Slate readers help us catalog the personality types of flight delays.

Slate readers help us catalog the personality types of flight delays.

Slate readers help us catalog the personality types of flight delays.

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April 27 2010 6:06 PM

Wing Nuts

Slate readers help us catalog the personality types of flight delays.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

True story, submitted by Slate reader KB: A man tries to cut to the front of a line of delayed passengers at San Diego airport. When the ticket agent tells him to get to the back of the line, he says—you guessed it—"Don't you know who I am?" In response to the inquiry, the agent picks up the public-address microphone. "Excuse me for the disturbance," she says. "But we have a gentleman here who does not know who he is. If anyone recognizes this man and can help him, please raise your hand, and the people around you will hold your place in line."

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is a Slate political columnist, the moderator of CBS’s Face the Nation, and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

This story, which we feel as if we may have heard before, is just one of many great ones from Slate readers. Apparently, we're all amateur anthropologists. My call to the Slate community to identify the personality types on display during flight delays brought out the Margaret Mead (or, rather, the Jane Goodall) in you. I've taken your stories, mixed them, and added some flourishes of my own based on personal experience, literary license, and hokum. What follows is the official Slate catalog of personality types that present themselves during moments of airline discomfort and delay.

Outside Flight Ninja
Responds to a delay by immediately calling his or her travel agent or assistant and plotting routes around the problem. Is there a train station near by? What's the drive time to the nearest airport, if I rent a car? These people walk away from other travelers so their solution won't be copied. They know the tricks of the major airports and departure times of alternate flights by heart. Confession: I am this person. I once got home from a campaign stop in Vegas by flying around a storm in the Midwest by quickly rerouting myself through Houston, flying to Philadelphia, and taking the train to Washington, D.C.

Tedious Storytelling Flight Ninja
Similar to previous Flight Ninja but with detailed stories about how efficient he is in getting around travel delays.

Inside Flight Ninja
Is nice to the airline personnel but to no one else. If there's another flight and it only has limited space, he's going to charm his way onto that flight.

Amateur Flight Ninja
Similar to previous Flight Ninja but charmless. First, he tells gate agents he's late for a meeting. After a little more delay, it's his grandmother's funeral he's late for. Finally, he's a live organ donor. The agents see through his game and have no sympathy.

Prosecutorial Flight Ninja
Knows more than the gate agents. Berates them because they've been lying for hours about how long the flight will be delayed. He holds up an iPhone with notification from the Web site that the flight has already been canceled.

See Here Now! Man
A cousin of the fellow in the introduction of this story. He believes that the mechanical problem, personnel issue, or weather will be improved if he loudly proclaims his place in the universe.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

The Hysterical She's been captured on film.

Slow Burner
"He seemed so nice," someone will say. "He just sat over there quietly the whole time," another will add as the police lead the man away in handcuffs while he continues to make threats to airline personnel and their families.


Oblivious Boob
This is what See Here Now! Man is like when he hasn't been paying attention. He demands to know why the plane isn't taking off when through the glass window it can be seen engulfed in flames. Sometimes referred to as an American traveling abroad.

Old White Man
Has his reservation right here on this piece of paper. The gate agents are ducking behind the counter for protection from the tornado, but he insists that this piece of paper, which his wife has a copy of at home, entitles him to an on-time departure.

Makes asides that are funny at first but soon get tiresome. (Behavioral observation: Ability to maintain ironic detachment falls in direct correlation with length of airport delay.

May not be entirely sure that the building he or she is in, the one with all the planes outside the windows, is an airport. Asks gate agents questions answered by public announcement made seconds before. In an office environment, often calls to reiterate what he or she has said in the e-mail and fax they've just sent you.

Dick, the Frequent Traveler
Dick travels a lot. He has too many bags and has offended everyone by delaying security, taking up every overhead bin and knocking down the toddler. Dick becomes See Here Now! Man once the delay is announced.

The Big Family
The longer the wait, the bigger this family seems to get. Like their luggage, the entire unit is held together by straps that ultimately can't contain it all. The parents are sweating and have given up. Young children are climbing under the seats, knocking over drinks, and screaming. Teenagers in shades are sprawling and laconic.

May have started out like a Travel Ninja, but when frustrated, gets litigious. Often starts building a case against the airline, frequently by passing around a petition or handing out business cards so that fellow disgruntled passengers can contact her when they get home and decide they want to press charges.

Walks around with a sign on chest that reads "This Airline Sucks."

Conflict-Resolution Manager
Tries to calm down See Here Now! Man. Delivers praise to gate agents for not drooling and exhibiting other minimum levels of competency.

Group Conflict-Resolution Manager
Sightings are rare, but reader Matthew Robbins writes of observing an entire group of passengers who tried to help a man get back for his daughter's graduation. The plane was at the gate but the door had closed. The group tried to convince agents to open the door. For 20 minutes they pleaded. They even started to make a pleading sign to show the pilots. It didn't work.

Sullen Teenager
Asleep on luggage (usually a backpack) or listening to music while also playing a video game. Wears a permanent scowl and sometimes flip-flops. Occasionally carries a pillow. Sulk more pronounced if traveling with parents.

Lost Puppy
A young adult who is too afraid to be sullen teenager. The delay upends their view of the world and their place in it.

Usually quiet, but responds to airport delays by telling you every detail about their lives—their job, family, and dreams. Offers to show you browsing history, etc.

Drone (Adventure Model)
Has details of previous travel scrapes that were even worse than the one you're all now experiencing.