Dec 26, 2009

Observations on Christmas Day Travel

This Christmas was the first time I ever traveled by air on Christmas Day.   I've flown on Christmas Eve before, and I think my wife and I may have driven to my parent's home once on Christmas Day.   But,  I've never been to an airport on Christmas until this year as we flew to Seattle on Christmas morning to visit my in-laws.

Being the Christmas Eve shopper that I am, I have noticed a distinct difference between the shopping experience on Christmas Eve and that on the day before Christmas Eve, known as Christmas Adam.   December 23rd is a stressful, busy, and hectic shopping day, full of bad attitudes and tired people fighting with each other.  But December 24th has a different feel.

Christmas Eve shoppers are more friendly, have more joy, and while they are tired, people respect each other more.  I don't know if its because Christmas Eve is a special day on its own, or maybe its because Christmas Eve shoppers are already on vacation from work.  Perhaps its because Christmas Eve shopping is a shared experience with other like minded procrastinators; its always easier to get along with people for which you have an affinity.  Regardless, there is a difference between the two days, and Christmas Eve is a better day to shop.

So, I wondered if I would notice a similar difference between air travel on Christmas Eve, which unlike the shopping experience of that day, is hectic and stressful, and air travel on Christmas Day.

I took some notes.

  • Traffic is almost non-existant on Christmas morning.  The flow of freeway traffic held only 3 cars, including mine.
  • The airport was busy, but more orderly than usual.  Everyone took time to say "Merry Christmas"to each other, while parking, unloading luggage, checking in, boarding, etc.  Even the Federal Government TSA employees said it to everyone.   I didn't hear anyone say "Happy Holidays", not even airport employees.  "Happy Holidays" is about fear for most people, not sincre greeting.  Few really say it for positive reasons, so few actually say it unless they are forced by fear.
  • Even most of the airport workers seemed more relaxed and friendly than usual.   Many people working on Christmas are voluntarily giving up thier day off for extra pay.  I figured the few grumpy workers I saw were the ones being asked to work because not enough of thier co-workers volunteered.
  • I should have expected long term parking to be full, especailly the better lots.  However, I found parking quickly and without hassle.
  • Our parking shuttle driver, Maria, was very talkative.  In the 5 or 6 minute drive, her passengers learned all about her family and what is going on in her life.  Her mother in Tijuana had angioplasty last month and is doing very well.  Maria is glad that she is alive and home for Christmas.  Sadly, Maria's Christmas plans were to finish her shift and then go to the city jail to visit her son who was just arrested for stealing cars.  She assured us that he committed no acts of violence, and that she lights a candle for her son each day hoping he will remember how he was raised.  I think this kind of personal story would be irritating to most passengers on most days.  But on Christmas Day, she had everyone's kind attention.  No one seemed to mind that I delayed their disembarkment from the shuttle to say a quick prayer for Maria and her son.
  • There are lots of kids and babies at the airport on Christmas morning.  They all seemed tired and subdued.  I saw two kids about 10 years old with thier heads down on the talbe in the airport McDonald's.   I figured they were up very early to have Christmas unwrapping before leaving, or they were just doing all they could emotionally to cope with the fact that they wouldn't be opening gifts till much later in the day, wherever thier destination might be.  Either would have been tough for me at their age.
  • The terminal was much more festive than usual.  Everything was decorated, even the little booths the ticket agents stand behind when they scan your variously obtained boarding passes.
  • More than just saying "Merry Christmas," the TSA was also in a great mood, and entertained us with these announcements:  
    • "Ladies and Gentlemen, if your feet are colder this Christmas than usual, then perhaps you should come pick up your socks that you left in a tub at the security check-in line."
    • "Ladies and Gentlemen, there's no better time than while waiting for your flight on Christmas morning to call some loved ones and wish them a Merry Christmas.  If you want to call your loved ones, but are unable to, then please return to the securtiy checkpoint and pick up the mobile phone you left with our screeners."
    • "Ladies, if you would like to rekindle the joy you had as a kid at Christmas time, then you might consider coming back to the security area and picking up your age-defying make-up kit."
  • People with children under two years old get to "pre-board" the aircraft, which means board before anyone else.  Normally, this may be only a family or two, but the pre-boarding line was very long.  I stood in line contemplating the meaning of "pre-boarding", wondering how one could board the plane before boarding the plane.  They should call it something else.
  • I witnessed a Christmas tradition that is reluctantly shared by many American families.  I watched one father and one mother putting thier kids on a plane on Christmas Day to go and spend it with their other divorced parent.
  • It was clear that many people fly on Christmas Day who don't fly very often.  They are hesitant about each part of the routine.  They actually pay attention to the safety lecture given by the flight attendants before the flight.
  • Passengers are dressed much nicer on Christmas Day than usual.  Perhaps this adds to the better demeanor and well behaved kids.
  • I only saw only one rude customer.  He was out of sorts because he was ticketed to be in aisle one, and although it was First Class, he kept telling the now frazzled lady at the gate, "This just won't do."  I have sat in that seat before.  Its the one where you have to stare directly into a wall 2 feet in front of you for the entire trip, as there are no seats in front of you.  It is the worst seat on the plane.  By the time you land, you have lost a measurable percentage of your sanity.  Unfortunately for him, and the attendant he was harassing, no one was willing to trade with him.
  • People at the airport where we landed were less in a good mood.  Tired and ready to finally reach thier destination, everyone was quiet, except for a couple having an argument about what elevator to take down to the baggage claim.
  • The passenger loading area outside the baggage claim was the only difficulty.  Lots of cars, one broken down, and tons of luggage not fitting into the cars they were to be picked up in.  It was good to get out of there in one peice.
My wife and I often fly using airline award miles and sometimes we can't get on the same flight.  Also, sometimes she leaves to visit her folks before I do and comes back later than I do.  This allows her to have a longer visit, but also to give much needed help around the house.  But it makes it so we don't actually fly together much of the time.  This Christmas, I got to fly seated next to my wife and my son.  That alone made it a great flight and a great Christmas morning.

I'm flying home on New Year's Day.  I doubt I'll write anything about it.  I'll just want to know who won the game when I land.