Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Getting On-Board the Flying Fandom

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Thanks to ClexaCon, as well as moving to a new city, I have spent the last few months flying. A lot. This means there’s been countless hours spent at airports and planes, usually extended thanks to things like delays or endless taxiing routes. I can’t recall exactly which flight this occurred on, but at one point I entertained myself by thinking about flying as a fandom because of gatekeeping. Gates. Because there’s gates an an airport, get it?

Get me another tomato juice with no ice, please.

Ever since that fateful moment, I’d arrive for each flight internally amused at the concept of the airline ticketers being the gatekeepers. But then on flight 1 out of 4 for ClexaCon, something amazing happened. Two people nearby began discussing the boarding process in a way I’ve heard many times before—they were nerd-checking each other.

“All the special boarding groups have gone already.”

“Actually, there’s five special boarding groups with American. I fly a lot.”

“Same, though boarding group 5 is technically not special as much as preferred.”

Now, personally, I think we should all be banding together against the concept of 9 boarding groups altogether, but the fact that this is how the two businessmen wanted to spend their time was elating to me. There really is a flying fandom. And I realized thinking back, I had been witnessing it all along.

Types of flyings fans

The curative fan

This special flier almost certainly has a preferred boarding status and luggage where the laptop case fits perfectly on top of the roll-on suitcase. However, they’ll spend their time telling you fascinating comparative airport stories. Think your gate is small? Well it’s got nothing on the D terminal in Dallas/Fort Worth. Is the baggage claim slightly delayed? Hah, they were there, son. They were there in Philadelphia when it took 45 minutes. It doesn’t matter how disinterested you might be in talking about the food options at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (surprisingly not great, by the way), they will find a way to bring it up because they know all and have completed the full stat sheets and alignment charts for each one.

Don’t even think about engaging these fans in a discussion of the different airlines.

The anesthetized fan

Whether this person has been around the flying fandom for some time and truly can’t care anymore, or if they’re determined not to seem like a noob in any way, the anesthetized fan will absolutely not react to anything thrown at them. 4-hour delay, mechanical failure during taxiing, bags at the wrong airport…it doesn’t matter. Nothing surprises them, and frankly they saw this coming.

You will always be next to one of these fans on a flight where the airplane is making some kind of bizarre mechanical noise, and they will always only be able to give you a not-at-all reassuring shrug when you ask if it’s normal. It probably is, but they don’t care, and they kind of judge you for caring that much. Didn’t you see it coming too? Come on.

The fandom snob

This flier is Not Like Other Fliers, and will spend their entire time judging everyone else who can even think to share recycled air with them. They look askance at mothers flying with babies, scoff under their breath when people struggle to put their bags in the overhead bin, and seem bemused by the concept of others needing the bathroom and requiring them to get up. Yes, you’re pretty irritated by the others around you too, but frankly the fandom snob is worse than any of them.

For fun, scoff every time they do, but make it clear you’re scoffing at their scoffing. That’ll show everyone.

The collector fan

This fan is more or less a walking advertisement for the airline you’re on. I don’t mean they’re wearing branded sweats or anything…do those even exist? Rather, every single time the option comes to purchase something, or to accept a pamphlet on the airline credit card, they will engage.

Who wants a special Ritz cracker and hummus snack that costs $8 as opposed to the free bag of pretzels? They do. And you can bet that these guys consume the airline provided media entertainment options. Heck, on planes with the shared TV monitors, they’ll accept the flight attendants’ headphones and plug them on in to enjoy Night at the Museum 2. Their wallets are eternally grateful that airline cons don’t seem to exist quite yet.

The doomsday fan

This flier is convinced that your flight is going to be cancelled. If not cancelled, severely delayed. In some ways, it makes sense; the doomsday fan measures their response and assumes the worst, so that when anything better happens, it’s an enjoyable flying experience. However, in doing so, they bring everyone else down around them with their doomsday predictions.

They will tell anyone within earshot that your long runway queue is going to result in massive incoming delays, or that the airline you’re on is famous for cancelling eastbound flights later in the day. There’s not much that can help you once they get their weather radar app out, either.

The good news is that this type of fan will almost never be assigned the seat next to yours in a flight that actually has massive delays. Instead, they’ll just create a lot of unnecessary anxiety for what would otherwise have been a fairly smooth experience.

The optimistic fan

Worse than the doomsday fan, the optimistic fan is famously wrong about anything related to the flight. “Looks like we’re going to have an early takeoff,” they’ll say merrily. You won’t. You never do. That’s just not a thing that happens. It’s not necessarily unpleasant to be near these fans, but they will crush your dreams every single time.

Yes, air traffic controllers are doing the best they can, but sometimes things just get screwy and don’t make narrative sense, okay? Sometimes people just take on too much of their own baggage and it drags the whole flight down. Deal with it.

The “I should be X” fan

It’s a rare form of curative flier that makes this leap, but sure enough, there are flying fans who truly believe they would do a better job calling the boarding groups, arranging overhead bag space, transporting bags to the hold of the plane, and yes—sometimes they even believe they should be piloting.

“Why did he turn so far northbound at takeoff?” Probably because he has navigational software and an understanding of the route that you lack, buddy. But it won’t matter. This is a frequent flier who feels they have all the answers. The good news is that they will absolutely not have patience for anyone without silver elite preferred status, so you may not have to engage with this type of fan at all.

The noob

Every fandom has noobs, and these poor saps are not at all hard to miss. I try and reach out to steer them into the proper boarding lane before the curative fan can get to them, but every once in a while you’ll get a flier so confused you wonder if they’ve even heard of an airport before. How is it possible that they’re this bad at standing in a line and moving to their seat when they need to? How do they have so many neck pillows? Why are they jumping up to get out off the plane when you only just reached the gate and are in row 24 with them?

There’s never a clear answer, but if nothing else these guys are normally open to coaching. Then you get to feel a bit of fandom snobbery in your interactions, because, well, you’ve been there. And you can tell them how you’ve been there. And you can make them feel better by telling them that it’s so much better than that one flight you were on out of Wichita, which shouldn’t have been a problem since the Dwight D. Eisenhower airport only has 12 gates, but a surprisingly decent choice of… Oh. Damnit. You’re that guy now.


The thing is, flying is just a horrible, nauseating experience on its best days. So now, here’s at least a handy lens to apply to it the next time you’re at an airport. Because we’re still all the same people who can argue over narrative choices or feel emotionally engaged at well-executed fictional tension. Now, just figure out what a flying fandom ship war would be and try to start that, and I can ensure you that your own flight will…fly by.

I’ll see myself out.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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