Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 23, 2019

Airport people-watching

Earlier this month, husband Art and I flew home to Kansas from our place in Northern Wisconsin for sister-in-law Linda’s funeral. We arrived at the small Central Wisconsin Airport early, but decided to go directly to the gate area. As we approached the single security entrance, a sign instructed “Wendover group” travelers to use a certain lane.

“What’s the Wendover group?” I whispered to Art.

“Beats me,” he replied.

Since it was the only queue screening people, we joined the 15 or so already waiting. They were all “of a certain age” ... and it was neither young nor middle!

When it was our turn, the young agent asked, “Are you with the Wendover group?”

I didn’t really need that reminder of what age group we clearly fit into!

Despite traveling “liberated” ... meaning no checked baggage or laptops ... something set off the scanners. After being subjected to a thorough going-over that bothered neither of us, we selected seats near our gate and commenced people-watching.

We both noted ... and it would have been hard to ignore because they both had strong voices ... the two older women sitting directly behind us. It was obvious they didn’t know one another, but quickly found a common interest: b****ing ... er, complaining.

One’s favorite topic was flying. She shared how she had flown with her niece to Denver recently and they had to “walk 10,000 steps” to reach the baggage claim area and she would “never fly to Denver again.”

Art pulled out his phone and, after a moment, leaned over and said, “They must have been walking in circles because that many steps is about four miles. The terminal area is only about a half mile across.”

A momentary pause ended when the woman added that Chicago’s “O’Hara” airport - her name for O’Hare - was also on the list of places she’ll never fly to again. “Too big!”

Then it was the other woman’s turn. Her complaint was she had this “little black birth certificate” she had used for years, but recently had been told it wasn’t legal.

These were once common and were photocopies made from microfilms. But unless they were impressed with an appropriate government seal, they aren’t considered official.

“I had to send to Madison and it cost me $25 and it didn’t have as much information on it as the one I already had,” the woman continued.

Her companion replied, “My God, I just don’t know sometimes!”

While the conversation continued in that vein, we noted a Boeing 737 aircraft marked “Swift Air” at the adjacent gate. Another smartphone check revealed Swift Air coordinates flights with folks in Wendover, Nevada, transporting people from across the country to a resort complex, complete with a casino. One post had rated the experience as a one-star.

“Perhaps those gals will soon have even more to add to their list of grievances,” Art whispered.

The boarding of the Wendover flight soon began. As the two women approached the gate, someone asked, “So, do you think you’ll win some money?”

“Of course!” one replied. “I’m always a positive thinker!”

Art and I laughed.

Our attention turned to the woman next to Art. Her phone was set so her text messages were in a large font and easy to read. “Can’t I just have one flight this month that isn’t delayed?” she had written someone.

Our flight was delayed 20 minutes, but since we had a three-hour scheduled layover in Chicago, we weren’t concerned. But soon this woman was chatting with someone an aisle away, convinced she would be sleeping in O’Hare airport that night. That ignited an extended conversation about various flight mishaps and they couldn’t understand why the airlines couldn’t “get it right.” Others joined the conversation.

Art again leaned over and suggested it might have something to do with the bad weather across the country and the grounding of the 737 MAX, which has reduced some carriers’ capacity by 30 percent.

Art’s seat companion mentioned that she lived in St. Louis, adding, “But I don’t like it. I’d rather live in Boston.”

Once in line to board, Art turned to me and said, “You know, we seem to be the happiest people here ... and we’re going to a funeral!”

Our Chicago arrival gate was directly opposite our departure gate for Kansas. This gave us additional people-watching time.

Art said he had always felt sorry for women whose religion required them to wear a tight head covering, but he noticed one woman who turned it to advantage. She tucked her cell phone between the wrap and her head by her ear, thus freeing both hands to tend to her two small children.

In a seat opposite ours, a guy intently focused on his laptop, used his shirt as a mouse pad.

Another fellow was soooo obviously enjoying the McDonald’s French fries he was wolfing down. It was also obvious it wasn’t his first French fry rodeo!

Then there was a woman whose fashion statement involved bright-green hair.

Yet so many people seemed to be just enduring their travel. But there was welcome relief on our return flight two days later. Benedicte, a young woman sitting next to Art, shared she was an exchange student arriving from Norway to spend a year with a host family. I was a couple of rows ahead, but I could clearly make out what she was saying. She eagerly snapped pictures through the plane window, commenting in almost flawless English how much she enjoyed meeting new people and how the tree-filled landscape below looked so much like her home in Norway. Then, after a few minutes of quiet just before we touched down, she offered, “I’m so excited, I can hardly stand it.”

It made me think how we could improve the exchange program. Instead of just welcoming guests from Norway, we could send some of our people there. Who knows? Perhaps that positive outlook might be catching!

Left: when traveling, a person may have to improvise. This fellow is using his shirt as a mousepad; middle: while many fashions move from the United States to Europe, here is one that seems to have made the reverse flight - intensely-colored hair; right: The man on the right appears to be enjoying his French fries, while the man to his right uses both his smart phone and tablet to research his future home base - Fort Riley and the nearby area.

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Other columns from 2019 may be found at: 2019 Index.
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