As a millennial, finding the right airline can be tricky. You don’t want to fly Spirit and risk catching a venereal disease or obesity (because in the right circumstances it is contagious), but you also can’t afford Delta economy unless you recently emigrated from Saudi Arabia and happen to be of royal blood.Somewhere between the spiraling vortex of doom known as US Airway’s customer service site, and the contract American requires you to sign in blood before committing to a middle seat, Southwest’s purple branding flashes like a beacon in the night. Promising reasonable fares, no checked bag fees, and the ability to change a flight at any time (what?!), it’s the capitalist equivalent of seeing a unicorn waltz into your apartment and break into a solo from Phantom of the Opera.
Amid the low fares and snarky Tweets from their PR people, you may forget that Southwest also boasts an open boarding feature. What does this mean, you ask? Well if you forget to check into your flight exactly 24 hours prior, to the second, you will be spending your time cruising to Lollapalooza in-between 2 infants in the row directly in front of the bathroom. That guy you thought who was hilarious chugging that milkshake and chili fries right before your aerial adventure began? Not so funny anymore.
If, however, you are one of the wise ones who set that Google calendar to go off five minutes before that crucial check-in point, you are granted the award of the boarding group A. You reserve your overhead bin space before the rest of the muggles, and are almost guaranteed an aisle seat. Great, right?
You get on that plane before everyone else, everyone else now chooses you. What started as a great perk has suddenly turned into a game of survival; if you’re a reasonably sized white girl like me, you are officially everyone’s ideal seat mate and the games have begun. As your own personal Haymitch (“guide” for those not forced to sit through Hunger Games), we’ve got some strategizing to do. I give you the 5 worst kinds of people that have already scoped you out as a seat mate in the gate area, and how to combat them.
District One Tribute: The Fat Guy
It’s inevitable- on every Southwest flight there is one morbidly obese human that has somehow skated by on not buying an extra seat, and also forgotten to check in until exactly two minutes and thirty-seven seconds prior to arriving at the gate. He has scoped out the A group while you stood in the line like cattle waiting for the slaughter, and if you’re under a buck fifty, you are at risk.
Strategy: Barring a superhuman ability to gain massive amounts of weight in an excessively small amount of time, your best bet is to act crazy. Not the cute kind of crazy where you sometimes think that gold dress is blue (you’re wrong); the kind of insane that makes Sybil look like Mother Theresa. Screaming random obscenities while sitting at the bar adjacent to the boarding area, shaking babies, and general muttering and pacing are all acceptable offensive moves. If this doesn’t deter said large person enough, give them the most withering stare you can muster the entire time they walk down that narrow aisle towards your row. Don’t Blink.
District Two Tribute: The Small Child
Do I even need to explain this one? Kids are the worst. They scream, have way too much baggage for their body size, and generally come equipped with a parent who’s convinced that their child is the second coming of Jesus.
Strategy: When in vicinity of the child’s family near boarding time, start telling the person next to you (loudly) how you much you hate kids. This is especially important as a young female of ripe birthing age, because every mother in that airport will gravitate towards you knowing you have a countdown clock somewhere in your ovaries. Suggested statements should your pure hatred expressed verbally not seem enough: “My parents don’t believe in vaccinations.”, “I think I have the Zika virus from that trip to Brazil last month.”, and my personal favorite- “So, how often do you think about murdering babies?”
District Three Tribute: The Creeper
If you’re a bro, go ahead and shuffle on down to number four. If you’re of the female population, you already know who this is. Not the 6’3 well-muscled dude who had the only A boarding pass before you, but the mouth breather who you will have to make sure doesn’t follow you into the parking garage when you land. Every girl walks into the airport hoping today is the day that her future husband happens to sit next to her on this flight, and asks to hold her hand during takeoff because he’s pretty tough but flying gives him anxiety. Spoiler alert: that day will never come. What will come is Harry from accounting on the way to a super enthralling conference about the fed’s interest rate and he wants to tell you all about it. Then proceed to kidnap you, keep you in a basement, and raise a village of mole people.
Strategy: Should you not be blessed with a rock already on your finger, the best defense here is headphones immediately in your ears and deliberate eye contact avoidance. Will Harry probably prey on the sweet 19 year old blonde who boarded right after you and still thinks all people are good? Definitely. But this is the Hunger Games and that’s not your problem. Plus she totally has better eyebrows than you, and your future husband could be boarding soon.
District Four Tribute: The Talker
You’re especially at risk here if you’re flying anywhere in the South (i.e. my life, every damn week). A sweet older woman will see your wrinkle-less face, and instantly know that she won’t have to scream into a hearing aid to be heard like she does with her husband every night. There’s a 90% chance she’s wearing a sweater with a cat on it, and has fourteen grandchildren she’s ready to tell you all about with pictures and excruciating detail.
Strategy: Best case scenario, the talker is only a few spaces behind you in boarding (they’re generally pretty responsible when it comes to time), and you make chit chat with the flight attendant until they pass by. Otherwise, bite the bullet on flights less than four hours. Nod your head occasionally, smile often, and find comfort that in a true Hunger Games scenario, that bitch would be dead in a heartbeat.
District Five Tribute: The Wild Card
Once you’ve flown Southwest a couple times, you’ll start scoping out your own seatmates, and think you have the strategy down. One day, you will pick a lovely middle aged gentleman wearing a suit, and assume that the newspaper he brought with him for the flight will keep any small talk at bay. You will be wrong. He is the most dangerous of all the tributes, and you won’t know it until after takeoff when he starts into his life story beginning with extreme heroin addiction and ending with a reborn Christian story that would make Tom Cruise immediately turn to dust.
Strategy: Never assume you’re safe. It’s easy to get complacent; when your TSA record is down to 2:37 with shoe removal it’s easy to be cocky. But beware, you’re never safe on Southwest. I’m currently sitting next to this Tribute from BHM to MDW, and he’s reading over my shoulder. He’s not deterred. Because he won this round of the games, and knows that he rightfully earned that armrest he stole after the third rehab story.
Good luck tributes, may the odds be ever in your favor.