Images: Francisco Olea

If you take the time to notice your fellow travelers, this is whom you may encounter.

Although I like to think of myself as an efficient person, my family and friends  comment on my recurrent tardiness. I’m usually five to 10 minutes late, but it’s because I can almost always find a way to make more of my time by squeezing in an errand, stopping by the dry cleaner on the way to the restaurant or fitting in a yoga class hours before leaving on a work trip. I seem to have inherited this from my mom, who, when I was eight years old, planned a family road trip across Europe that lasted less than three weeks and spanned 10 cities in six countries

Because I aim to arrive at the airport just on time – if I’m checking my luggage, that’s about 10 to 15 minutes before the bag-drop cut-off – I’m puzzled when my traveling companions suggest leaving for the airport three to four hours before the scheduled departure. Even an occasional traveler would end up spending weeks of their life at airports if they showed up that early to every flight.

Many prefer arriving early to avoid anxiety, but being trapped in the terminal, ruminating about all the things I could have crossed off multiple to-do lists, is what triggers my anxiety. As a frequent traveler, I’ve come to observe the habits of other people in the airport, which generally fit into one or more of the following categories.

The Three-Course-Meal Diner

If a flight is long enough that it’s likely you’ll get hungry, chances are food will be available on the airplane, either as part of a complimentary meal service or for purchase. So I find it impressive when travelers take the time to dine at the airport. I’ve watched as these travelers peruse the menu, lingering over the selection of appetizers, main courses and desserts. When the food arrives, they’re in no hurry to chow everything down. They slowly guide the dangling strands of cheese harnessed onto tortilla chips from their nacho appetizer like upside-down anchors into their mouths while diving into deep conversation with a couple sitting at the next table – all while maintaining a carefree state.

One of the only times I sat down for a meal at an airport restaurant was when my 6 p.m. flight from Montreal to Los Angeles was postponed by several hours. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t make it to La La Land for a late dinner date, but excited to experience what it was like to be a sit-down airport diner. The calmness and fullness I felt while boarding was foreign, but satisfying.

The Duty-Free Shopper

When I spot travelers leisurely flipping through magazines and reading dust jackets at airport bookstores, or sampling perfume after perfume, I imagine Michael Scott from The Office calling out, “Time is money, people!” Think about how many e-mails they could have responded to during those 20 minutes, or how many calories they could have burned on a pre-trip jog or a brisk walk around the terminal.

Stocking up at the airport duty-free shop seems a little inconvenient. I’ve seen travelers carrying armloads of regulation transparent bags, containing lipstick sets, bottles of liquor, cases of cigarettes and oddly shaped souvenirs. I’m just as eager to benefit from a deal as the next discount shopper, but the possibility that such purchases would slow me down during my travels has dissuaded me from doing the same. Granted, if I ever had any extra room in my checked baggage, my opinion concerning duty-free shopping sprees might differ.

The Sweaty Stresser

Earlier this year, I was in the security line at Montreal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, en route to Berlin for APEX MultiMedia Market, when I witnessed something that almost knocked my socks off, before I even removed my shoes! A man in a suit, a sweat and a panic pounced ahead of me, spewing something about missing his flight. I stepped aside, smiling calmly at him and finding solace in the fact that I had a full 20 minutes before boarding for my flight began.

Then, I caught a glimpse of his boarding pass. His flight was boarding after mine! I stared at him in disbelief. These travelers are the ones who diligently follow the “arrive at the airport three hours before your departure time” rule and still worry about missing their flight. They rush to their gate only to be there 15, 30, 45 minutes early, unperturbed.

I am secretly jealous of them. They are free from torturous thoughts like, “You could have unloaded the dishwasher before you left” and “You’re wasting time; go sample some perfume!” They sit in relaxed silence, charging their devices, which, by the way, they could probably also do on the airplane.

The Extremely Efficient, Slightly Neurotic Traveler

So who am I? All of these personas combined, moving in fast-forward. It begins with an online check-in (including window seat selection), followed by a possible stop by the bag-drop and hop through the Nexus security and/or customs line using a digital boarding pass, of course. Then, I grab a granola bar, pack of gum and the latest issue of Vogue or the Economist, depending on my mood. If I can, I’ll sniff a couple of fragrances at the duty-free shop on the way to pick up a coffee or a matcha green tea latte. On the very rare occasion that I have 15 minutes to spare, I’ll contemplate whether there’s time to get a massage. The first boarding call is the signal to head to the gate, but not before a visit to the water bottle refill and human body empty stations. Fact: You can easily fit a pre-flight bathroom trip in between the first and final boarding call. At the gate, I’ll catch my breath until the boarding line dwindles to the last few stragglers, feeling a sense of triumph that I ticked off all of the items on my airport to-do list.

I once read that if you’ve never missed a flight, you’ve spent too much time at airports. Believe it or not, I have yet to miss a single one, despite hearing my name called over the loud speaker more than twice. Perhaps I should cut it even closer next time.

“The People You Meet at the Airport” was originally published in the 7.4 September/October issue of APEX Experience magazine.