The 'Joys' of Boarding

I'm in Chicago, waiting to board my flight. The "depultures"* are circling, and the gate attendant is about to begin to "pre-board"(?) travelers deemed worthy to enter the aircraft before everyone else.
05/28/2014 05:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger

I'm in Chicago, waiting to board my flight. The "depultures"* are circling, and the gate attendant is about to begin to "pre-board"(?) travelers deemed worthy to enter the aircraft before everyone else.

Near the gate, a pole has a ridiculous sign at the top that shows two options to either side of it. One arrow indicates that "premiere access" passengers should walk to the right of the pole and step on a special 4-foot-by-3-foot carpet to present their boarding passes. The other arrow indicates everyone else should keep their filthy shoes the hell off the carpet by walking to the left of the pole to give the attendant the modern-day equivalent of a "steerage" boarding passes.

Turns out there were rebels in the group. A few people who didn't have "right" access walked on the carpet anyway. The attendant actually turned them around and made them walk up a second time--to the left of the pole, for God's sake--and present their boarding passes again. I'm still laughing about that.

This would be so much more amusing if we hadn't also endured the "Mystery of the Missing Flight Crew." We were waiting to board what turned out to be a delayed departure when the gate attendant announced, "Ladies and gentleman, we'll begin boarding as soon as we locate your flight crew." Okay, soon as we...what? Where are they?

Believe me, when the crew showed up and strolled through the door, I think everyone at the gate scrutinized them. It didn't help that the pilot looked like he had attended a Pitbull concert the night before. Is he old enough to rent a car? Is he wearing his dad's uniform? God, I'm getting old.

But here's the part I really don't get about this whole pre-boarding process. As a frequent flier, the last thing you want to do is spend even more time on a plane. Plus, you know the ropes: What goes up. What goes underneath. When to buckle up and when you can lower your tray table from its full upright and locked position.

The people who need time are infrequent fliers. When seated on the aisle, they buckle and unbuckle--twice--before their row is full. They can't quite grasp the ABC concept on the right and the DEF on the left. They can't decipher the graphics that indicate aisle, middle, and window on the overheads.

Any airline could have the most successful frequent flier program of all time by making one teeny-tiny change to its procedure: Frequent fliers should be allowed to jump into their seats as the Jetway is just about ready to pull away from the door. We get "rewarded" by spending the most time on the plane? As it stands, attendants can make whatever announcement they want, but this is what we really hear:

"Thanks for being our very best customers and flying with us week after week after week. Thanks for ditching your shoes, jackets, and watches for "security," although we all know that not one bit of that makes a difference. Thanks for continuing to fly into Minneapolis despite the fact that you have to walk six miles to reach your rental car; into Philly despite the relentless delays; and into Atlanta, which we all know is worse than O'Hare but sounds friendlier.

"Thanks for being grateful for the opportunity to buy horrible mini-food from us--cash only!--and for understanding that we probably won't be able to locate your flight crew; yes, that happens a lot these days, those scamps! Thanks again--and, for your continued loyalty, you get to be on this plane longer than almost everyone else today! Welcome aboard!"

We get it. We know about limiting our carry-on bags to two and how to store them (we share the overhead space and must utilize all of it). Our other item fits securely under the seat in front of us, and we exercise caution when opening the overheads because objects may have shifted during flight.

We understand how to pull down on the oxygen mask, and we adjust our own before assisting others. We know that although the bag will not inflate, oxygen will be flowing. We remember that in case of an emergency, floor lights will illuminate a path to the nearest exit, and we keep in mind that the nearest exit may be behind us. Seat backs? Tray tables? Got it.

We've read Skymall over and over and, in a moment of recirculated-air delirium, have come within seconds of actually ordering the Martini Mister.

Good idea: "Attention, Frequent Fliers: Your flight's leaving in about eight minutes. Come on over and join us."

Better: Come tap me on the shoulder while I'm sipping my latte and cracking the cover of Gone Girl.

Best: (After checking in) "You're all set. Just leave your bag; we'll stow it in the overhead and call you when we're ready to depart."

I'd be there just before the flight attendants prepare the doors for departure.

Can you imagine?

* Travelers who circle an airline gate like vultures, anticipating an announcement and angling to be first in line.

What are some "joys" you have experienced while boarding?

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates--and broods about--life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, "Really? You're kidding me, right?" (Or wants to, anyway), and welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

For more from Maria Rodale, visit