07 December 2015

'Tis the season...how to hate the airport a little less (hopefully)

Most of my travel in any given year is to go somewhere and perform a show, maybe give a master class, maybe give a talk on music entrepreneurship.  This kind of travel is OK; I end up in the airport during the week, generally between the hours of 9am and 4pm, and most of the people waiting to go through security with me are individual business travelers.  Now, they can be pretty tedious, always shouting into their phones and jerking out their arms to sigh at their wristwatches, but they do know the drill, and that makes everything flow a lot smoother for everybody.  There is also the fact that you simply have numbers on your side; there are no large families and no national guilt trips driving everyone to the airport at the same time to eat the same overcooked turkey, if you get my drift.  Denver International Airport, my home base, is quite large and often very busy, but it's a pretty serene place on a Thursday at 2pm.

When I do travel for the holidays, it is like being swung around rapidly by a total stranger and then punched in the face. Hard.  It doesn't matter how slick I think I am at the airport, it is a completely different place the day before Thanksgiving. It is an ugly place.  People who travel so infrequently that they are mesmerized and confused by all the directions at security and small children who can't carry anything or even take off their own shoes are particularly hard to be behind in line, but that's about all I ever see this time of year. Everyone at the airport hates being alive in the days leading up to and immediately following a major family-oriented holiday, from security to the gate clerks.  Here's how I try to cope (and I beg of you, fair readers, if you have any other tips, please share them in the comment section below.  There is no such thing as too many coping techniques this time of year.):

GETTING WHAT YOU WANT. There is no guarantee that you will get anything you want this holiday season, but I can guarantee you will be treated like a criminal if you show an attitude.  Repeat the mantra "I'm so lucky this isn't my job" over and over in your head while you are dealing respectfully (and pityingly) with harried airport personnel, and try a little play acting by adopting the "Kindly Brontosaurus" posture. (I've been using this a lot, and it really works, even if it looks silly.) Above all, DO NOT act like a head case who's about to throw a temper tantrum.  You will be seen as a violent enemy of the state. 

DISTRACT YOURSELF. You're stuck waiting in a crowded, noisy, uncomfortable seating area near your gate.  People who sound like they are literally swallowing the microphone scream what sounds like pertinent information, but you really have no idea how to decipher it.  Everyone who has ever procreated in the last six months anywhere in your state is taking the same plane as you, and they all think the aisle between rows of seats is a reasonable place to change a diaper.  What can you do? 

  • PLAY WITH YOUR PHONE. I'm an android person, so pardon my non-Apple-centric advice here.  If you can tap into free WiFi at your airport, you can watch YouTube for free, or Hulu, Netflix, Amazon or Google Play movies for a fee.  Podcast apps abound (I like Podcast Addict and NPR Podcast), and so do news apps, which help you avoid the constant CNN running everywhere overhead (try Ted Conferences to get sucked into something inspiring on a long wait, Slate for a little junk food while you're waiting to board the plane.) And of course, don't forget to load some appropriate music before you leave the house. 

  • EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY. Airports are not known for their great prices and competitive dining, but they're trying to do better.  And honestly, your aunt's Christmas meal is still going to be worse, and your grandparents don't have a liquor cabinet.  I blogged a while ago about some honestly good places to drop your money in some of my frequented airports; share some of your own in the comments section below! 

  • GET SOME REST/EXERCISE. Those prayer rooms tucked away in major airports don't get used all that often.  Be respectful, but if the place is deserted, this is a great opportunity to do some stretches, yoga, breathing exercises, or even some jumping jacks and push-ups to avoid atrophying while you wait. Stretching before wedging yourself into your airport seat makes the recovery time on the other side of your trip much shorter.  (Pro tip: I've practiced my flute in these spaces before when in dire need.  Just keep an eagle eye on anyone else entering the space to actually use it the way it was intended.) Many airports are even adding yoga rooms so you don't have to risk offending the truly pious! 
When I travel to see family, I like to treat myself for behaving once I get there.  In Chicagoland, it might be a stop at White Castle (which we don't have out West) or a request for Brown's Chicken for dinner that night, because while this is total and utter junk food, it reminds me fondly of my childhood. Judge if you must.  If we go down South to see my in-laws, I would like very much to arrange a trip for crawdads and oysters. Generally family are happy to oblige, especially when you are stingy with your visits. It's not the same as sitting in my own living room enjoying a glass of wine in my pajamas, but it's still an improvement over the airport.  

Happy holiday season!