Take off at Bradley: A Mini Ethnography

Bradley Airport 2011

“Bradley Airport 2011 BDL” by That Hartford Guy

By Delecian D. Young

Initially I was going to study the online community of Youtubers known as “naturalistas,” or “Youtube Gurus,” but I ran into a few roadblocks. Instantly I noticed that I would not have had the pleasure to interview anyone because of the obvious online barrier that separated us. Professor Ragusa then gave me the option of studying a hair salon instead, because of its link to the idea of “Youtube naturalistas.” I considered several hair salons in the area, but none of them specialized in natural Black, or natural African American hair types. I wanted to study a natural black hair salon as opposed to any ordinary hair salon because of my familiarity and interest in it. After abandoning that idea, I then considered my then place of employment, the airport. Although many of my peers chose to study their workplaces, I did not choose to study mine solely out of convenience, but because of a passion for flying and the travel industry. I started out not having very many questions because of my point of view as an insider. By changing my view from objective, to subjective, I was able to develop more questions. By the end of my research, I saw nevertheless, that I would not get the answers that I wanted.

My Workplace in Paradise

I began working for a company formerly known as Paradies in 2015. I got the job because my father works at Bradley International Airport and he inquired about my job search for a couple of weeks. Because of my position as an employee of the airport, I am an insider. However, since I am no longer an employee, and I because I never worked for every company in the airport such as airlines or the Connecticut Airport Association (CAA), I am also an outsider. Because of 9/11, one of the toughest obstacles was getting past airport security because I did not have a ticket to travel, a valid badge, or an escort. Multiple measures are now taken to ensure that no weapons are taken into the heavily secured area (where the gates are located), or that anyone that is not permitted to be beyond that area is allowed through.

Bradley International Airport is located at 1 Schoephoester Rd, Windsor Locks, CT. The land was purchased in the year 1941 as farmland, and was then transformed to a military base which then, in turn served as the Connecticut Air National Guard base. Bradley field as it was known by, was then deactivated and then refurbished and turned in to Bradley International Airport because of its perfection position between Boston and New York. From the moment I was dropped off in the front of the Delta Airlines terminal, on September 18th, at 2p.m., I could sense the intense hustle and bustle vibe of the people. From people greeting each other for the first time or saying good bye for the last time, I could hear it all around me. The most interesting part about the airport lifestyle to me has always been watching people go through security. The looks on people’s faces tend to vary from anxious, to nonchalant, to impatient, and sometimes even enthusiastic! The security line is usually not the quietest either. The sounds of children and babies can be heard even inside of security; but the loudest thing can be heard is the constant automated messages being played over the intercom reminding passengers about the non-smoke zone and not to leave their bags unattended. I can always be ready to hear a couple of the officers in their royal blue shirts yell the directions, “… No laptops or electronics in the bags! Please remove all metal items including shoes, belts and watches!” a couple million times for the passengers who did not hear it the first time or were too nervous to pay attention to the screaming officers. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers seem to be (depending on the time of day) mostly annoyed and alert more than anything else. During the lunchbreaks, no matter the shift, I can always see a squadron of them moving throughout the airport together as if they were some kind of gang. I noticed that unlike other work places where employees would take their breaks individually, the TSA officers would take their breaks as an entire shift or unit.

Bradley Airport is mainly composed of two separate buildings, one for national flights, and the other for international flights. The international flights building I believe is rarely ever open due to the limited amount of international flights leaving from Bradley. However, the main building hosts all the action. The building is composed of three floors. The first floor has the baggage claim and ground transportation information. The second floor consists of all the gates, ticket counters, shops, food, security, and main entrance. The third floor houses the administrative offices of the airport including the badging offices and the offices of some of the businesses like McDonalds and D’Angelos. The traveling public is mainly on the second and first floor and rarely ever on the third floor. Directly after exiting the outside security, and walk towards the inside of security, I notice that there are big glass windows all around. I figured out that this is in every airport, at least in the United States; not just at Bradley. Through the windows, passengers can see any outgoing and incoming flights; they can watch ramp agents and airplane maintenance fuel the aircrafts.

