Ask the Airport Employee

at the gates

A wintery day on Concourse B. Hey American – keep it down! That’s my office right there!

Since the cold, wet winter weather has set in, I am no longer able to sneak off to my favorite outdoor plane spotting locations at lunch time.  Instead, I’ve taken to wandering the terminal and doing my plane spotting from the inside.  I have to sport my SIDA badge at all times, so it is pretty easy for the average traveler to figure out that I’m an airport employee.  I must seem like an approachable person because they’re starting to come to me for assistance and to ask questions.  Here are some of the most common questions I get asked:

Where is the bathroom?

Bathroom-gender-sign jpeg

The bathrooms are located there… and there… and there… and there…

I can’t speak to all airports everywhere, but most airports I’ve been in are pretty liberal in their bathroom placement.  That is to say, generally you don’t have to go very far or look very hard to find a potty.  This is certainly true at my airport.  Even with all the construction going on, most of the bathrooms are open and the airport has taken pains to place signs for them all over the place.  And yet, I still get asked this question. My standard answer has become “Oh, it’s just up ahead.” Or sometimes for a change of pace I’ll say, “It’s just around the corner!” The truth is, I may or may not have any idea precisely where the nearest bathroom is, but it really doesn’t matter because honestly, they’re everywhere.

Where is gate ____?

airport map

Um… what???

I understand the stress of trying to find your gate in a strange airport. Many years ago I was traveling through Mexico City on my way to a meeting in Puerto Vallarta.  I’m convinced that whoever had the job of assigning gate numbers in the Mexico City airport had a mean sense of humor, or was drunk, or handed the job off to the nearest 5 year old child. My co-worker and I were trying desperately to find our gate – I think it was A7.  It seemed logical to us that it would be located in A concourse. Wrong! So far as we could tell, there was no A concourse. As the time for our flight grew closer and closer, we were forced to utilize our toddler-level Spanish to attempt to get assistance in finding our gate.  Eventually we managed to locate it near B7. Which was near C7. And D7.  And no, there’s no concourse 7.


Gate B23 plays a really poor game of hide and seek.

This is why I’m pleased that my airport is laid out in a way that makes sense. Even if you aren’t familiar with the layout, there are clearly visible and easy to understand signs which direct travelers to the gates. And yet, I still get asked for directions.  Most recently a young man asked me how to find gate B32.  I pointed up at the GARGANTUAN, can’t-miss, neon yellow sign which loudly proclaimed gate B32 to be just a few steps down the corridor. And yes, the traveler spoke English quite plainly.

Where is my family picking me up?

pick up

Your family will pick you up here. Or there.

This was a fun question that I got asked just last week. I responded with, “I’m not sure. Where did they tell you they were picking you up?” She responded “The same place they dropped me off.” OK… “Well where did they drop you off?” She paused. “I think in the passenger drop-off area.”  Although my airport might seem big, there really are only two entrances – the ticketing level and the baggage level.  The ticketing level is up, the baggage level is down.  Wait in one place for a few and if you don’t see your family, try the other.  Or there’s this handy gadget that pretty much everyone has these days called a cell phone.  You could try contacting them. Or there are taxis and shuttles and rental cars. Ultimately I told her to try waiting upstairs since they most likely dropped her off at ticketing.  She wasn’t still standing there the next morning so I can only assume she managed to find her family.  Or she stole a rental car.

My flight is at 7am on Sunday – do you want to meet up?

take off morning

Taking off into the sunrise.

OK, this question is one I get asked by friends who, for whatever reason, always seem to be flying at very early hours on the weekend.  Do I want to meet up at 6am on a Sunday? Are you kidding me? I love the airport and all but let’s not forget – it IS the place where I work.  Are you hanging out at your office at 6am on your day off? To be honest, I think what my friends are really after is my airport employee discount at Starbucks.  But if any of them ever decide to travel mid-afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday then I probably would stop by to see them off. And by that I mean, watch their airplane roar into the sky.  I am, after all, an avgeek.  It’s what we do.

