Airport Whine

October 12th, 2006 | Uncategorized

Worst airport experience to date: Toronto. I arrived there at 7:30am this morning, which seemed excessively early for a 10am flight. But when I got inside the terminal, the line for check-in was so long it spilled out of the staked-off corral for what seemed like hundreds of yards. It took a couple minutes just to walk to the end of it. No one seemed particularly fazed by this, so I’m assuming it was business as usual. After 20 minutes, a clerk came down the line telling people that if they weren’t checking bags, there were two open self-service kiosks at the other end. So I went and stood in that line for 15 minutes, until one of the two machines broke when I got to it. Then a woman said she could help me at the counter. She asked me where I was going, and when I said Chicago, she explained that I was flying on United, not Air Canada. I showed her my printed out e-ticket, which said Air Canada flight 5143 about seven thousand times on it. She pointed out the line further down that said “operated by United.” In fact it was United flight number 1150, which appeared nowhere on the e-ticket.

She directed me to the United check-in line, which appeared to be of a more usual, less staggering length than the first one. But unlike the Air Canada line, which had progressed at a good clip, this one had to pass through a bottleneck of two human clerks and was barely moving at all.

The airlines also had humans going around yelling at people to make sure they were in the proper line—apparently I was far from the only person to make that mistake. The beleaguered little family in front of me had to gather up their screaming three-year-old, giant car seat and multiple bags and trek over to the distant end of the Air Canada line.

I finally got my ticket a little over an hour after arriving at the airport. And I still had to go through customs AND security. But strangely, these took no time at all. By the way, I discovered a massive loophole in the airline security system. Apparently Canada doesn’t give a shit whether you put your gels and liquids in a one-quart baggie to be scanned separately.

Anyhow, the reason I’m bothering to tell you all this is because I’m in O’Hare now, on a three hour layover before returning home to Vermont, and what else am I going to do? I finished the depressing book I was reading. And I haven’t yet mastered the art of doing any real work while traveling. My mind just goes blank.

A waitress just seated a woman next to me, saying “I’m going to put you right here next to this young gentleman.” I tried to keep looking like a young gentleman so as not to cause any awkwardness. I got an extremely severe haircut yesterday in Toronto—perhaps not the best idea in the world when I have to spend three hours in a Midwestern airport, during which time I will almost certainly need to use the ladies’ room.

32 Responses to “Airport Whine”

  1. susansinclair says:

    My record for work accomplished in airports: two student essays read and graded. How do people do this? Maybe if my work were about reading trashy magazines and eating crap, *then* I’d be a productivity machine in waiting areas!

  2. Jaibe says:

    I can write in airports if I’m working on something I’m really interested in and can find an outlet. I can’t write if I can’t find an outlet because I keep looking for one so I can write on the plane, which of course is pretty hard to do anyway due to the small seat space & the food service. Trains are the best though. I just finished two papers on one 6 hour train ride. (Trains with outlets, obviously!)

    The idea of Alison doing her manic posing, shooting & sketching routine at O’Hare is pretty funny, especially if you are already embarassed just sitting there with short hair! Anyway, there are lots of dykes in Chicago, how can you say that rude thing about the midwest after your great tour-stop posting from there just a few months back?

  3. sab says:

    I dont know… I’m in chicago right now and it feels like there is some srt fo fear with gay pride when it comes to people. Dont get me wrong, Belmont and North Halstead are decked out in enough rainbow to make the carebears proud but the people seem somewhat lacking if not fearful.
    But then again, I’m from Seattle.

  4. Deb says:

    I love airport stories! Even though you can be almost anywhere in the country or hemisphere, everyone can identify with the lines, security, being in the wrong line, luggage stuff and then, being seated next to a “young gentleman” LOL Go figure!

  5. Brian says:

    Ah, Toronto airport. Why United and Air Canada do that, I have no clue. The set-up they have is very confusing Toronto to Chicago — they each operate half the flights and both code-share on each others. Confusion all day, every day!

