Two sides of how far the world has evolved, in one airport trip

Yesterday I had to fly from Charlotte to Chicago, then Chicago to Minneapolis (the way out had been direct). It was one of those situations where, as Plane No. 1 lands and taxis forever, you start to get nervous — there’s a very small gap until Plane No. 2 and OMFG, what if for some reason it’s in another terminal — and then invariably you get off Plane No. 1 (this took a long goddamn time, as I’ll discuss again in a second, because I was in Row 35) and you race to find a monitor — only to find that Plane No. 2 is one gate over (score) but delayed 1.5 hours (expletive). So even though eating + drinking, even at the appetizer/one beer level, is a fool’s errand in an airport, I set off to do that with my extra 90-120 minutes.

1. I sit down at this Chili’s (what else would it be?) and I start fiddling with my phone while waiting to order, which is another fool’s errand since it’s running about 22 percent at this point. On my left side is a couple actively discussing a Long Beach vs. Arizona score (unsure what sport) and on my right, at first, are two Australian guys debating the air speeds of various planes. They leave pretty soon, and a father-daughter comes and sits down. From their initial discussion (was I eavesdropping? Perhaps), it seems that they’re in business together, and I’d put the gap at about 30 years (maybe 72-42, possibly 68-34 or so). They’re ultimately flying Chicago to Kansas City, but they’ve come in from somewhere else (Orlando, it appears). They committed to the Chili’s without checking the status of their outbound flight, so the dad says to the daughter, “Well, I better check what time we’re departing to KC. Hold on, I’ll go find a monitor.” He gets up to leave, and the daughter puts a gentle hand on his arm, stops him, and shows him her phone: the departure time (and boarding time!) for that plane is right there on the screen. Now, presumably this information would be on the boarding pass they got for Flight No. 2 while in Orlando, but let’s gloss that over for a second. Father says: “Well, damn, you can do anything with that phone!” My mother and father have said this to me as well (neither have a SmartPhone), so there was a twinge of Oh God I just witnessed an example of the generation gap or the digital divide or whatever we’re calling it oh hey what age constitutes a millennial, but honestly … it made me think. Not a lot, per se — I still had some skillet queso to tear into. But it made me think a little bit about the idea of digital natives and how attune we are (generally) to finding information at our fingertips, as opposed to conventional ways like “looking at the boarding pass crumpled in your back right pocket” or “walking to a monitor in the concourse.” The daughter had stunned the dad — it was a Jay/Claire moment on Modern Family, played out in real time at an airport Chili’s — and it made me think, albeit briefly, about how far we’ve come with technology and its capabilities.

2. Within hours, I felt exactly the opposite. Boarding a plane is a slow process, and people have tried to fix that, yes — but de-boarding a plane is sometimes when you feel society has completely regressed on the basic things as the other things (Google Robots) have soared ahead. Chicago to Minneapolis is a quick flight, i.e. a small plane. When we landed, the aisle was instantly crowded with people standing-up (par for the course). Seemingly no one on this plane had used any type of strategy in the overhead bin idea — they had to walk back, against traffic, to reach their luggage — and many of the people at the front seemed to have no idea what to do (i.e. walk out) when the door was opened. It was a clustered, chaotic mess. For someone in the middle to middle-back of the plane, it turned ideally a 10-minute process into a 25-minute one (and this was on a flight that had already been delayed 90 minutes before even leaving). I’m not sure what the best practice for de-boarding is — if you try to regiment it by row/aisle/seat/etc, people will just jump up anyway because goddamn the plane is at the gate and I’m gonna get off and get to my rental car or my family, so it’s a hard situation.

Two quick anecdotes, then: one to the power of the availability of information + technology, and one to the idea that despite all that, we still haven’t evolved the simple process of thinking ahead about your bags, orderly stepping into an aisle, and proceeding outward from a plane.

Ted Bauer