You Never Forget Your First…

Take offNew Year’s Day marked my first full month at the airport.  Where has the time gone?  Seems like just yesterday I was navigating my way through the terminal, wide-eyed with excitement. The job itself has been… a job. Hey, it’s accounting. There’s just no way to make it sound glamorous. Thankfully, the firsts that stand out the most have nothing to do with the job and everything to do with being an avgeek at the airport.  Here are some of my favorite firsts so far:

Gone in 60 Seconds

They may steal cars, but not rental cars and definitely not from the airport.

Security Training

All new employees have to go through a certain amount of security training. I know it sounds exciting… but it’s not. However, we did learn a few interesting facts from the Airport Police.  The most stolen item at the airport? Cars.  Apparently people like to rent cars and not return them. Go figure. The most left-behind item found at the airport?  Car keys.  The officer who conducted our training wondered how on earth people manage to get home considering how many keys get left behind. (Perhaps this is why people are stealing the rental cars?)  The most bone-headed move that ended in jail time? A passenger called, said he was running late and asked that they hold the airplane for him.  Of course he was told that wasn’t possible and he’d have to re-book when he arrived.  His response? “Well what if I told you there was a bomb on the plane?  Would you hold it then?” Dunno if they held the plane, but they sure held the passenger when he finally showed up!

bird patrol

Look – there’s birds! Let’s go get the birds! Come on – let’s go get ’em! Oh, never mind.

Bird Cannon

I’d read that birds at the airport are most often a problem in the mornings and evenings.  It probably should have come as less of a surprise then, when my morning routine of coffee and plane spotting was interrupted by an extremely loud explosion.  I was puzzled for a moment, until I saw a flock of birds frantically flying away… straight towards the other runway.  Doh!  This is why the airport needs to hire my dogs.  They can work together – one for each runway. Plus they work cheap and are less noisy than the cannon (but only slightly).

Go Around

Southwest going around on a blustery winter day.

Go Around

I got to witness my first go-around on a rainy, gloomy evening after work.  I had just arrived in the lot and actually wasn’t watching the approach, as I was busy putting my stuff in the car.  But then I heard engines throttle up in a place and a way that caught my attention because it was unusual.  I looked up just in time to see a Southwest flight going around pretty much right over my head.  Awesome!  And being the good avgeek that I am, I stuck around to see their second approach and successful landing.

The Baggage Sorting Area

Am I the only one who has ever been tempted to ride around on the baggage carousel?  Fortunately I’ve managed to resist that temptation… so far.  It helps that I have had the chance to actually see where all the luggage goes.  As you might expect it goes into a very large area filled with belts and conveyors. This area opens to the outside where the bags are loaded into the carts and taken to and from the airplanes.  And no, I didn’t see Bruce Willis, but that could be because he was busy pestering the ATC folks over in the tower.

On the apron

Look! An airplane! And a firetruck! And a dumpster. And a pole. OK, not the best pic ever.

On the Apron

Day six on the job and I was sitting in a meeting when the fire alarm went off.  We evacuated the building through a series of hallways and staircases until we emerged outside. It was cold and most people were milling about, speculating on the cause of the fire.  I, on the other hand, was thrilled to find myself standing on the apron.  There was nothing but open space separating me from the airplanes!  Wheeeee!  So of course I took lots of pictures, completely unconcerned about whether the airport was burning down behind me.  (It wasn’t.  There was a small grease fire at Burger King that was quickly extinguished.)


Not much going on at Gate B23 today… although apparently on Sunday it was a happening place!

Concourse B

It took a few weeks but I finally found the employee-only entrance to Concourse B.  I was thrilled because there are some great views of the taxiways and the runways back by the gates. I enjoy walking through the concourse on my lunch break. Plus Starbucks is back there – hallelujah!!!  Still haven’t figured out how to get into Concourses A and C yet, but I’m sure I will eventually.  I heard a rumor it involves walking around on the apron. Sweet!