The post-apocalyptic nature of the Southwest Airlines boarding process

(genre: speak of society)

Alas, Thanksgiving has thus inaugurated the holiday travel season. The airports will be bustling, packed with both puddle-jumping passengers and long-layover wanderers alike. The floors will resound with the steps of estranged children nervously returning from passive-aggressive dinners. The air will carry the scent of Grandmother’s embarking on extensive journey’s so that their sons or daughters won’t have to finagle a way to transport the kids’ Christmas gifts without them knowing. The cabins will be crammed with hairy arms and puffy jackets and tiny slobbering mouths and oversized rolling carry-ons scrapping against the plastic sides of aisle seats. I find holiday travel both masochistic and somehow…alluring.

The first time I actually traveled on a high-capacity travel day was about six years ago. It was the day before Thanksgiving and I was to fly Southwest Airlines direct from Chicago Midway to Pittsburgh International. The flight scheduling mechanism, whether human or digital idk, scheduled the plane to leave at 6:00 AM. After a 45 minute journey on the brown line to orange line to Midway, I arrived at the airport at 4:00 AM. The security checkpoint was already a good two-hundred people deep, and counting. We were all stressed, but we were all stressed together. I found that comradery abnormally satisfying. The security line, the bathroom line, the Hudson News store line—they bring some sense of unity when it comes to our common despondency of waiting. But, I must say there exists one line that effaces them all.

Now, I’m all for Southwest Airlines. I’ve got the Southwest credit card and the Southwest app, and if I could find one I’d even don a Southwest baseball cap from time to time. But, just shy of a month ago a friend of mine tipped me off to the abnormal state of passengers when actually boarding the aircraft. In his words, “It’s like post-apocalyptic or something.” I immediately saw that his statement was in fact quite true. It all starts the twenty-four hours before the flight. I sit at my computer waiting for the dictator of modern time, the apple clock, to strike. The digits switch. I slam my index finger to the keypad igniting the “check-in” button. I wait. . .[C18]. How could this be possible?! Who else is up at this godforsaken hour doing this?! I’m destined to be smooshed in the back row between two six-foot seven-inch three-hundred-and-fifty-pound humans and my carry-on will be gate-checked. I mean that’s what I picture when I see “group C.”

Soon enough I am standing, creeping up to the metallic sign-posts, waiting for the boarding process to commence. There is something about that boarding by alphabetical groups that turns us into Hydes. The whole scenario cutthroat. Darwin’s hypothesis at its finest. We are all just scrapping together the remnants of society. We scramble, searching and searching for the final non-middle seat, determined that we, with our wit, shall secure the premium seat and no one will stop us. Those high-browed business selects board with no worries—rewarded by there get-out-of-jail-free card but without the sigh of relief. Pre-boarding—oh, and what lucky people those are to be traveling with a moody eight-year-old and her nagging baby brother on the verge of a nervous breakdown over the retention of some kind of zip-locked snack. Pre-boarding—this is like the only time in all of your daily conscious pondering that you simultaneous envy and despise active military men and women who will leisurely dip there sculpted butts into the aisle seats. A man wearing wire-framed glasses and company rain jacket asks, “What number are you?” all while staring directly at your cell phone. He continues down the line and finally squeezes between an elderly woman and hobbling husband. Let’s face it we all want the best seats, that is, of course, the aisle seat in rows one thru seven or the second the last row, which has easy access to the lavatory yet still reclines.

Perhaps my Hyde still haunts me, but one particular flight only a few short years ago stirred some deep well of emotion and knocked me from this survivalist version of the Matrix. I had secured one of those beloved aisle seats. Right above me, my carry-on lay tucked away in the storage bin. I had just put on my freshly polished glasses when a woman circa seventy years of age leaned down to me. A soft smile spread across her sun-worn cheeks and her eyes glimmered with the remnants of pixie dust. “Is anyone sitting there?” She pointed to the middle seat. “Nope! It’s free.” And that was the end of that. It only takes one soft-spoken gray-haired woman with knitting needles and white musk perfume climbing over your knees in order to nestle into the center seat. I can’t put a finger on what it was but an ethereal cadence beckoned me. I desired to rise above it all!

Well, anyhow, since that mysterious encounter I’ve concluded that due to my being a young woman with well-working joints and a stature on the smaller side of the bell curve it is my responsibility to sit in a middle seat of any given mode of transportation. Dare I say, it is more than a responsibility, but a privilege, an honor to save one fellow soul from their dreaded fear of a middle seat! (Though I might think twice about the back row middle).

And now I say to you: This holiday season let us all rise! Let us all give up the fight for those coveted seats. To hell with Darwin! And as we rid ourselves of this zombie paraphernalia… let’s also enjoy that Southwest has some of the most abnormally delightful flight attendants known to air-history.

Glad tidings.


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