This is a question that has been asked for centuries. Typically, it is ended with “by the rest of the animals”, but I have a different ending to that age-old question. I would ask, What separates the humans from other humans?
As it turns out, it can be something as little as a nylon strap.
While flying American’s friendly skies recently, I witnessed what has become a common occurrence. If you’ve traveled via means of the airlines at all, you know what I’m talking about.
The gate attendant calls out that they are beginning to board. Everyone jumps to their feet ready to storm the gate. But the attendant quickly puts a stop to any nonsense of equality. She firmly announces that three special groups of people receive much needed attention and assistance: Our brave military personnel who fight for our freedom (thank God), those who need extra time to find a seat (read: elderly or infirm}, and those with small children (who are fighting a different kind of battle). It is assumed by all in the terminal that these are common courteousness extended to those who should be honored or pitied, however you want to look at it. The airlines are clearly telling the other passengers, “We are an airline with heart“, or “We are here for those who need us“. It gives every traveler a warm feeling to watch attendants welcome our fighting men and women, assisting a white-haired grandmother down the jet bridge and into her seat, or helping wrangle babies in car seats.
However, after these chosen few are checked in and on their way to their seats, the true character of the human race and air travel is revealed. Now begins the travel ritual that truly separates the humans into their rightful places. We are forced to board by groups; a very public and humiliating practice.
The attendant announces, “We would like to invite those seated in First Class, our God-Like Members, the Heroes of the Universe Club, and the Winners of the “I’m Special” Award to make their way to the front of the line and into our Priority Lane for check-in. Applause is encouraged. Bowing is appreciated. As a special treat, crisp $100 bills and free hard liquor will be presented to each member as they board. All others, please step back and do not block the Priority Lane…Make room.”
After the rich, beautiful and famous make their way through the special lane on the left side of the nylon cattle guard, scanning their boarding passes on their latest model cell phones, the attended calls for the next group, “We are now boarding those in the “I’m-not-wealthy-or-prestigious-enough-to-afford-the-God-Like-classification-but-thankfully-I’m-not-so-poor-and-pathetic-as-those-people-standing-in-a-circle-watching-me-board-Class”. Please come up using the Priority Lane because you are also special in your own way.” The attendant scans each boarding pass printed on card stock, flashing a broad smile, handing out a complimentary piece of Swiss chocolate, Cuban cigars and a warm towel made of Chinese silk.
She then picks up the microphone and with a hint of disappointment in her voice, calls for the next group, “We are now boarding Zones 5-7. If your pass has Zones 5-7 on it we’d like you to hurry because special people are waiting to leave for their important destinations and tropical vacations. Don’t even think about walking on the left side of the nylon cattle guard as it is only for those who will always go before you.” The tired, poor and huddled masses approach the scanner with heads held low, crumpled thermal paper boarding passes in hand, the grime from the coal mines still smeared across their faces, dried mud stuck to their boots.
During my last travel experience, one unfortunate woman from a former Soviet Republic block nation, Slovakia I think, tried to upgrade to business class by offering a chicken to the attendant. She was mocked furiously and ultimately refused admittance to the plane.
While the line of those in Zones 5-7 still extends into the next county, the attendant, as if she no longer cares, picks up the microphone and mumbles with disdain, “All remaining Zones and steerage are free to board at this time…we ask that you keep your chickens and coal dust from touching the other passengers and, please, do not to make eye contact with those in First Class as you board the plane. Store all livestock under the seat in front of you as there is no more room in the overhead bins.”
She doesn’t have the strength to delineate the remaining Zone numbers. She can’t even ask for those in Zones 8 or 9 to join the line. Obviously they don’t deserve a shout out for their patience in waiting until last. And, if I’m being honest, I don’t think they would be recognized if they had a good chicken to barter with.
Of course, I exaggerate; the woman from Slovakia bartered with a loaf of marble rye, a container of homemade Bryndzove Halusky. There were no chickens involved because that would be cruel.
Call it creative license, but you get my point.