To the preternaturally punctual of the world, it can feel as though people like Cushing were put on this planet as an obstacle to our own timely destinies. But the willfully tardy are not simply trying to annoy their friends and family. Their motivations are much more psychologically complicated.
Read: Can you cure chronic lateness?
I started talking with friends and co-workers about their air-travel habits after Tim Herrera, an editor at The New York Times, live-tweeted his journey to the airport last Friday. “On my way to the airport. Flight’s at 2:45, boards at 2:20, my Lyft’s ETA at the airport is 1:48,” he wrote. “Feel like I haven’t been this early for a flight in years tbqh, might stop for a snack on the way.” That message and the updates that followed it garnered dozens of responses, mostly from people who could feel their own blood pressure rising as they imagined arriving to an airport on a holiday weekend with less than an hour to make it from the curb to their seat.
It wasn’t the first time Herrera had told the world about being purposefully late for a flight. “Tweeting about it is kind of fun and adds some drama,” he told me, as though the looming prospect of a missed flight wasn’t enough. Indeed, the thrill was the main draw for every purposeful late arriver I spoke with. “I kind of love the drama of running through an airport,” says Mac Joseph, a friend of mine who works in public relations. “I hate lines. I hate the idea of waiting. I’ll be the last person to board the plane, no matter where I’m sitting.”
Herrera says he usually consults Google Maps and traffic information to determine the latest possible time he can leave. He also has TSA PreCheck and never checks his luggage. Still, he admits it’s a risky game every time. “Everything is arranged in a way that nothing can go wrong, and if one thing goes wrong in that sequence of events, I’m screwed,” he says. He most recently missed a flight last summer, when the gate door was closed right in front of him after a last-second dash.
Most purposeful late arrivers have similar stories. The worst miss for David Covucci, a friend of mine in New York, happened in Spain. “I got into a revolving door at the airport and it was going so slow, so I shoved it and it seized up,” he says. He was trapped inside. “I could see check-in, I could see my flight listed, and I was waving my arms to try and get someone’s attention.” Covucci was eventually freed from the revolving door, but check-in for his flight had already closed. To add insult to injury, he was late on that particular day because he was trying to prove a point to his mom. She insists on arriving hours early.
Like Covucci, everyone I could find who practices airport lateness did so in spite of significant pressure from family and friends to be early. For Herrera, it’s his parents and his best friend. For Cushing, it’s her long-term boyfriend, who sometimes leaves their apartment more than an hour before she does for flights they’re taking together. Joseph frequently travels with his roommate, and they sometimes also take separate cars, hours apart, for the same flight. “I know I can pick at him,” Joseph says. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I think I’m just gonna go to sleep now and pack tomorrow.’ You can see the anxiety growing in him, physically.”