Zen and the Art of Flying Coach
‘Tis the season to be…
Grumpy about airport security checks? Frustrated by the passenger next to you who keeps drooling on your shoulder? Utterly exhausted from travel before family time even starts? Bah, humbug.
Airports aren’t exactly the most pleasant places in the world, especially around the holidays, but Jason Barger, author of Step Back from the Baggage Claim, thinks this could change. He spent seven continuous days in airplanes and airports around the country, observing people’s interactions as well as airport culture. Oddly enough, he came to the conclusion that air travel can not only be uplifting, it can inspire us to better ourselves and the world.
We at IT were curious, so we decided to ask him a few questions about his experience and his new travel philosophy.
Full Q & A after the break…
Seven days in airports around the country…don’t get me wrong, I love traveling, but airports wear me out. What inspired you to take on such a project?
I’ve always been fascinated by airports; so many different people going different directions with different agendas. Airports represent a space where our lives merge together and we often experience the best and worst of humanity.
What did you bring with you – any creature comforts to keep you sane during this endeavor?
My laptop computer, legal pad and one change of clothes in a small carry-on bag. I was trying to experience the airports very modestly.
How did you conduct your research? Did you take notes? Conduct Interviews? Eavesdrop?
I sat and watched different areas of each airport, listened to conversations, watched the mannerisms of my fellow travelers, took notes on my conversations with people along the way, and reflected on my own feelings about what I was experiencing.
Tell me about one of your most interesting experiences from the week. Was there a particular event that really got your attention?
I watched a woman move through the security line in Boston. She was one of the only people chosen to be “additionally searched.” They immediately began rifling through her neatly packed bag and in a matter of seconds, her belongings were a pile of disheveled items on the table; her underwear out in plain sight. But she asked the TSA worker about his day, laughed at his jokes, and shared about where she was heading – all while person after person passed her in line. Once the search was over, she quickly scooped up her scattered items into her arms and began running toward her gate. The whole time I didn’t realize she was in a hurry. I was mesmerized by her. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t complaining. She was traveling gracefully.
OK, down to the nitty-gritty. Out of the airports you spent time in, which was the most pleasant? Which was the least pleasant?
Most pleasant: Seattle. Great layout, thoughtful seating arrangements and good food options helps to create a noticeably calming environment.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Least pleasant: Miami. It’s a cluster. Yes, their ongoing construction is hopefully going to help the awful layout and very few pleasant options for waiting travelers.
What advice do you have for holiday travelers this year? What techniques do you practice to keep yourself calm while traveling?
5 Tips: 1) Say “Thank you” as you begin your trip. Ever thought about how amazing it is that we can wake up in Charlotte, North Carolina and in a few hours be in San Francisco, CA? 2) Don’t obsess over your time in the security line. Instead of watching the other security lines and comparing where you would have been if you had chosen a different line, take a deep breath and relax. 3) Don’t just get through your flight, embrace it. It’s an environment void of cell phones, internet and the next meeting to attend. Read something you’re interested in. Let your thoughts wander. 4) Be still at the “ding.” When your flight arrives at your destination city and that “ding” goes off, don’t jump out of your seat like everyone else. The airplane door doesn’t open immediately anyway. Practice stillness instead of adding to the chaos. 5) Step Back from the Baggage Claim. Join a more compassionate and thoughtful movement by standing back from the carousel instead of participating in the wrestling match for your bags.
What general conclusions did you draw from your experience – about travelers, airport staff, our culture?
Even in the midst of obstacles, delays, and cancellations, we all play a role in creating the culture of wherever we stand. Life is sped up and many things are out of our control, but there are wonderful people, fascinating stories, and profound experiences all around us. When we are able to slow down and appreciate others around us, we experience life more fully.