    Weird thing about the baggie thing, was flying tons this last week all over up here and had to show my baggie everytime…

  6. AK says:

    Ok, what is it with the restaurant gods and the waitresses who serve you? After you came to Asheville and I got to see you in person, I can’t image anyone mistaking you for a man, no matter how short the hair. Maybe I’m the one who’s naive here but… sheesh. When this has happened to me (usually when I wear a loose-fitting suit) I always feel so embarrassed for the other person’s inevitable awkwardness that I don’t know whether to not talk or throw my voice deeper. I know they’ll feel awkward even if I’m not bothered by it personally.

  7. Cheryl says:

    Excuse me, but we have homosexuals in Chicago. Lots of them. All over the place. It was just one clueless waitress. We’re not all like that. I’ll bet she lives in the suburbs and is afraid of the big bad city.

  8. AK says:

    Cheryl – If she’s like my homophobic sister, she probably lives in Hoffman Estates. Oh wait, she’d have to be rich AND homophobic. God bless my sis.

  9. NLC says:

    Hmm, let’s see: First the trip to the airport;
    Arrive at 7:30 (for a 10AM flight); then the first
    flight; then a 3hr layover at O’Hare; then the
    second flight….

    Just wondering: How long would it have taken just
    to drive from Toronto to Vermont?
    (I mean, it is peak leaf season….)

    And you could have carried all the liquids and gels you wanted.

  10. Eva says:

    The drive from/to Toronto to Burlington is hell, yes, actually worse hell than two layovers, etc. At least, the six times that I went back and forth about 5 years ago…

  11. anonymous-eponymous says:

    That you mistake a woman for a man does not make you homophobic. It doesn’t make you sexist either. I once mistook my girlfriend for a man. And I’m female.

    It happened like this. We were bicycling home from separate locations, but happened to arive at our house at more or less at the same time. I made a left turn into the driveway while she was still a little bit off. But after I’ld made the turn I thought, “Gosh, did I cut that guy off? He was going faster than I realized.” Then she popped up next to me and said, “Didn’t you see me?”. And I realized that “that guy” and my girlfriend were one and the same person.

    Had the woman not been my girlfriend I would never have realized that I had been wrong. Can everybody swear that they have always correctly identified the gender of every single person that they have ever passed in a car, checked out a book or groceries to, seen go by in a kayak or a canoe, etc.? What makes you so sure? If you ever made a mistake, would you realize that you had been homophobic all along?

  12. anonymous-eponymous says:

    Practical tip for doing work in airports: Wear earplugs.

    Not the uncomfortable rubber kind that swimmers use. You want the soft spongelike kind that people who work in loud environments use to cut the noise. The ones that are tapered on the end are the most comfortable. Wearing earplugs doesn’t cut off the sound entirely; it just limits the sense you have of people being active around you that prevents you from focusing.

    Of course, people will then conclude that you’re a wierd young gentleman, but why should that bother you?

  13. enzelpa says:

    Had same experience in Chigago.

    Better to drive home to Philadelphia from Baltimore in a rental car than wait for the next day to fly home.

    Second time that happened this year. Drove home from DC to Philly after I was not permitted on a connecting flight because I got to the gate 10 minutes before it was supposed to leave, not 15. They wouldn’t let me on the plane even though I was late because of their mess-up in Seattle.

    Oh-and the screener in Florida couldn’t figure out if my deoderant was a liquid, gel or solid. He finally gave it back to me. I guess I wasn’t very threatening.

  14. Robbie says:

    If only I’d known earlier that you were at O’Hare today. You could have met my partner (she would have been THRILLED ). She’s there now, waiting for a delayed flight. She should have been home hours ago, but it seems a certain Republican President was there today, so everything is delayed – inbound and outbound.

  15. Deb says:

    We use cues to unconsciously identify gender. Those cues involved all our sences. When the cues tell us one thing for a particular gender, and we are incorrect, we get mixed messages. Those cues are enculturated and as we all know, being enculturated means we can have been indoctrinated with sexist programming. I about crapped when my boys came home from school, way back in the 80’s and all their work had stereotypical girl and boy images. Needless to say, my partner and I went down to the school, not for the last time, and talked to them about their teaching material.

