The sight that greeted us as we approached the terminal was one that I will never forget—a literal sea of humans, all waiting to check in for their flights.
In a classic case of oversight, we had neglected to take into account that the Salt Lake City Olympics had just finished the evening before; thousands of athletes and fans were also scheduled to leave that morning.
Traveling with three kids, ages 4, 6, and 8, we’d carefully planned an extra-early arrival to minimize the stress of traveling halfway around the globe. Our plans were immediately shattered as we spotted the check-in line snaking out the terminal door, well over 300 feet long.
After finally checking our mountains of luggage, we raced to the crowded security gate, where I used my powers as a mother to ask others in the line if they would kindly let us move ahead of them.
In the end, we made it to our flight with about 10 minutes to spare—ample time, really—but suffering from a cold sweat and racing heartbeat.
When a schedule is set for a bunch of strangers to do something together at a certain time, such as fly on an airplane, people who are not making their best effort to go along with that program are being inconsiderate to every other person involved, particularly the plane crew and workers at the airport. Psychological excuses are meaningless when other travelers and those trying to help them are inconvenienced because one person can’t get their act together.
John P. McMahon
While I suppose there are people who enjoy arriving two hours early so they can sit in uncomfortable seats facing blaring TVs while eating overpriced cinnamon-sugar pretzel nuggets (a real thing), I am not one of them.
Occasionally I am the guy sprinting for the gate, but I think I am not atypical in trying to leave adequate time while not hanging around the airport for very long.
I do have some sympathy for the late arrivals, and I have always preferred trains to planes, because you can jump on the train after it’s started moving.
This article makes it sound as if thrill seeking is the only reason folks chronically arrive at the airport with a tight window of time before their flight (if it is intentional, I don’t think late is the correct term). For frequent business travelers, like I was in the past, something different is going on. Because they travel in large volumes, and are intimately familiar with the systems involved, tighter windows seem inherently less risky. And missing one flight in 50 due to a confluence of negative events is simply worth it to gain hundreds of hours of time over the course of a year.
Readers responded on Twitter:
Amanda Mull replies:
In the avalanche of response to my article about airport punctuality, one theme emerged from the late crowd: Many of them argued that their last-minute arrivals weren’t just an attempt to manage anxiety by acting out, but a principled response to the indignity of airports themselves. No one, they insisted, could want to spend more time in an airport than is absolutely necessary.