I’ve taken four flights in the past two weeks, and each one rated differently on the shoot-me-now-I-hate-the-airlines scale. One, my flight home from LA, went pretty much according to plan. Two were delayed a mere hour, though the turbulence on my flight to New York sent my stomach into my throat a few times. The fourth was one of those airport experiences where you want to rip your own arm off just to have something to throw at the gate agents. I got to LaGuardia three hours early in hopes of getting on an earlier standby flight and things looked promising. There were three flights scheduled before mine. But no luck. The first was full. The second was full, but then a guy told me I should go back and check because he’d cancelled his seat and I could have it. When I got to the gate, the agent stopped me before I could open my mouth. “We’re full.”
“A gentleman just told me…”
“We’re full honey.” It makes me crazy when a stranger is unbelievably rude and uses a term of endearment in the same sentence.
For the third flight, scheduled an hour before mine, I stood in line before the agent even opened the ticket counter. Eventually she arrived, typing a million keystrokes before giving any indication she saw me standing there (it’s so obvious they’re just clicking away, wondering how long they can go without looking up. Airport gates are the only place it’s standard to completely ignore someone, and I’m too terrified to even breathe too loudly, lest they add me to some no-fly list. They are drunk with power). She eventually acknowledged me, only to tell me that, oh, we don’t do standby anymore. Apparently, American Airlines now prohibits non-gold or platinum customers to fly standby altogether. Went into effect Feb. 22 I was told. Consider yourself warned. I could book a seat on that flight, she said, for another $50, but at that point I had some work to keep me busy and I couldn’t bring myself to give them one more dollar.
An hour later I boarded my flight and sat next to a girl who seemed very nice. According to her daily planner, she went (maybe now, maybe once upon a time) to St. John’s University. I wondered why she was headed to Chicago, if she too was from New York, if she was destined to be my new best friend. Flying so often has me thinking about meeting people on planes. You’re confined to a small space for an extended period of time, and are on the same journey, literally. But she went to sleep as soon as we took off, and you do not mess with someone who wants to nap on a flight.
When we landed there was a backup at the gate, obviously. The captain said we’d be sitting on the plane at least another half hour. My neighbor muttered something about hating the airlines. I gave her a sympathetic half-smile. She told me she’d been scheduled on a flight at 9 the night before. Her flight was delayed for 20 minutes, then another 20 minutes, then another, until they boarded at 1:30. Only once they were seated was it announced that the pilots had maxed out their flying time and her flight was cancelled. I told her I’d had a crappy flying day too, though hers trumped mine. It was a brief chat—we finally deplaned—but struck me because of how it all started.
No one wants to be friends with a downer. Gossip and hating on others is not the stuff of life-long friendships. But studies show that having a common enemy is one of the surest ways to bring people together. In fact, a 2006 study found that two people are more likely to bond over a mutual dislike of someone than a mutual affection for that person. (Any girl who has survived middle school knows this to be true.) The authors write, “If there is a positive side of gossip, we believe it is that shared, mild, negative attitudes toward others can create and/or amplify interpersonal intimacy.”
I might not teach this to my kids (if I had any), but it’s a nice counterargument to the age-old “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Sometimes I have nothing nice to say, and I can’t keep my mouth shut. And I have nothing nice to say about the airlines. Maybe I should hang out at O’Hare more often.