Our trip home from Berlin started around 2:30 a.m. Yes, we were departing from the swanky penthouse in the Ritz-Carlton, but even those comfortable accommodations could not soften the blow of such an early start. Could be said it made it worse.
We bailed out of the Uber and hauled our 4 pieces of luggage into the airport already feeling a little disoriented. I scanned the many large display boards to determine where we should go to check in. I found our flight number and the designated check in area and off we went.
When we drew near to the check in area, I noticed a long line that snaked almost completely around (in a U shape) the check in lanes (there were about 7 express lanes and 1 non-express lane). Everyone, at that time easy 100+ people with luggage, were in line for the 1 non-express lane. By my estimation it would take more than an hour for this line to get through checking in. I noticed they had some self-check in kiosks for luggage, and after a few minutes of trying to figure it out (thanks to Susan’s persistence), we successfully printed tags for the two pieces we needed to check in.
As we walked over to join the long line (grew every minute we stood at the kiosk) I examined the travelers and their luggage looking to see if they had self-printed bag tags too. They did not. We still joined the non-express line, but I kept wondering if we could/should go to one of the currently empty express lanes. It’s worth noting that at this time in the morning (3:45 a.m. or so) there were no airline baggage attendants present.
With some fear and trepidation, we decided to break from the line and go stand at the front of one of the 7 express lanes. It felt a bit weird standing alone together in front of all those travelers waiting for the express lane to open. Then, out from the side of the U-shaped line came a single lady traveler marching along with an airline attendant in tow headed for one of the express lanes. Hmmm. What are they going to do? The airline attendant activated the auto-check in machine by the express lane, took the tags from the lady and showed her how to attach them to her bags, then proceeded to put them on the conveyer belt where a barcode scanning device read the label and off the bags went into the bowels of the Berlin airport.
This all happened right in front of us. Seeing our puzzled look, the attendant came over and assisted us in getting the labels on our bags and over to the machine we went. On our way over we saw, then heard, a lady coming over to the attendant accusing us of cutting in front of the line (the line she was in being the long one for the non-express check in) and asking what was going on. We didn’t stick around to hear where that conversation was headed, but Susan told me the lady was not happy.
I have contemplated that incident several times since it happened. We are not the sort of people who cut in front of others. We typically defer, even to our own detriment, to those more assertive people in lines, or when walking down a shared sidewalk we step aside for those unyielding pedestrians approaching from the opposite direction. I did not feel guilty for having done what I did. I examined the situation, read the signs, and decided the express lanes were for people with kiosk-printed bag tags. However, standing there with Susan, I wondered if we were in the right place, thinking if not, we would be way behind if we had to rejoin the continuously growing line in the non-express lane.
One thought I had after this experience was how many people follow the herd, and the larger the herd, the more likely we are to join it asking fewer to no questions as to why we are doing so. Another thought was how unsettling it can be to you and to the herd when you breakaway from it and stand alone, or stand with a much smaller minority. It takes courage to step out while the herd looks at you askance, even when all the signs are clearly supporting your solitary decision as the best course of action.
I almost overlooked adding the next line experience that took place immediately after leaving the baggage check in area.
We next headed for the security gates and joined a line that stretched far enough in front of us to prevent us from being able to see the start of it. We stood in this line for 5 minutes or so and it did not move at all. Susan held our place while I did reconnaissance to the front. I saw an airport official standing near the entrance to the security gate and assumed it was not ready to be opened yet. I returned to our place in this line and waited.
After another 5 minutes I noticed a fair number of people going to the far end of the terminal to a different security check point. I looked at the security gate display boards and it dawned on me that the indicator (an outline of a person that could be lighted or not to show open/closed) for the gate our line was going to was closed. Why were we all just standing here when the gate was closed? You would think I’d learned my lesson 10 minutes ago at baggage check in 🙂 We hurried off with our carry on luggage and papers to the far end of the terminal, and in less than 20 minutes we were in the airport heading to the gate for our departure.
It can be hard to break the herd habit!!! 🙂