An illustrated encyclopedia of people at the airport

Meet the people you’re stuck with before your flight

Getting through the airport these days can feel like an obstacle course. Yes, things were bad before the pandemic, but the recent air-travel hell has upped the ante.

From the moment you arrive at the curb, you’re up against chaos, or at least the potential for it. If you’re still checking a bag these days (don’t do it!), there’s the line at the check-in counter. Next, you’re praying you can get something to eat before your flight.

[The illustrated encyclopedia of sleeping positions on a plane]

And the biggest hurdle of all? Other people. You’re jostling through security, crammed together in the food court, shoulder-to-shoulder at the gate and packed onto the plane.

These are the people you’ll meet — or avoid — at the airport.

Did we miss someone? Tell us in the comments.

The Runner

Maybe their connecting flight arrived behind schedule, or maybe they’re one of those deranged people who shows up late for the thrills. You don’t know their backstory, but you do know they’re running through the terminal with no regard for anyone in their path.

The Nightmare

Anyone using their electronics without headphones. FaceTime, YouTube, a phone call to their grandma, Instagram Reels, Bruce Springsteen — whatever it is they’re blasting, we don’t want to hear it.

The Mob

Boarding isn’t starting for another 15 minutes, but that won’t stop this herd from crowding the gate like it's the front door of a Best Buy on Black Friday in 2014. Some are determined to get overhead space. Others saw the pack and didn’t want to get left behind. All of them are going to end up sitting on the plane for another 30 minutes until takeoff.

The Infrequent Flier

Actually, it is their first rodeo. You can spot them by the panic-stricken look in their eyes approaching their turn at security. Their ID and boarding pass are nowhere to be found. They wore flip-flops, so now they’re barefoot in the body scanner. Their overflowing carry-on bag just got flagged for six counts of oversize liquids. Holding up the line at TSA is their M.O.

The Dad

He’s standing guard at the gate, hands on his hips while surveying the scene. Technically, he’s on vacation, but he is decidedly not relaxed. Who can blame him? He just spent the last hours wrangling his family to finish packing and get in the car, heaving their luggage onto a cart five bags high, and successfully rolling it through the terminal.

The Influencer

These travelers agree with Shakespeare: All the world’s a stage, including the airport, so they might as well make TikToks. Content isn’t going to create itself.

The Zombie

Their body is at the airport, but their attention is not. Headphones in and eyes glued to their phone, these travelers are under the impression that they don’t need to look where they’re walking, despite the minefield of obstacles in their path.

The Sleeping Beauty

The good news: This person has the ability to sleep anywhere. The bad news: They’re sleeping so soundly they’ll almost certainly miss their flight.

The Minimalist

No one knows how, but this person has managed to travel with a single backpack. Not a stuffed-to-the-brim, 55-liter behemoth for campers. Just ... a backpack. The less stuff on them, the more questions we have. The only traveler scarier is the person with no luggage at all.

The Pre-Gamers

Societal norms mean nothing for travelers knocking back drinks at all hours of the day. You’ll find the anxious flier who needs a drink for their nerves, or the couple happy with a beer before takeoff. Then there’s the group doing shots to get a jump-start on their bachelor party/high school reunion/music festival shenanigans. One in 10 will miss their flight.

The Campers

Picnic or plane to catch? As far as we can tell, these people aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They’re sprawled out whether takeoff is in 2 hours or 20 minutes. Bags: everywhere. Electronics: charging. Spatial awareness: none.

The Lovebirds

The airport couples come in many configurations: sitting silently together, zoned out on their phones, cuddling, fighting. Traveling together may be second nature for them, or a new phenomenon that will test their bond.

The Tantrum

They’ve never heard the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger.” You’ll spot them yelling (fruitlessly) at anyone with a name tag, whether it’s the gate agent who can’t get them on a full flight or the barista at the understaffed Dunkin’.

The Bond, James Bond

While the rest of us look like we rolled out of bed, this traveler stepped right out of GQ. They’re an increasingly rare sight — impeccably dressed and neatly poised at the gate as if they’re at a fancy bar. Seeing this person makes you question why you couldn’t be bothered to even brush your hair.

The Pilot

It shouldn’t be surprising to see a pilot at the airport. And yet, it’s always weird. What are they doing out here rolling their suitcase through the terminal with the rest of us?

The 24 people in line at Starbucks

That’s not stopping anyone from joining the queue for that caffeine fix.

Editing by Amanda Finnegan. Art direction, design and development by Katty Huertas. Design editing by Rachel Orr. Copy editing by Paola Ruano.