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Talking Travel with Step Back from the Baggage Claim, Jason Barger

Jason Barger already knew a fair amount about people before he headed off his 7-day, 7-airport travel spree to do nothing but watch them interact. He'd spent many a spring break leading adolescents and adults on house-building ventures in Mexico, a trip that took him through various airports with a band of travelers of all ages, for example.

Wanting more fodder to further develop his ideas about airport behavior and what it says about humanity, he decided to airport hop logging thousands of miles and observations as he zig zagged across the U.S. While he watched people either shine with behavior that would make Mom proud --or in such a way that if they were a piece of luggage no one would claim them, Barger honed his ideas about how the airport is a perfect metaphor for modern day life.

The result was Step Back from the Baggage Claim, a book that Barger hopes people will leave on a bench somewhere for someone else to pick up once they're done reading it. The result of passing the book along will be that people will think about how they interact as they move through their day.

Ever since I read Barger's book, I've made my own observations about airport interactions. It does seem he's onto something. Over the past months since his book came out, gaining steam through venues like the Washington Post and ABC News, I've kept up with Barger's efforts. Yesterday, there was a post on his new video.

Today is a Talking Travel interview with questions Barger answered through e-mail in between a trip to the Dominican Republic to help with a house-building effort there. If you are looking for a tasty bite to eat that's not expensive while passing through an airport, Barger has a suggestion.

With Thanksgiving travel rapidly approaching, listening to Barger's advice to step back from the baggage claim is not a bad idea.


Now that people know that you've written a book about airplane and airport behavior, do you feel like the "Dear Abby" of travel? Does everyone have a story to tell you and want advice?

It has been fascinating to see that "everyone has a story". Also, because the airport metaphor has been so highly relatable, people are connecting with it in profound ways.

2. What surprised you the most about your airport hopping experience? Something you didn't expect to find out?

That we're on 'Autopilot'. I had the perception that people were either experiencing a real 'high' and excited about where they were headed or a real 'low' and miserable about their travels. However, what I observed was that the majority of us look like we're walking around on 'Autopilot' - we're going through the motions, almost as if we're in a trance. This was a powerful image for our everyday lives - are we truly alive as we move through our routines? How can we be more awake as we travel from point A to B in life?

3. Have you noticed any connection between how people dress and the airport/airplane experience? Does dress for success work?

Hard to make generalizations on this one, but certainly an indicator of how a person is 'entering' the airport environment. Some are laid back and comfortable and some you can tell are all business.


4 Do you think it's possible that very nice, sane, considerate people actually turn into jerks at the airport? If so, why? Is it catching?


Yes, for some reason it appears that the airport is a space in the world where some people alter their normal behaviors. I choose to believe that people are good and want to be kind to others, but it appears that the stresses and uncertainty of the airport environment often brings out the worst in people.

5. Have you ever seen Improv Everywhere's stunt "Welcome Back?" where In case you haven't. Here's the link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hjej2V_yh5k (In this video, actors meet people at the airport with signs, flowers, balloons and applause to welcome them home. They find people to welcome based on the names scrawled on signs that drivers hold--those who are at the airport to pick someone specific up.)

Wonderful. It is amazing what positive ripples it sends to everyone in the area when others feel 'welcomed'. It reminds me of a time years ago when I went to the airport with some friends of mine to pick up another friend coming home. We dressed in suits as if we were secret service and ushered the person off the plane. It got a great response from all!

Okay, here are some quick airport questions. They can be about ANY airport, not just the ones you chose for the book.

6. Which airport has the coolest feature and what is it?

Detroit's 'cosmic tunnel'. It is a great deviation from the norm. see this blog entry for specifics http://www.tripso.com/today/wow-that-was-cool-a-trip-through-detroits-cosmic-airport-tunnel/

7. Which one is the most comfortable for hanging out?

Seattle. I love the Seattle airport. Beautiful high glass windows looking out on Mount Rainer, thoughtful seating arrangements, variety of creative eating options, and just a well thought out design contribute in positive ways to the atmosphere.

8. Which airport has the best personality, if airports have different personalities?

Seattle for the laid back pacific northwest charm and Minneapolis for it's classy Midwest warmth.

9 . Which airport seemed to foster anxiety?

Miami. Lots of construction, limited seating and food options, and clusters of people add to the normal airport tensions.

10. What airport has the best food find. What is it?


The Quiznos' pre-made Italian sub that you can find at a Quiznos 'to go' kiosk in many airports is one of the better pre-made sandwiches I've ever had.


11. Name three airports you have not been to that you would like to if you had the chance?

Johannesburg, South Africa. Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tokyo, Japan.

12. And one more-- Based on what you've observed from airport and airplane behavior, is there any hope for humanity? Any hope at all? Any?

Absolutely. We all share in the creation of today. We all contribute to each moment based on the spirit we choose to put out into the world. We can begin to 'Change the World' by bringing more gratitude and compassion to life in the seemingly insignificant daily moments - such as at the airport. Step Back from the Baggage Claim: Change the world, start at the Airport!


Filed under: Arts and Culture, Stories, Books, Talking Travel, Transportation, Airports

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