As I turn to the right, I can see one of the various businesses throughout the small yet busy place of transportation. The restaurant, Black Bear Saloon, serves as the entry way leading travelers to the inside of security with their delicious smelling menu lingering throughout the airport halls. Next to Black Bear Saloon is one branch of the popular airport retailer Paradies Lagardere. Directly to the left of Paradies is a high end electronic store, e-Savy.  As I make my way directly past e-Savy to the left, I can see different jets and aircraft workers busy as stocking airplanes for take-off and other tasks. The windows are enormously tall; maybe about 7 feet tall each. This wing is call the west wing of the airport. The top of the west wing is a “dead end” because of the big area that used to be used for international security check-in, but is now used for private security screenings. The rest of the west-wing consists of United Airlines, American Airlines, and Jet Blue Airlines. There are two concessions stores located down the rest of the west-wing; another Paradise store and a Dunkin’ Donuts.

Furthermore, the east-wing has more “to do” per say. Directly across from outside security is the Connecticut State Police’s desk. Alongside the 7 foot windows are sleek modern foot stools and chairs. There are also rocking chairs strategically place in-between the modern furniture both for appeal and for aesthetics. There is a mini food court consisting of Fresh City, Papa Gino’s Pizza, and McDonalds. Directly to the left of McDonalds is a Brooks Brothers store operated by Paradies Lagadere. The last shop on that side is a Paradies travel essential store. In addition to a regular female and male restroom being on both wings (one being right next to Paradies), there is now also a new mother’s nursing restroom located right across from the regular restrooms. There is also a small sitting area in front of the restrooms. Going down the long corridor towards gate 1-12, there is a Dunkin Donuts and a shoe shine in a straight line from each other. The airlines located on the wing include Air Canada, Southwest Airlines, Delta Airlines, Aer Lingus, and One Jet. As I walk down the wide corridor, on either side, beginning with Air Canada, each airline has its ticket counters set up with their corresponding gates labeled along with their numbers. There are sitting areas within every airline gate waiting area. Right next to the Dunkin Donuts is a book store, Cover 2 Cover. On the opposite side of Cover 2 Cover are make-up kiosks and a small bakery and ice cream creamery. The most unique thing about the east wing is a candy store/kiosk located opposite Southwest Airlines. It is unique because it is a pop – up candy store. The last Paradies Store is located at the bottom of the east wing directly across from Locks Landing, a bar/restaurant that is currently under construction to become a seafood restaurant. The last restroom is also located in a small corridor across the way from Locks Landing. Lastly, there is a small pop – up kiosk ran by McDonalds that sells last minute sandwiches and drinks in front of the Delta Airlines gates. Delta Airlines is tucked away at the very end of the east wing, as American Airlines is located at the very corner of the west wing.

Bradley Airport is not very large, but it certainly has an extensive history that makes it stand apart; lofty in comparison to all other airports. It’s geographical location, the history of how it started, and its future business makes it a primary place for travel in the New England area.

Your Key to the Airport

The main purpose for most travelers when coming to the airport is to get from one destination to the other. When a traveler enters the airport, their primary goal is to get from security to their gate. The gate is an essential part of airport culture because it literally leads you to your corresponding airplane. All gates are supplied with a ticket counter, baggage measuring display, waiting area, jet bridge, and a corresponding number. As an outsider, I observed many different things at gates at different times of the traveling experience. There were people that retired on the floor or in a seat because they wanted to rest; and there were also the passengers who wanted to “explore” or “kill time”, so they would leave their bags in a secure place with a loved one, or lug them around until their boarding time. Many times, I witnessed people who wanted to “explore” Bradley either miss their flight or be tardy for it because of the curiosity or boredom. The people who chose to sit by their gate and wait out their boarding time were usually found reading books or newspapers purchased from the gift shops, on business calls, doing homework, business work, eating, or just sleeping. When the time came to board the flight, depending on the airline, an agent would call up customers per either their seating class, or by last name. In some events, airline customer agents would call for passengers who were on stand – by or who had issues with their ticket. After a ticket is scanned, a passenger then walk through the jet bridge* into the airplane. A ticket or a badge is the key to getting into Bradley. Tickets can be issued prior to boarding or prior to getting past security. However, tickets cannot get you into the “secret” walkways or into classified elevator; a badge does. Depending on the color of the badge, employees have privileges as to where they can walk on the airport grounds. In sum, I learned to either become an employee, or never forget my ticket if I wish to enter the heavily secured area of Bradley Airport.

