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Swimming Upstream

June 6, 2016

I flew to Seattle this morning. In trying to keep the price of my flights low, or maybe just by rushing things and not reviewing my itinerary carefully, I booked outbound flights with a layover of almost three hours in Minneapolis. There’s nothing wrong with that–as a Delta Diamond Medallion flyer, I get to use their Sky Clubs, with their speedy wifi and free food and drink–but I saw that there was an earlier flight to Seattle. When I landed I got an update that my connection was delayed for another hour plus, so I decided to head to the gate where the earlier flight was parked. As enjoyable as the Sky Club is, and even though an aisle seat awaited me in Delta’s Comfort Plus section (more legroom, and more free snacks and drinks!), I felt a little restless about the prospect of sitting for so long when there was the possibility of grabbing a seat on the earlier flight. Once I get started on a day of flying, I want to keep moving toward my destination (especially when that’s Seattle, my favorite city for teaching). Over the years I’ve had experiences where not getting on the earliest possible flight caused long delays. So my rule is: keep moving. Get on the earliest flight possible. Give myself the greatest amount of time to get to my destination.

So I went to the early flight’s gate and got on the standby list. I ended up with the last seat in Comfort Plus, a middle seat. But I figured that, if I made it at all, it would be in a middle seat in the back row, so I felt like I’d won the lottery. The hardest part was watching almost everybody else get on the plane ahead of me. The main reason I like my Diamond status is to make sure I get on the plane early so there’s space for my bag. I figured this time, no dice for the bag. But the gate agents said no, there’s probably space. And there was, right above Row 31. My seat: 19B. Again, this was not a problem. Me and my bag were getting to Seattle at least three hours earlier than I was scheduled to arrive. The day was gravy.

The only catch, of course, is fetching the bag after landing. I call this process swimming upstream. Everyone is heading for the exit, and I’m trying to reach my bag, which means I’m going the other way. So were a couple of other passengers. Here’s what we did: you stand in your row, and when there’s a gap in the egress (some people take more time to pull their bags out of the bins, or they walk more slowly than others), you move back a row or two, until the slowpokes reach you. Then you wait for another chance to inch closer to your bag. It took a few hops like this, but within a few minutes we all had our bags and headed for the terminal.

Not everyone sees themselves as part of the school of fish, of course. More like we’re crusty soil and they’re a plow. They’re very anxious that their bag is a few rows back, and that they have to go against the rest of us to fetch it. The don’t wait for spaces to appear; as soon as the plane stops, they try to force their way through the crowd to their bag. They slow everybody down. They’ll point and ask others to pass their bag through (often, over) the crowd in the aisle: “It’s the blue one, with the red tag. No, … no, … yes, that one. Thanks!” I suppose a few of those folks are making tight connections, but I think most are just looking out for their stuff. As Crash Davis would have said, they’re being a bit fascistic, while getting off the plane is smoother when thought of democratically. I prefer to wait. I’ve got three extra hours in Seattle; what’s another five minutes? Gotta go with the flow, by slowly moving against it.

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