How Much Time Do You Leave to Get to the Airport?

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Amanda Mull’s recent article in The Atlantic, “There Are Two Types of Airport People,” got me thinking about these two distinct species.

You know, the ones who get there meticulously early and the ones who make sport of seeing just how close they can cut it.

Given the amount of time I spend thinking, writing, and speaking about risk, the gap between these two types of people fascinates me.

I used to be much more of a cut-it-close person until the time I decided to try taking the M60 bus from Manhattan’s Upper West Side to save a few bucks in taxi fare. I thought I’d left more than enough time to get there, but badly underestimated the wrath of 125th Street traffic and the taxi-less swath of Queens frontage road between me and LaGuardia. I was stuck on the bus as the clocked ticked mercilessly.

I arrived just as the gate was closing, and the grim, judgmental gate crew told me I was fresh out of luck.

But then the travel deities smiled upon me and the flight was delayed. I could almost hear the harps playing as the doors magically opened and they let me on to the plane to Milwaukee after all.

Never again, I swore and promised to do penance evermore.

I have mostly behaved ever since, even after I got TSA Pre, which dramatically cut my security wait time and let me reduce my safety cushion by a bit. Living in Chicago, where traffic is unpredictable at best, this conservative approach works for me.

It’s easy to get tangled up even on public transport, whose final leg evades I-90 traffic jams. Last week, I was proud of myself for taking the sustainable public-transport option to O’Hare for a flight to China. Thinking I had plenty of time as I was on the bus to the train, I checked Google Maps anyway and learned that the Blue Line El was out of service that weekend. So much for my great plan, which I had to ditch in favor of a Lyft.

Recently, I’ve given a lot of thought to what makes the difference between the people who get to the airport early and those who don’t.

As part of my work, I often facilitate conversations about people’s risk responses and how to manage differences. One of the first questions I typically ask is how long people leave to get to the airport. The response is immediate and visceral, prompting groans, laughs, and an immediate buzz and chatter in the room. Clearly, it’s a sore point in many relationships as well as for many of us who might wish we were less of one type and more of the other.

And, as I like to point out, understanding why we respond differently to stress and risk factors can help us to understand and prevent conflicts that might otherwise seem intractable, whether at work or with friends and family.

So what is it about why airport strategies are so different? Is it that some people love the thrill of tempting fate? Are some just pathologically disorganized? Do they simply mis-calculate –or fail to calculate time at all? Have they never experienced the joy of Chicago rush hour traffic? Are some of us impervious to stress?

The Atlantic article sums up how Jonny Gerkin, a psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina, sees it: “It’s not that late people don’t find the airport as stressful as early people do, in other words, but that their coping mechanisms indicate a fundamentally different approach to the negative parts of life.” In fact, increasing stress may actually be the coping mechanism itself.

In a world that feels increasingly uncertain and beyond our control, this is an interesting theory. Extrapolated further, it could explain a lot about the 2016 elections in the United States and so many other things as well.

I prefer to master the dynamic of stress and uncontrollability in a different way. Educating yourself and analyzing a situation is a way of feeling more in control even though you may not really have.

Practicing dealing with stress in small quantities can be healthy, especially for people who seemingly are allergic to stress. Tina Seelig’s 2018 TED talk “The Little Risks You Can Take to Increase Your Luck,” has some great tips along these lines. Seelig says luck is success or failure that only appears to be defined by chance.

To encourage luck to stick to you, she says, the first things is to take small steps to get out of your comfort zone, just like you did as a child when learning to ride a bicycle and other life skills. She asks her students to map out the risks they are willing to take: intellectual, financial, ethical, social, emotional, political, or otherwise. She then encourages them to stretch and take risks they might not have otherwise done –for example, introverts starting a conversation with a fellow passenger on a train. In the process, people change their relationship with risk, uncertainty, discomfort, and luck.

For people who like to do an impression of the old version of OJ Simpson sprinting through the airport, leaving more leeway is, paradoxically, a way of getting out of your comfort zone.

And for people whose friends agree that they leave wayyyy too much time, think about what’s behind that, and stretch yourself too.

But if you still find yourself too far away from your friends and colleagues, take a page from what the subjects of the Atlantic article do: recognize your differences and go to the airport at the time that makes you most comfortable.

Which kind of airport person are you? How does that compare to the other risk decisions you take in your life? What do you think makes you that way?

This article is part of my new LinkedIn series, “Around My Mind” – a regular walk through the ideas, events, people, and places that kick my synapses into action, sparking sometimes surprising or counter-intuitive connections. 

To subscribe to “Around My Mind” and get notifications of new posts, click the blue button on the top right hand on this page. Please don’t be shy about sharing, leaving comments or dropping me a private note with your own reactions.

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Michele Wucker

Founder & CEO at Gray Rhino & Company
Michele Wucker is a global thought leader and the author, most recently, of THE GRAY RHINO: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore (St Martin's Press, 2016). Learn more about her at http://thegrayrhino.com/about/michelewucker
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Michele Wucker is a global thought leader and the author, most recently, of THE GRAY RHINO: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore (St Martin's Press, 2016). Learn more about her at http://thegrayrhino.com/about/michelewucker

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