  16. Maggie Jochild says:

    Glad you’re home, Alison. It’s actually fairly nuts that the most home-hugging, introverted people in the arts — writers — are forced to do such things as book tours. I know it means a lot to your public to see you, because you have definite charisma, and it may also mean a lot to you to get some affirmation. But Annie Dillard a while ago pointed out that the writing life meant holing up in a room without much stimulation and reliving your past instead of going out and adding to your store of memories — if you don’t, you won’t write. So, recharge all your batteries, I hope. And then do what you love best. (And who you love best, of course.)

    Wanted to comment on the bathroom thing — I’ve been encountering it since 1975 when I let my leg hair grow out, that automatic “sir” from waitresses, gas station attendants (back when they had such things), etc. It wasn’t related to seeing the leg hair, mind you, because usually it was covered by pants — I’m a fat girl with largish breasts, a round estrogen-y face, and a high clear voice. But the basic cues of no make-up, short hair, and above all, ATTITUDE (as JEB said, the look, the stance, the clothes) would invariably be read by the general public as male. It’s the clearest bellwether I know that things have NOT changed out there, and in fact, it’s gotten worse — the stamp of gender identification is stronger than ever. As Alix wrote “Carol is tired of being nice/A sweet smile, a passive face/Submissive device/To pacify the people…”

    Lately I’ve taken another look at why it makes me angry. I mean, there’s the obvious attempt to box us in. But my godson (whom you are lucky enough to have met now) this summer traveled with his mother across the Deep South, stopping at numerous cafes and truck stops along the way. He has an angelic face and long blond hair, and carries his body like a perfect androgene, as far as I can tell. Since he’s eight, he’s too old (or thinks he is) to go into the women’s restrooms, so with his worried drag king mother standing by outside, he’d go into these manly men toilets on his own. Every single time, if there was a man in there he would be instantly told to leave, it was not a girl’s toilet. Sometimes angrily. And every time, he’d say calmly “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy, you’re making assumptions about me, I’m here to pee” and then breeze past them. He never once got ruffled, and in fact, when I asked him about it, he just laughed and raised his shoulders in that way which indicates “What doofuses, eh?” His mother, hovering outside, got to overhear some of the comments from men leaving the toilet, saying on one occasion “It scared the fuck out of me, being caught in a bathroom with a little girl” and another man mentioning how you just couldn’t tell about ANYTHING any more.

    So, I’m taking another look at my own offense. This is not to say, Alison, that you should follow suit. My god, I admire how you operate and your vision, and you keep doing everything your way, please. Me and Billy Joel, I like you just the way you are. But I’m sharing because I realized if I wasn’t mad about the boxes, and if I wasn’t insecure about who I was (on some level still — the biggest hurdle we as lesbian-feminists in the 70s had to overcome was having to insist on our womanhood in the face of male definitions that indicated other), and if I wasn’t afraid at all, then I’m thinking I’d be able to laugh like he did, point out the obvious (any difficulty you have with my difficulty is still YOUR difficulty), and go about my business.

    On a completely different note: Ursula K. LeGuin has a newish book out called Changing Planes about traveling between dimensions when stuck in a long wait at airports — that in fact, the singular, sensory-overload/deprivation state of this experience is most conducive to hopping into another dimension. It’s hilarious, a kind of anthropological study which she seems genetically hard-wired to do. Wanted to recommend it.

  17. Jaibe says:

    Brilliant post Maggie!

    But I was actually going to agree with & expand on anonymous-eponymous. I always take noise-cancelling headphones on flights, even if I don’t have any music with me. Massively reduces the physical stress to reduce all that white noise planes generate.

  18. Ng Yi-Sheng says:

    This is the weirdest thing. In Singapore, kids actually go all the way to the airport to get their studying done. They like the air-conditioning.

  19. Christine says:

    On being “sir’d”.

    I am a tomboy-ish looking 6′ tall chick, I get “sir’d” all the time and stopped walking into public restrooms.

    I have found that if you move in a kind of drag-queen-ish way as you enter a public restroom people tend to not think you are a guy.

    I make flamboyant obvious hairdo adjustments as I walk in the door. It always works.

    Act like a fake woman and people will not assume you are a guy.

    what a wonderful world huh?

