Words: Chelsea Haith
Images: Ryan Mcguire
There is comedy to be found wherever large groups of human beings gather together in one place and try to coexist. That’s why we love people watching so much. We are such a diverse and bizarre species that the existence of the show Animal Planet seems a bit passé. Human beings are so much stranger. And when migrating, human beings become infinitely more interesting. Here are ten types of people, only a few of the many, varied types, to be sure, that can be found in and around airports.
1. People who insist on travelling with children under the age of six
There is a special breed of insanity that comes with early parenthood in which the newly sprogged-up adult thinks that taking four-year-old Courtney Crystal Cutey Pie and two-year-old Billy the Amazing Barfing Boy to Paris for two weeks will broaden their horizons. They won’t remember a moment and for you, Paris will always be the city in which you learnt how to ask ‘Where can I buy nappies?’ in French and not much else.
These are the sort of parents for whom it is not unusual to board a flight covered in baby vomit. No, Mr I-Used-To-Be-Good-Looking-But-Then-I-Had-Kids, you should not be bouncing the child like that after force feeding it ten minutes before the flight boards. At least it was only a connecting flight, only an hour and a half in a confined space with a man covered in baby sick and a screaming toddler, upset that he hadn’t also managed to get some on Mommy.
2. Chatty Americans
On a 50 minute flight from Geneva to Paris:
“Well hi there I think we’re sitting next to you where are you from oh South Africa that’s fascinating we’ve never been to Africa have we honey oh no but we want to do a Safari soon this is my son Michael, it’s just the two of us Michael has just come back from Afghanistan so we’re travelling a little of Europe you know Paris was horrible but we loved Prague didn’t we Michael oh yes would you like some chocolate it was so cold in Prague wasn’t it Michael honey he doesn’t talk much he’s a quiet sort do you have a boyfriend oh well I’m sure I’ll find someone for him back home I live in New York you know I have been so sick on this trip just sneezing and coughing the doctors here were terrible I told them I had bronchitis and that I needed antibiotics for fourteen days and whatdaya know they only gave me seven days’ worth so now I’m sicker than a hobo living on the street this flight is very delayed I don’t think we’re going to make our flight home and I don’t want to have to spend more time in Paris on our way here it was so disappointing nothing like Midnight in Paris at all.”
And on and on, without drawing a breath for the duration of the flight.
3. Elderly parents visiting far-flung offspring
An English gent, slightly shaky on his legs, downy white hair escaping from beneath his grey flat-cap, smartly turned out in a red and green tartan jacket lowered himself gingerly into the uncomfortable metal bucket seat beside me. We were at a boarding gate in Bordeaux airport with half an hour to go and he proceeded, after clearing his throat of whatever frog dwelt within it, to tell me about the house his son, who read history at Oxford you know, is rebuilding in the south of France. As he spoke his hands shaped the lines of a rambling old house in Provence, and on the cold winter’s day sitting on a cold hard seat I listened to him tell of hot afternoons and thick cigars, cold Sauvignon Blanc and his son’s extensive library.
When the flight was called half an hour later he wandered off, without so much as enquiring whether or not I spoke English. I was very glad I do.
4. Men who closely resemble Vladimir Putin
I did not know Putin flew economy but it turns out it is his preferred method of exiting South Africa. Down with class segregation due to wealth gaps and grossly expensive international flight costs! Not for him the luxury of private jets, oh no, on this particular day, Putin flew economy. Wearing a snug leather jacket. Of course, Putin could wear anything he chose and maintain his animal attractiveness so it seemed it was only for purposes of decency that he was fully clothed at all, his concern obviously being that the women on the flight should remained fully clothed at all times. Safety first ladies, safety first.
5. Panicky monolingual British tourists
Stepping outside of the UK, middle-aged, working class British tourists occasionally seem to find themselves all a-fluster. The cause of this flustered state appears to be a self-imposed linguistic disadvantage.
What do you mean the entire world doesn’t speak English?! What was the point of the Empire then?! What is the captain saying?! What is everyone saying?! How am I supposed to order a cup of tea if the froggy man in front of me doesn’t understand me?! Why is everyone speaking Czech! Or German! Or Italian! Take me home right now, this beer is too cold!
6. Bored teenage boys plugged into enough technology to launch a rocket
Sometimes people like to take their teenagers on holiday with them, so as to show people in other countries that the future tax payers of foreign nations will be incredibly good at Assassin’s Creed, though unfortunately deaf at 25. At least the headphones help to block out the sound of the places they’re in so that they can concentrate on making a simulated character in tight-fitting clothes perform physically impossible jumps from roof tops that look uncannily like those they are on their way to spend their holiday in, absorbed in the ancient Italian city on their screens as they make their way to the real world original.
7. Japanese tourists who just want to practice their English
Let’s not perpetuate the stereotype. This is not about how snap-happy Japanese tourists are. This is about a type of tourist that embraces their experience so whole-heartedly that if the experience was likened to a small child, it would be a small child crushed to death with love. There is no nobler tourist than a Japanese tourist. Marching into the unknown, sometimes without any English skills, these brave souls throw themselves at the mercy of bizarre European signage and are so enthusiastic that other tourists begin to feel bashful for not having as much fun as the Japanese. The best part is when they eavesdrop, determine which are the English speakers and ask for directions. This is genius because they get to practice their English as well as reassure themselves that English doesn’t help a bit when you’re lost in the middle of Prague.
8. People who feel compelled to queue
Someone needs to explain to me why it is that people love to queue at boarding gates. What compels people to stand in a line, one behind the other, all of them shuffling along, trying to edge their overweight hand luggage along the floor with their feet while talking on their cell phone, drinking a cappuccino and trying to find their boarding pass? The formation of this particular queue seems to result in a strange compulsion that leads a group of fidgeting, self-conscious people, aware that they could be sitting down and reading their book while the conga line shuffles past, to stand up and join the shuffle themselves.
9. Women who wear high fashion for long distance flights
I once walked into a bathroom in an airport and quickly had to collect my jaw off the floor where it had landed in the aftermath of my shock at finding a woman taking a selfie. In the airport. Wearing leopard print I-don’t-even-know-how-many-inch heels. Holding her phone at the sort angle that suggested firstly that she is a pro at this, and secondly that this is not an ironic act. Brave and strong is the woman prepared to go clubbing the very moment she steps off a long-haul flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta. Not a single fuck gives the woman who reapplies her plum-purple lipstick so as to be selfie ready in the airport bathroom.
10. Irritable flight attendants
There is nothing quite like a miserable flight attendant. Especially the kind that refuse to converse in any language but English. Do not dare to address the Monsieur in his own language! Do not attempt to help him by doing away with the necessity of tiring mental translation; you are clearly an English impostor! This kind of flight attendant is a close cousin of the flight attendant who blames the passenger for their miserable job. If travellers did not exist then aeroplanes would be unnecessary and flight attendants would not have to march up and down 30 000 kms above the earth for 8 hours while being treated like glorified waiters and waitresses (which they certainly are not). So, DO NOT ask for anything. You may not have salted pretzels. You may not wish to know the time. And you certainly may NOT have water!