A Mad Rush to The Door

Transportation in Spain is as cutthroat as Southwest’s old boarding system.

For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to be frequent Southwest travelers, allow me to brief you on the bygone days of LUV:

For whatever reason Southwest doesn’t like to assign seats, and before the internet you would board the plane in the order that you checked in at the gate.  But with the advent of online check-in, Southwest had to create some kind of system to allow those who checked in first to board first.

So they created A, B, and C.  If you were one of the first 60 people to check in online, you were an ‘A.’  If you were in the second 60, you were a ‘B.’  Everyone else was a ‘C.’*

So what ended up happening was, you would carefully monitor your watch to the 24 hour point before your flight, go online in a hurry and check in, and then happily print out an ‘A’ ticket, smugly congratulating yourself on your impeccable preparedness.  Then, the next day, you would arrive at the gate only to find that an embryonic line of A’s had already formed one hour before the plane was going to board!  At that moment you had to choose, do I want to join these other A’s and suffer feet cramps/sitting on the floor without back support, or do I want to enjoy a tempting pleather airport chair and take my place as A #60 when the plane finally begins boarding?  After I went to all the trouble of being an A, do I really want to resign myself to practically B status?  It was such a frustrating dilemma–having to choose between the fulfillment of a psychological investment and temporary comfort.

Well, that same frustration is what I feel anytime I travel on transportation that is–to my despise–also transporting Spanish people.

When a Renfe train is approaching its final destination, the Spanis get out of their seats a good 5 minutes ahead of time and stand at the train door.  Once again, I must make the decision: do I get right up with them and push my way through, or do I wait 7 minutes after the train has stopped until the line clears and I can finally get out of my row and exit in peace?  (I always choose the latter).

Can’t they just wait for the train to stop and then exit?  It forces a competitive atmosphere where in order to be first you have to stand up and carry your heavy bags before you need to.  And if you’re not first, you have to wait it out either in line, standing (cause you don’t want to be LAST), or sitting in your chair for everyone to leave (cause you’d rather be LAST than wait standing up).

On Monday, for the second time, I boarded the train from Barcelona heading towards Bilbao.  And go figure, the exact same thing happened the last time I was there.

The train was leaving from platform 5, and they made us all wait in an enclosed waiting area until they were ready to open up the barrier and check our tickets.

The INSTANT ONE Renfe employee came to the counter, a full 35 minutes before the train was leaving, a line formed.  This time I had had it.  Screw it.  I’m getting right in there with them.  I was sixth in line, and as I knew from experience, the line only continued to grow and grow.  More and more Renfe employees came to the counter, but, also in typical Spanish fashion, they didn’t start checking tickets until 20 minutes later.

Ok, I was in.  I was sixth in line and my ticket was scanned and I was all ready to take the escalator down to the platform.  But to my surprise, there was ANOTHER barrier blocking the escalator.  There was only so much room between the ticket counter and the escalator and the area kept getting denser and denser as more people piled in after getting their tickets scanned.  I saw a line beginning to form at the escalator and I decided NOT to join it and to instead crowd around the barrier because I knew that by the time hundreds of people were in that space there was no way anyone was going to wait in a line.

Finally, and I don’t know how this was decided, they opened the barrier and let us down the escalator.  In all fairness, my pushiness paid off because I made it to my train car first and I didn’t have to wait for people to put their luggage and clothes away, blocking the aisle as they did so.

*Southwest’s current system not only assigns A,B, and C, but also assigns numbers 1-60 with each letter, so that you line up in the exact order that you checked in online.  It is much more orderly this way, and, since you have a guaranteed order, there is no need to arrive at the gate earlier than usual nor is there a need to relinquish the comfort of a chair that is inconveniently located far from the gate door.


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