It is approximately 2:34 a.m. We are in the Mumbai Airport, and have completed the security check as well as unseemly reams of paperwork required to properly exit India. We are tired and each of us carries off-brand Thai valium to try to aid sleeping through the twin 9-hour flights that lie before us. We do not want to get on this plane, and we begin doing stretches in a corner far away from all of the other seats, a desperate miniature yoga practice. We will be sitting for approximately the next full 24 hours, and we need as much movement as we can get.
A crowd forms. The airline has set up a network of convoluted stanchions to keep the mass at bay, possibly to lose them in the labyrinth, but something seems to summon them here. The attendants will not let them line up at the actual gate, as we are still dozens of minutes away from boarding, but the horde is growing anxious. It has swollen to over a hundred people, each of them twitching, as though the airport cafe stocked high-grade amphetamines. Were they called? Has a dog whistle sounded? More than half of the people flying to Frankfurt have now joined the undulating crowd, pushing and grunting and trying desperately to get into line so they can get into line.
We have deemed them goobers. They look upon the other travellers, sleepy and world-weary and nervous about the flight, as enemies to be vanquished. Everyone else is an obstacle stopping them from getting on the plane first. There is a woman nearby with a baby, and they think how they might be able to bludgeon her to death, or pass the infant off as their own, so that they might board faster. Her move to the front of the line causes wails of agony, and several people begin brandishing switchblades and butterfly knives, out of nowhere. Several elderly people are brought forward in wheelchairs and a frisson of rage passes over the mob: these wretched, useless monsters will board before us! They should be melted down for soup to provide nutrients to the young and robust. Everyone begins to consider the perfectly legitimate logic contained in Logan’s Run.
It is 2:34 a.m., and we have no idea what is wrong with these people.
Do they believe that if that this is a general-seating kind of deal, that if they scramble onto the plane before all those damned small children and wheelchairs they might totally snag a first class chair and a whole smorgasbord of extra in-flight meals? That the winner of the Race to the Plane wins access to all of the best in-flight entertainment, including the super-deluxe and hush-hush porn collection? Do they need the extra time to properly burrow themselves into the seat, to push it back as far as possible and let the tray table down before we even tow out of gate? Are they desperate to begin their parch-mouthed begging for water and succour so that they might furnish their need to urinate every twelve minutes of the flight? Do they anticipate the long Cold War before them over Who Controls the Arm Rest, and wish to lay their claim upon that sacred, unmarked land before any other foreign interlopers dare invade?
Your only reward for clambering onto a plane first is the joy of sitting on the plane for an even greater period of time. More butt aches, more breathing in the ambient musk of a hundred strangers’ farts, more highly-censored and low frame-rate versions of January dumping-ground Hollywood trash. Do they enjoy muscle cramps? Do they enjoy a pained coccyx? Is whatever gem of Nicolas Cage’s latter-day career that crucial to begin before we even take-off? Why are they so desperate to get to the worst part of the travel experience? Granted, most airports aren’t much better, but in an airport you are allowed to move freely, are allowed to swing your arms around, are allowed to talk and breathe and go to a bathroom that is not a tiny closet with a vortex demon below the toilet waiting to violently throttle your waste from the cabin. It’s practically the Sound of Music out in the airport, when you compare it to life inside the plane.
The only reason to rush to get on a plane, of course, is because of the goobers of another breed. These goobers are those who bring enormous, unseemly carry-on baggage into the passenger compartment and fill every available space with it. People who bring every worldly possession with them, plus or minus a few baby grand pianos, and refuse the pedestrian inconvenience of checking their baggage. Weight allowances are for suckers and the poor.
I once sat next to a man who carried two suitcases, each the size and heft of his torso, in addition to a weighty backpack which appeared to contain untold amounts of fresh produce. He wedged one unruly suitcase in an overhead bin and then attempted to jam his second suitcase under the seat in front of me. When I arrived at our row and saw him happily beaming at me, turning his legs daintily aside so that I could scramble over to my window seat which he had already occupied with his enormous bag full of crap, I communicated, via psychic union and also the pissiest, smarmiest sneer I could muster, that this would not fly. He eventually managed to finagle his trunk below his own seat, wedging his kneecaps below his chin, while I slipped my messenger bag below the seat before me and had enough room to still fit most of the lower parts of my person.
But because of this kind of goober, suddenly the goober race is on for everyone else. If one goober gets on ahead of me, then that goober will get all the prime overhead bin space. And since I, the Modern Traveller, am carrying a stroller, golf clubs, a double bass, a hope chest filled with all of my grandmother’s keepsakes and WWII era memorabilia, and a sack full of unripened pineapples, I must get on the plane absolutely first so that I can fill up all the overhead bins and make everything inconvenient for everyone else. I will not be bested by any other goober.
And thus the call of the goober sounds. One jerk with too much unchecked baggage begins milling about where a line might theoretically form within the next hour or two for the flight. Another jerk notices Jerk 1 and tenses, thinking about the overhead bins, about the jammed up legroom, about the alluring ambience of farts, about armrests and the bathroom, about how they might not be able to lay claim to every inch of the plane for all of their crap. The jerks cluster, and then assemble, and then suddenly amass. The plane will not fly for another hour, will not even consider boarding for another thirty minutes, but the line has already formed. The call of the goobers has been blasted,
Modern flying sucks, but we add to the hellishness ourselves. After hours of being violated by various security checks, passengers enter into a sort of dystopian frenzy in which they must crush all other in order to get to the even crappier part of travel all of the quicker.
The first time I simply sat and waited for an entire line for a plane to dwindle, watching as all of the other passengers boarded, I felt a tug in my very soul. Would I left behind?! Would there be no repackaged chicken cubes in Hollandaise for me to sup upon? Did the movies stop working if everyone else got to them first? But I resisted the call of the goober. I waited patiently, I stretched out my limbs, and by the time I got on the plane, we were just about ready to take-off. And even more amazingly, we even arrived at our destination.