With massive hordes of people flying and bad weather predicted, there's a good chance you might find yourself stuck in an airport this holiday season. Whether you're there with an extra hour to kill or you're stuck for days on end because of a weather apocalypse, the airport is a tedious, crowded, and soul-deadening place. If you're lucky, you'll have access to some sort of special Ambassador's Club, but if you are forced to spend any time among the hoi polloi, here are some fun strategies to help you enjoy your trip and keep you from totally losing your mind.
Visualize A Less Annoying World
Wherever you have large crowds of frustrated people, there are bound to be at least a few (or hundreds) of people who bug the shit out of you. There's the pushy frequent flier who thinks he deserves special treatment and tries to budge in line. There's the clueless person who seems never to have traveled or encountered modern technology before and is mystified by everything from the self-check-in kiosk to stowing one's overhead luggage. And there are the children. Oh, the children.
Sure, you can let these irksome strangers get under your skin, but it's much more fun if you try to make the best of it. In my experience, there are two excellent ways to do this. First, if you are traveling with another person, make a game of it. Create a points system for the different behaviors that annoy you most (passengers who snap at airline employees +1, moving walkway blockers +5, people who chew loudly +17, etc.), and then compete to see who can rack up the most points in a given amount of time or within a specific area (security line, gate, Chili's Express). If you're traveling alone, you can always keep score yourself.
The other option is a modification of the "picture people in their underwear" cure for nervousness. It works if you're annoyed too. Try picturing that arrogant, huffy guy ahead of you in line in his skivvies, his spindly, pale legs poking out of the holes of his tighty whities. See? He magically seems more pathetic and less annoying! Or, if underwear isn't your thing, try to picture the person doing whatever annoying thing they're doing while also doing the chicken dance, or wearing a dog costume, or really any other goofy, embarrassing thing you can imagine. You can also make up a backstory about the person in your mind—or tell it to your travel companion—that explains what's led them to be so annoying. ("She never learned to cover her mouth when she coughs because she was raised by wolves in the forest and wasn't exposed to human civilization until she was eleven years old!")
Pretend You're A Mysterious Stranger
In the already depressing airport, there is nowhere more depressing than the airport bar. Except you can't stay away from it because it possesses what is perhaps the only thing that can soothe your nerves during these trying holiday times: alcohol. It's not normally a great place to meet people—unless you're really into dudes who wear their cellphones in holsters on their belt—but there are ways to make your time in there more interesting. For instance, you can pretend you're someone else for an hour or two. I'm not talking about trying to pass as Charlize Theron or Ryan Seacrest. I'm suggesting you simply create a more enigmatic version of yourself or adopt a slightly different but still plausible identity.
Pretend you have a more interesting job than you actually do or that you're traveling for more interesting reasons. ("I'm going to India to save peoples' eyesight!") Yes, it's sort of lying—actually, it's totally lying—but as long as you do it smartly, it's good, harmless fun. Besides, pretending you're someone else makes it much easier to be brave enough to talk to a stranger. Don't get carried away and don't drink too much, for all the usual reasons, but also because you're way more likely to get your story mixed up. Definitely don't adopt an accent you can't sustain, and also be careful about falling for the person you chat with because you'll have a lot of things to clear up before you can live happily ever after. ("I have something to tell you, honey…I'm not actually the Assistant Secretary of Agriculture.")
Or if you're not into assuming another identity, make a good deed out of your trip to the bar. Find the most miserable-looking person in there and chat them up. It doesn't need to be a flirty thing—as long as they don't seem like a megacreep, you can just be nice to them for five minutes to convey that someone cares about their sad story of lost love/missed flight/spending the holidays with a hellish family. You know, spread the holiday cheer, etc. Then you can leave the bar one drink more relaxed and feeling satisfied that you've made someone's day a little brighter.
Moron Says What?
Sometimes all of your standard entertainment options fail you. Your Kindle dies; you've texted all of your friends and no one is texting you back because they are all too busy having fun and living their lives in places other than an airport. Sure, you could pass the time by having an Auntie Anne's pretzel-eating contest with yourself, but even that gets boring after a while. The most surefire way to occupy oneself in these situations is by eavesdropping. The best part about this is that it can pretty much be done anywhere—while sitting in one of those dirty, uncomfortable chairs at the overcrowded gate, on the plane, at baggage claim. There is no end to the people watching and listening opportunities during the mass transit experience!
Plain old nosiness is fun enough, but it's even more engaging if you make a game of it. If you're with someone, wander around separately for a while and then come back together and see who overheard the weirdest sentence. If you're by yourself, tweet the funniest conversation scraps you catch. Sure you might lose all of your followers, but who cares? Or if you want to keep your thoughts to yourself, write down the things you hear, and then try to make a poem out of them. Or listen to someone you can't see and try to figure out what they look like before turning around to find out. Or imagine the people near you are having a conversation in code. What are they really talking about? The possibilities are endless!
Don't Look A Gift Shop In The Mouth
Did you wait until the last minute to shop for gifts? Well, now is your opportunity! True it will cost you a pretty penny, but you might as well pick up some delightful souvenirs for your relatives. Who among your family would not be honored to receive a "Greetings from Detroit" shot glass or an "Everything's Bigger in Texas" t-shirt? If you happen to find yourself in one of those airports that is basically also a mall, you'll really be in luck. You can buy your loved ones jewelry, fancy chocolates, and Brooks Brothers ties—they won't ever have to know it was bought in haste from Terminal A.
If you don't have any actual shopping to do, busy yourself by looking for the ugliest/cheesiest things you can find. Buy them if you want to. My parents used to get one ridiculous souvenir from every place they traveled, and they eventually created their own Museum of Tacky Tourism. (Sure, it was on a shelf in the basement, but it was still fun.) Or if you don't feel like carrying a giant Maine lobster hat around with you for the rest of your trip, you can just take pictures of the worst offenders.
When The Airport Gives You Lemons, Start A Lemonade Stand
If things get really, epicly shitty, and it looks like you're going to have to live in the airport forever, Tom-Hanks-in-the-Terminal-style, then you're going to need to find a way to get by on your wits. If you think about it, there are plenty of ways to make money in an airport. Just look at what's in demand, corner the supply, and then sell it. Are people desperate for seats? Work with your traveling companion to capture a block of seats and then rent them out to tired people at an exorbitant rate. Start billing yourself as "The Plainclothes Santa" and charge frantic parents $10 to entertain their children for a few minutes. Yes, this is weird and probably totally illegal, but what does it even matter? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and you're all going to die in there anyway!!
Okay, so maybe starting a black market economy in the middle of O'Hare is not the smartest way to kick off the holiday season. But that doesn't mean you can't work with other travelers to have a good time. Use your iPod/laptop and get people to join you for a little airport karaoke. Or gather some cheerful-looking folks together and go caroling to the various gates—like a flash mob but slightly less obnoxious. Or write a short play and have the kids near you act it out. Basically, pretend like you're at a really fun winter camp with a bunch of new friends. (Some of who will look at you like you're the most irksome person ever born, but don't let ‘em dampen your holiday spirit!) Just be careful that nobody mistakes you for a psycho and alerts the air marshals.
That's it—everything you need to enjoy the airport for one hour or one day or for the rest of your life. Now you can go forth in your travels, confident that you're going to have fun no matter what the air travel industrial complex throws at you. And should you find, once you arrive at your destination, that your family is more annoying than you remembered, comfort yourself with the fact that you have the trip home to look forward to. Bon voyage!
Image via alist/Flickr.