Sometimes I sleep in airports, not very often, but sometimes I have to. Sometimes I try to sleep in airports but can’t, like when I was in Amman. Remember that?
When I’m in a city that happens to be a crew base for my airline, I get to leave the terminal area cluttered with the riff-raff and enjoy the VIP area which is Flight Attendant Operations. Its “Quiet Room” isn’t that nice, but at least there are semi-comfortable places to sleep. In New York we get big comfy reclining chairs. In some other airports there are little cots.
When I walk through airports where something dramatic has happened, like a massive snow storm that caused cancellations, I always feel sorry for all the people just stuck in the airport with nowhere to go. They find any and every place they can to sleep: benches, the conveyor belt by where you check in, the shoeshine man’s chair, or even on top of their own luggage. Pretty much anywhere you won’t get stepped on is a good enough spot in an airport.
Those people have to deal with a lot of crap out there, too. There’s always some guy on a phone ranting, raving, whining, and moaning about the situation, making a bad situation even worse. They also have to deal with the cleaning crew and their loud machines. Then there’s the worry that someone will steal your shit or that you might sleep through your rescheduled flight. It’s not a peaceful night is what I’m saying.
So when I tell my friends that I had to spend the night at JFK, they really feel sorry for me because that’s what they imagine. Then I tell them that I’m not out in the terminal with the commoners, I’m in a secure area that’s dark and reasonably quiet. When they hear about the Quiet Room they quit feeling sorry for me and think I have the best set-up possible. It sounds lovely to them. I let them think that.
This is what I never tell my friends though, there are a myriad of other issues in that sixteen-recliner Quiet Room in Flight Attendant Operations that make the experience a living hell. For one, there are mice in there. That is probably my smallest complaint out of all the ones I’m about to mention, but others would disagree.
First of all, you have to find a seat. You’re not supposed to save seats for yourself or your friends but people do it anyways. Some people will lay out their blanket on a chair at 9am, work a turn-around trip that returns at 10pm the same day, and then take their seat. This sucks for the people who commute into JFK at around noon and have to work a flight that departs in the evening. Having a little cat nap really recharges you, but all the seats might be taken by people who aren’t even there. And you can’t just move someone’s stuff if you think they’re not really there, flight attendants are very possessive of their stuff and if you incorrectly guess that they’re on a trip and they’re not, there WILL be a major fight.
Last time I was in the Quiet Room a fist fight nearly broke out. A guy had his backpack on a seat, but elected to hang out outside the room while he made some phone calls. That was the right thing for him to do. Another guy comes into the Quiet Room at around 2am and looks for a recliner. They’re all taken except for the one that has the backpack on it. The guy moves the bag to the floor and climbs into the chair. He reclines it back to its optimal, horizontal position and falls asleep. Half an hour later the guy comes in for his seat and sees that this other guy moved his stuff and stole his chair, the last chair.
Of course he wakes the guy up and that guy gets pissed off. They argue about whose seat it was until everyone in the room is awake and grumbling. Neither guy budges and they start to get rough with each other, or so it sounds, the rest of us aren’t watching, just listening. After a couple minutes, an innocent lady just trying to get some sleep comes up to them and quietly asks them to have their conversation outside so we can sleep. You’d think they’d understand and oblige, but the chair stealer starts going off on her as well, telling her “to get her damn hands off of him.” He sounded kinda like George McFly when he was saving Loraine from Biff, except he was talking to an old lady about his own body. Pathetic.
Up until that point we were just listening from under our covers, but when it sounded like a lady was going to be hit, we all sprung up and told the chair-stealer guy to Get the Fuck Out! This happens more often than you’d think.
Even if there aren’t fights breaking out over saved seats and you have the best case scenario where everyone else is soundly asleep, you’re still not in a good place. At any given time there will be five snorers and at least three farters. The last time I was in there we had a guy who talked in his sleep, but he was yelling at his Supervisor. I thought it was hilarious, but it did cost me half an hour of precious sleep.
Then there are the Ambien zombies. You really don’t know what to expect from them. One girl started masturbating in her chair and was really loud about it. Another guy got up to piss but never made it out of the Quiet Room, he just went against the wall next to a girl. The room had to be evacuated and shut down for a day while a special bio-cleaning team sterilized the room. One guy decided to go from recliner to recliner to try to snuggle up with whatever person happened to be asleep in there. He didn’t get very far and the authorities were involved. This one colleague took off all her clothes and slept on top of her blanket. I guess she got hot.
There is always one person who forgets to turn off the ringer to their phone and another who decides to play Angry Birds with the sound on under their blanket when they have insomnia. That one also makes me laugh for a second, but then I get annoyed.
The first flights in the morning depart around 5:30am so some people are waking up at 4am to get ready. Alarms will go off every ten minutes from 4am until around noon and you can’t wear ear plugs because then you’ll miss your own alarm when it needs to go off. I tried the vibration route one time, but my phone fell out of my pocket and in between the seat cushions. Luckily I missed a flight to visit a friend, not one that I was supposed to be working.
I don’t think I’ve ever slept more than four hours in there, but I know I couldn’t have done any better out in the terminal area with the other refugees. My lesson here today isn’t how to make it work when you have to spend the night at an airport. The lesson is: Don’t be Cheap, Get a Damn Hotel Room. No matter what the cost.