Thursday, November 22, 2012

Not Such an Airport Ninja After All

One of the many perks of being a cyclist is the travel. Thus far, in 2012 alone, I stayed in 26 separate hotels, raced in five countries (with a sixth trip back to one of them) not to mention driving who knows how many miles in the car. The passport pages are covered in stamps from years of being in the sport and ‘airport navigation’ may very well get added to my resumé under list of skills. With all this travel, you learn a few things along the way. You learn what you do and don’t need, you get really fast at packing and rebuilding bikes, that you can pack for two weeks in a carry-on bag, and typically the exact number of minutes it takes you to get from the curbside drop-off, through security and to your gate at your home airport. Frequent flyer miles tally up, you know where the red carpet clubs are in given airports and you’re always on the upgrade list for being a preferred customer. What all this really means thought is that you spend way too much time on an airplane.

Jeremy Powers once did an interview and talked about the importance of being an airport ninja if you’re a cyclist. Now, what, exactly, is an airport ninja? An airport ninja is what you become when you fly all the time. The airport ninja is able to quietly and swiftly navigate an airport, flash a big smile and use their conversation skills- also known as “schmoozing”- at the check-in counter and fly their bike(s) for free, get through security fluidly, and arrive at the gate at precisely the time of boarding.

The airport ninja slips through unnoticed. They’re travel professionals. What the airport ninja does not do is go to the wrong gate and try to get on a plane to a different destination. I, as I quickly learned, am apparently not an airport ninja.

Earlier this year, when I still considered myself an airport ninja I was flying… somewhere, and certainly not to Omaha. I’d made it through check-in without having to pay a bike fee, strolled through security like I was the mayor of the airport and made it to what I thought was my gate, just in time to walk onto the plane. The line worked its way up to the scanner and I ran my ticket over it. Meeeeep. The agent took it and scanned it again. Same thing, meeeeep. She looked at the ticket then up to me and said “Your gate is over there” and pointed to the correct gate. Flushed and embarrassed, I apologized and turned around for my walk of shame, against the current of the soon-to-be-boarding Nebraskans. I meekly walked over to my correct gate, quadruple checked that it was the right flight number, destination and airline. When I was satisfied that I was, in fact, at the correct gate, I took my place in the boarding queue with the lanyard passport holder, socks and sandals, Hawaiian shirt wearing travel amateurs at the back of the line. I was ready to commit seppuku right then and there. I’d brought dishonor onto myself and other airport ninjas.

Just when I thought I was hot stuff, knowing my way around the airports of the world, feeling like the world was my oyster, it was time for a reality check. A true airport ninja does not get cocky. It was my downfall. I’d built myself up in my head and let my guard down. It opened me up for an attack from within- the most devastating!

With the holiday season rapidly approaching and some of you traveling- maybe even with bikes- try working on some of your airport ninja skills. Be nice at the check-in counter, flash those pearly whites, have all of your liquids in an appropriately sized plastic bag and to maintain your own panache, double check the gate you’re at.

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