravitational attraction of our entire planet, if we can soar through the sky on engines which sound like blending thunder, we can certainly elevate our spirits as well as our bodies. Here’s how to ascend to more than one kind of higher plane in an airport.
Airports Are Secret Psychological Testing Facilities
That might sound like something screamed by a tinfoil milliner, but look at them: white open spaces, glass and steel construction, long corridors and queues and machines which vend food and it’s full of security cameras. Now think of those mazes behavioral researchers run mice through.
The government knows they can’t force people to report for mandatory psychological training — right now they can’t even get people to agree that maybe being able to get medical attention is a good idea — so they secretly installed these stress-testing facilities for the human soul. We report to them every holiday season, and they teach us some life-improving lessons:
Wise people say that travel broadens the mind. The farther you go, the more you learn about yourself, but to reveal your true nature you don’t really need to go farther than the airport. Airports are the evil Force tree from The Empire Strikes Back: generally unpleasant to enter, but you must pass through if you want to get to your cool destination and do fun things. And they only reflect what you bring with you. If Luke had left his lightsaber behind, his evil shadow would only have been able to whine at him.
That’s why anyone who gets upset in an airport is suddenly having the worst day of their life. It’s a facility stuffed with delays, security, thousands of other people, and staff who’ve seen every single one of them lose their minds already and don’t have a plane to catch. Which means that the more you act like a dick to anyone, the worse they can make it for you with the minimum of effort.
Losing your temper in an airport is worse than getting sucked into a jet engine. At least that’s over quickly, and means you got into your plane. Getting angry makes your day so much worse you’d swear airports were re-education centers designed to train people out of being @$$#()!%$. Aggression could only generate a worse response if it generated electric shocks. And I’ve seen people go so screamingly insane in airports that the resultant power drain would have blacked out the runways like in Die Hard 2, and that still couldn’t have made them any more upset. Or less likely to get where they’re going.
There are two kinds of people: those who arrive in plenty of time to get everything done, and @$$#()!%$ who leave you waiting for half an hour. Airports are designed to punish those @$$#()!%$. They’re architectural quicksand: keep cool and everything will be fine, but start rushing and you’ll be bogged down in seconds, brought to heart-attack levels of desperate stress, you’ll miss your holiday and lose hundreds or thousands of dollars, and it’s still not as much as you deserve for leaving all your friends wasting your lives when you were meant to meet them.
Arrive early and none of the queues have formed yet. You become exponentially early, breezing through check-in and security, left with nothing to do but have a peaceful drink, knowing you’ve already done your part of things, and that you’ll soon be elevated somewhere even more fun. That’s three different kinds of soul-deep satisfaction.
Sit The Hell Down
Meditation means sitting down, and that’s part of the procedure. In fact they tangle their legs across and upside down to make it even clearer that this is the opposite of being ready to dash off anywhere.
The gate is the simplest procedure in the world. They call your row number, you board, it’s not so much “elementary school math” as “elementary object recognition,” and 90% of humanity still can’t handle it. As soon as the plane arrives people stampede the exit portal as if the captain of the Titanic had asked if anyone needed a terrifying amount of ice for their drinks. And the poor staff have to be polite to every single one of them.
These people think that the vital difference between catching their flight or not is the two seconds it would take them to stand up. The only time that narrow a window has affected catching a plane is in Die Hard 2, and again, they really don’t want to catch that plane.
The flight won’t leave without you. They even call people’s names, with repeated frustrated announcements for a “Mr. Jones” who’s knocking back tequila, holding up the whole plane, being a selfish @$$#()!%, and he’s still smarter than the hordes who’ve confused the boarding walkway for the 100-meter Lurch Anxiously With Luggage.
In the old days preparing for travel meant lots of jerky, rugged dogs trained for the route, and choosing which of friend your loved one should marry after you die alone. Modern people travel with more hardware than the moon missions, and have the sheer self-dissolving gall to decide they’re bored. If you can afford to fly, you can afford a book, and every second you spend in an airport is an excuse to do nothing but enjoy it. Add smartphones and iPads and you have access to more entertainment options than every Roman emperor who ever lived. Even if you decide you’d rather stare at strangers than do anything worthwhile, there are apps for that too, and all kinds of strange options to go with them. Possibly literally.
Get Things Done
Alas, sometimes we bring work with us on the plane. Get that done immediately. No resting, no “later,” no nothing, because delaying work in that environment is the mental equivalent of deep vein thrombosis: sitting on your ass and doing nothing until things go badly internally wrong.
It’s another psychological experiment in how far people will go to procrastinate. You’re strapped down in a Faraday cage thousands of meters away from any possible distraction with specially trained staff bringing you food and water. There is no possible excuse for avoiding anything, and your brain knows that.
Complete the work and that same cut-off feeling becomes a relaxation chamber. You’ve got drink, protection from the elements despite being part of a jet-engine attack through their homeland, and nothing you need possibly do. Remember your headphones and you enjoy the sort of release from obligation which normally requires millions of dollars or a serious head injury.
Luke McKinney writes about games, drink, science, and everything else that makes life amazing. He’s a columnist on Cracked and writes for several beer magazines. He’s also available for hire. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter @lukemckinney.
Luke taught you more good manners and virtuous self-improvement in The One Thing that Truly Makes a Man.