Whittle while you wait

What do you do to pass the time in an airport waiting for a flight? Have any insider tips to make the interval more pleasant? ITN asked readers those questions. Responses appear below. If you have further ideas to contribute, write to Whittle While You Wait, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com (please include the address where you receive ITN).

I take the current copy of ITN to read at the airport while waiting. Sometimes I’m surprised and the issue includes an article that covers my destination.
Jerome Hirt
Horsham, PA

Sadly, I am a very impatient person. For the last 25 to 30 years, I have always had crossword puzzles in my purse or backpack or pocket. They are whipped out immediately at airports, train stations, doctor and dentist offices, supermarkets or anywhere that I will have a wait.

I usually work New York Times (or similar) Sunday puzzles, but those aren’t for everyone. I recently started my husband on a book of easy crosswords and now he is addicted.

Brenda Milum
Squaw Valley, CA

As a smoker, I spend time in airports searching for smoking areas. This is not such a problem outside of the U.S. Within the U.S., I found the worst smoking area at the airport in Houston, Texas, and the best at New York’s Kennedy where there was a Japan Airlines lounge for smokers that was so well ventilated it was smoke-free — absolutely lovely, with complimentary beverages. At an airport smoker room I visited a few years ago in Hong Kong, the air was so dense I could barely see the person next to me; I walked out.

An avid reader, I know an airport is not a good place to concentrate on a novel. Magazines are much better, so I always stock up on a few weeks of The New Yorker and then dispose of them when finished.

People-watching is always interesting, but the variety wears out if you’re waiting at a gate.

I try to find a seat that is not near children or cell-phone talkers.

Once I’m settled in and have greeted the people nearby (good to have them keep your seat if you go to the rest room), I pull out my Simon & Schuster book of 50 crossword puzzles ($9.95) and go to work. Puzzles allow me to hear announcements, and any diversion is fine — no lost place. Highly recommended.

Barbara Malley
New York, NY

Like many people who wait for flights, I read, generally fiction books that I can leave along the trail as I go along. Of course, in recent times this has become far more difficult due to that plague of modern society, the cell phone.

In times past, people would talk from banks of phones mounted on the wall and appropriately placed away from others so that those individuals would have a modicum of privacy and others would not be disturbed by their calls. Now, however, people are content to screech meaningless drivel into their cells phones, generally as loudly as possible, making a nuisance of themselves to all sitting in the area.

Now, we’ve all seen those large plastic cubicles in the airport for smokers. There they can all compete for the few remaining oxygen molecules as they poison the air. I suggest that similar cubicles be set up for cell phone users, where they can yodel into their boxes to their hearts’ content, far away from their fellow passengers who certainly don’t want to hear every detail of their drab, dreadful lives.

Gary Mockli
Chesterfield, MO

What do you do when you have to spend a significant amount of time in an airport, apart from the obvious, time-worn pursuits of reading, harassing the airline staff and snoozing? Well, here are some not particularly serious but generally legal ways of passing three or four hours and successfully avoiding terminal boredom.

Power walk — You’ve all seen those energetic people striding purposefully through airports while you’re sitting there buried in yesterday’s USA Today, some of them pulling large wheelies that look like they should have been checked in at the oversize-luggage desk. You may think that these people are rushing to catch the next flight to Chicago or wherever they happen to be going, but in reality many of them are members of that shadowy organization called PWA, the Power Walkers of America, and they are just taking advantage of a spare hour of downtime to exercise.

So get up from your seat in front of the lounge TV and join in the fun. Do three laps of the concourse as fast as you can walk, pulling your luggage behind you, if possible. Remember, luggage, stairs and uphill slopes just increase the calories you’ll burn!

Play “Spot the Suspect” — This is best played with a friend. Station yourself near the security gate and see if you can guess which one of the passengers is going to be “randomly” selected for a head-to-toe search and a complete airing of his or her dirty underwear in front of dozens of strangers.

Will it be that Middle Eastern-looking gentleman with the thick beard and even thicker soled shoes, the little old lady with the bag full of wrapped presents or perhaps the grizzled, medal-wearing veteran in his wheelchair?

Five points if you pick out the right person before he’s searched. One hundred if you pick him out and he runs through security, prompting an evacuation of the terminal.

Read a book out loud to your fellow passengers — Before doing this, it is best to take a poll of those sitting around you to see what their tastes in reading material are. If most of them are inclined toward Shakespeare’s sonnets, you are probably on firm ground and can proceed, assuming of course that you are carrying a copy of the sonnets with you. If they ask for something in Spanish, you probably have gotten off at the wrong airport. If they ask for a reading from a “true crimes” book, I would let the matter drop and change seats.

This game has the added advantage of being a space clearer, in the event that you want to stretch out and get some shut-eye. Just open any book and start reading out loud from it, tracing the words with your finger, smiling and licking your thumb before you turn the page. You’ll be amazed at how quickly a space opens up around you.

Make faces at the young children around you — Poking out your tongue is the simplest face to make, and most children will love it, particularly if your tongue is purple from having consumed a bottle of grape juice a few moments before.

Waggling your ears is also a laugh-getter, but it takes practice. Putting in vampire teeth and snarling at the subjects is probably not a good idea, however, nor is rolling your eyes back into your head until only the whites show.

Five points if you get a kid to smile. Ten if he or she laughs out loud. A 20-point bonus if you get more than one kid to laugh at the same time. Deduct 10 points if they burst into tears, however, and 20 if their father comes over and socks you in the jaw.

Who does he/she remind me of? — Again, this is a game best played with a friend. Pick out anyone in the assembled crowd and try to determine who he or she reminds you of. Restricting the choices to public figures or mutual acquaintances is probably a good idea.

The secret here, of course, is not to alert the subjects to the fact that they are being scrutinized. Try not to giggle or point. Exclamations like “He’s the spitting image of Mike Tyson!” are also discouraged, for the good reason that it might actually be Mike Tyson, which could have negative consequences for your auditory appendages.

Five points for the closest resemblance picked. Twenty if it really is the person in question. Deduct 10 points if the subject calls airport security.

Draw people — “draw” in the sense of sketch, not attract. My wife actually does this quite successfully — and hasn’t been attacked. . . yet.

The secret is to focus your attention on an object just behind the subject’s head so it looks like you are avidly watching, for example, the ground crew unloading the trash from the airplane. Then you can shorten your focal length at will and look at the person’s face.

The other trick is not to have the sketch resemble the person too much, so if he comes over and says, “What the heck are you staring at me like that for?”, you’ll be able to say, “Look, does this resemble you, you great twit?”, or words to that effect. It helps in this circumstance if you are a beginning artist or have adopted a drawing style similar to Picasso’s in his cubist period — there is less chance of being caught out.

See how many times you can go to the bathroom in an hour — I involuntarily played this game in Hong Kong a couple years ago by getting food poisoning just before I left, but a more benign way of playing it is just to drink large amounts of water, either bottled or from the fountain.

Tricks of the trade are to sit next to a waterfall or fountain, if the airport has one, or in a cold draft, preferably one coming from under your seat. Taking a diuretic or drinking beer is considered cheating, as is going into the washroom just to comb your hair. Since each visit to the bathroom must be for a bona fide, verifiable reason, it is best to play this game with a member of the same sex, preferably one you know well.

So who said that waiting at the airport has to be boring? After reading the above, you probably can think up all kinds of new games on your own. When it comes down to it, there’s really no limit to the human imagination.

And don’t worry about sharing your game with others. If it is successful, we’ll no doubt hear about it on the 6 o’clock news.

Malcolm R. Carden
Piedmont, CA