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At Airports, Travelers Turn Waiting Game Into an Art Form

With more and more flight delays, people kill time eating, sleeping, shopping and listening to music. Patience helps--and so do batteries.

September 01, 2000|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When she arrived at LAX at 9:30 a.m., Kimberly Ina set out in search. In the art of airport waiting--as in real estate and trout fishing--finding the right spot is crucial.

With almost six hours to kill, Ina surveyed seating areas near the gates, which tend to get crowded and noisy, and she settled on a relatively quiet corridor in the United Airlines terminal, where she could sit in solitude and watch the sun emerge through haze as planes taxied in and out. "It just felt right," she said.

Traveling by air requires waiting even under ideal conditions. With cancellations and delays compounded this summer by bad weather, air traffic congestion and a labor dispute at United, frustration has mounted.

It's likely to be a record summer in terms of delays, said David Fuscus, a spokesman for the Air Transport Assn., an industry trade organization. In June, a record 50,114 delays of 15 minutes or more were recorded by the Federal Aviation Administration, Fuscus said--a 20.5% increase over 1999 and a 99.9% increase over 1997.

Meanwhile, waiting is increasingly becoming an art form.

As the heavily traveled Labor Day weekend begins, passengers are advised to arrive early. Then they wait. And wait. And wait.

For some, waiting is tortuous, particularly when caused by unscheduled delays or cancellations. Recourse involves growling at customer service agents, threatening legal action, vowing never to fly on the airline again, then beating one's head against the nearest wall. Patience, says Ina, works best for her.

"I'm really a patient person. If there's a problem with a flight, it's one of those things that I feel there's not a whole lot I can do about it. Getting stressed about it is just a lot of wasted energy."

Ina, 36, arrived last Friday from San Francisco, where she is executive director of Sports for the World's Children, a nonprofit agency providing sports equipment and facilities for schools and youth organizations.

She was waiting for a friend who was due to arrive home in Los Angeles by midafternoon from a business trip in Washington, D.C. Ina used a flight coupon on Alaska Airlines. Sitting alone next to her sandals and the crumpled wrappings of a Big Mac and fries, she tapped away at a laptop computer as she listened to Mexican music through headphones.

Waiting requires food and batteries.

The music, she said, reminded her of children she met in Mexico while distributing sports equipment. Airport waiting, when compared with concerns of the less fortunate, is a minor inconvenience, she said.

Location also is important to Rich and Kim Hurst of Monument, Colo. They stashed their luggage in a locker at Terminal 3 then walked next door to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, where the smell of food from Orient Express, Sushi Boy, Euro Coffee, El Paseo ("A Taste of Mexico")--and, of course, McDonald's--mingles with the sounds of many languages.

International waiting is more interesting than domestic waiting, the Hursts maintained, even when traveling from Colorado Springs to Seattle.

The Hursts enjoy layovers so much, they build their travel plans around them. The scheduled wait Friday was three hours. Seated at a bar, Kim was conversing with her sister, who had driven up from Long Beach to meet them.

"When I can, I schedule long layovers so I can get visits in," said Kim. "Whenever I'm scheduled to stay two hours or more, I call somebody and keep calling until I find somebody that's going to meet me--provided I have friends or relatives in that town."

On their return trip, they have scheduled a four-hour layover at LAX so they can have lunch with Kim's father and stepmother at a nearby Sizzler restaurant.

Kim, 40, is a Spanish teacher and freelance writer-editor for a Christian magazine. Rich, 48, a senior manager for Cook Communications International, a Christian publisher, also travels as a motivational speaker.

"The airport becomes part of your culture, part of your life," Rich said. "I spend the equivalent of three months out of the year in airports. I don't get sick of it; it's just part of my life, part of getting up and going to work."

He has learned that if you have a long wait, you can ask for a pillow and blankets in certain terminals. He knows he can get a nice shoulder massage at Denver International Airport, where the pretzels are always fresh and hot.

When Kim travels out of Denver, she allows time to get her shoes shined. "It's cheap, they're good and right where I need them to be," she said.

Rich travels with a laptop computer, Palm Pilot and cellular phone. Earlier in the day, he conducted a 30-minute business call while Kim and her sister were eating pizza. Before such technology, he said, it was more difficult to perform work on the road. Traveling, however, was much more peaceful.

Creatively Whiling Away the Hours

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