  20. Ginjoint says:

    Another dyke from Chicago here…I like what anonymous-eponymous said. Just mistaking someone’s gender doesn’t make you a jerk. I’ve certainly seen folks whose gender I couldn’t quite place, but I tend to base my guesses less on clothes or haircuts, more on presence/lack of breasts or an Adam’s apple, the texture of skin on the face, stuff like that. Also, I’m quite comfortable being lesbian in Chicago.

  21. aj says:

    with me it’s usually little kids that ask whether i am a girl or a boy. happened on friday – went for dinner with an old friend and her 3-year-old said ‘are you a girl or a boy?’ and i said ‘girl’ and that was it. parents usually get terribly embarrassed, but i kind of like the fact that these little ones ask directly .. and i give them a direct answer.

    re o’hare, don’t get me started! try having to change planes there just before or after thanksgiving! in fact, for many journeys it would appear that milwaukee is a better bet.

    shalom y’all

  22. mabel says:

    The other week I flew from London to Oslo to Stockholm. On the way out from Heathrow, I had to pack all gels and liquids and was robbed of my lighter as I went into the departure lounge. I had to take my shoes off in Oslo. When I got to Sweden they didn’t even check my passport as I left the airport. On the way back I coulda carried a kilo of foaming-nitroglycerin-plastic-super-nuclear-dirty-bomb-acme-paste in bright yellow box with a skull and cross bones on (like the one in 9-to-5) and no one woulda cared less. When I arrived back in London some daft git spent 5 minutes interogating me at customs about where I had been and what I had done. I am not exactly sure who these secutiry measure make feel secure but it certainly ain’t the flying public.

    I also echo everything everyone has said about looking like a guy. I discovered the walking into the toilets like adrag queen no so long ago and that works a treat. As does staring people stright in the eye and silently DARING THEM TO SAY SOMETHING. However, my offence and anger comes, not from other people’s embarassment, but their effing indignation. As if their mistake is some sort of deliberate and elaborate deception on your part, like you are some sorta grifter out to make them look stupid and steel their cash.

    People are mainly just stupid and binary in their perceptions. I once wore a man’s two-piece suit, complete with cufflinks and big old brogues and didn’t get “mate” (The english “Sir”) once. Why? Earrings. They are magical.

  23. Pam Isherwood says:

    Del La Grace has a great story re confused bystanders – I think in an Australian shopping mall – Del was wearing a tutu, big boots and a beard. A group of children were intrigued enough to start asking questions, with the inevitable Are You A Boy Or A Girl? Del gave the usual reply – I say I’m both. One extra bright girl said, So you’d have to put “Other” on a form then. Which, as Del said, is pretty cool eh?

  24. LondonBoy says:

    I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this:
    One of the first clubs I went to in London was called Stallions. Every Sunday afternoon it had a tea-dance, which was attended by a wide variety of les/bi/gay/trans people, and I was a regular. For several weeks I had been noticing a really cute guy who always stood on the other side of the dancefloor from me and my friends: I’d look at him and smile, and he’d look at me and do the same. Eventually we got up the nerve to talk to each other, only for me to discover that “he” was, of course, “she”. Fortunately, she wasn’t perturbed by this… she was too busy being embarrassed by the fact that she’d spent the past few weeks thinking I was a particularly cute girl!

  25. atlatl says:

    No matter WHERE I travel in the good ol’ USA, I get weird stares, double-takes and disapproving clucks in public restrooms. It happens in the Norhtheast, the Northwest, the Midwest (where I’m from) and the Southwest as well. Doesn’t matter. This is NOT just a midwestern phenomenon. I just returned from visiting Flagstaff, and in a restaurant there, I was severely glared at by a 6 year old boy when I walked out of the restroom. 6 years old and already a gender nazi! *sigh*

  26. L-O-L-A, LOLA says:

    Being referred to as the YOUNG gentleman would certainly have turned my head, at this point in my midlife crisis.

  27. Raffi says:

    I am a 40 year old man and have often been mistaken as female at various points in my life. I think the first time I must have been 11 or 12 years old and most recently it’s happened in the last two years. It can be an odd and embarrassing situation for everyone involved.

  28. Marion says:

    The only way to survive airports is a very good book. I recommed Ursula K. Le Guin´s “Changing Planes”. It´s awesome, and it explains a lot about airports! (The story “The Fliers of Gy” is the best short story I have ever read)

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