Karen and I had just boarded our flight last week, ahead of schedule on what would be a perfect travel day (everything on schedule, and a total of 8 hours from when we entered the airport to when we put our luggage on the floor in her parents’ home). As we were preparing to taxi out, just before the magical cut-off point when mobile phone use must be abandoned for the duration of your trek through the clouds, a woman across the aisle was ending a call by exclaiming how tiny an airport this was. She was using the tone of voice that indicates you’re embarrassed by how un-trendy the thing is that you’re being forced to endure.
Let me set the stage: Our city has a regional airport, not a large hub. We chose to fly into another regional airport at the other end of the trip. A bit more expensive, but worthwhile in what it saved in time. At the end our week-long Christmas excursion, we entered the other airport on Tuesday, and Karen remarked after how pleasant and talkative the security screeners were with her. We got to our gate early, and listened to the airline staff joke and laugh loudly with each other and the passengers waiting to board. At one point, as we were standing and preparing for our zone to board, one staff member came back up the tunnel from the aircraft laughing so abruptly and loudly that it startled me for a moment. Given the ludicrous level of tension in most airports, I expected some uniformed law enforcement officer to appear from nowhere and drag someone off in handcuffs. But, it was humor only that was at work, and the joking continued with the passengers as we boarded the flight, one ticket agent complaining with a huge grin about how her co-worker picked on her.
After rushing to catch some connecting flights, we arrived home that evening. The total time we spent walking from the terminal to the baggage claim was about three minutes. Everything was relaxed, leading Karen to remark on how much nicer traveling is when you leave from small airports instead of large ones. The security screeners were polite and thorough, but not tense, and not showing the assumption that everyone entering the airport was a criminal. They even joked a couple of times on one end of the trip. There was no pushing and shoving and fighting through lines to get to your terminal in time. We did not have to endure security theatre. Two passengers were talking across the seating area to each other, and no one really cared.
Perhaps everyone was being kind with each other because it was Christmas. In fact, I’m certain that played into things somehow. Beyond that, however, I think we witnessed what is true with any business or enterprise: the larger the business becomes, the more likely everyone is to be treated as a cog in the machine instead of as a human being. Personability is sacrificed in the name of efficiency and uniformity and all those other nasty things that rob us of basic human dignity. Beyond a certain size, the process becomes more important than the person.
Sort of flies in the face of the assumptions of our modern industrial age, doesn’t it?
Hopefully, in managing my time and my lifestyle in the new year, I’ll remember that bigger isn’t necessarily better…contrary to the popular Western mythos.
Here’s to 2011!
Photo Attribution: _rockinfree