Positive Vibes Only

The interviewee is 23-year-old Elsie Hernandez. She is about five feet, two inches, long curly black hair, and kind eyes. Her business casual attire complemented her job at Shades Sunglasses and the Black Bear Saloon.  The interview took place in the local Panera Bread café in the middle of downtown Hartford, CT at 10 a.m. Bright smile and bushy tailed is how I would describe Elsie. She was eager, attentive, and just happy. She sat up straight as if a book were on top of her head as I began to ask her a series of question. She even smiled as she answered each one. Over the course of her interview, the reoccurring theme that she kept revisiting was positivity and how much she genuinely loved working at the airport.

Transcript:

D: So Elsie, how long have you been working at the airport?

E: I’ve been working there for like, two and a half years now.

D: Ok, so tell me about your experiences since you’ve been working there for two and a half years, the different like businesses you’ve worked for. Feel free to elaborate.

E: Honestly, I love working at the airport. Like, the people, the vibe, is so much different. Like you meet different people all the time. You even meet celebrities, and that’s like the coolest thing ever. Like! I’m like *giddily screams* umm. You get to meet like different companies. I just worked for two companies which is like the gift shop, and um this sunglass place. So it’s kinda like – the gift shop is kinda like… people just know what they want. With the sunglass place, you can actually sit down and talk with people and have a conversation with them, and you know… vibe with them better. I don’t know. I just feel like the airport is like, so much different, so diverse, and youthful, and fun.

D: So, um, tell me about, you know… you said you met some celebrities there. Like, who have you met so far?

E: Like so far, I met like, Lloyd Banks, he’s like a rapper or whatever, I met the Migos! I met… um George Lopez, Keke Palmer. I met, um. Who else did I meet?

D: Ok, so tell me about, getting around and like how the system of the airport works.

E: Well it’s actually really, like strict, like honestly. Well when I do my badging, it took them a week. Um, when you’re going through security, it’s kind of annoying because we work there already, and they make us do all this extra stuff, and it’s like, dude! I just wanna go to work! But um, um, yeah. It’s very… always busy. But that’s what I love… they business, the people… and it’s fun!

D: Ok, so I know, personally, there’s been drama in every work place, so is there like, any drama in your –

E: The only drama of people in the airport is management. Management sucks at the airport! People work so hard for these companies and management doesn’t even appreciate it. Like for instance, the company that I worked for, the manager was so rude and she never appreciated anything that anybody did. It’s like you would go out your way for them, and they didn’t even care. Like, for what? You’re over here, you know, busting your behind, working hard, and, you know, tryna make good deeds with them, and they don’t even care. It’s like they just care about themselves.

D: So, were there any specific incidents with you… involving your manager?

E: Honestly, like, my manager, like me personally, I’m just like the nicest person ever. And I feel like she just… like so mean and cruel inside that she just don’t even know how to be nice. Like, you’ll sit there and try to be nice to her and she’ll sit there and cut you off, like, at the end of the sentence, like OK, like, just rudeness! One time, I was on the phone with her, and I’m talking to her about the job or whatever, and she didn’t even let me finish my conversation, she just hung up in my face and said good – bye! Like – excuse you!

D: *Cuts in* How is your new manager compared to your old one?

E: Well she’s like, the sweetest person ever, like, she’s really nice. She’s so heart warming. She’s like very compassionate and she knows how to work with people. Like one time for instance, I had a family emergency, and she called me, she was like, Elsie, you know what, don’t come in to work today, I’ll come in to work for you. And she text me the next day asking me if I needed another day. That was so nice of her because I really needed another day. And, she’s just so different, and I love working for her, like she’s the best. Even with like new people she just hired, like she wants everybody to feel like they’re family, and I feel like that’s very important because, when you’re working for somebody, you wanna feel like you’re gonna be happy. You don’t wanna go to work and be mad or be negative. You wanna go to work and have a positive attitude, and… have fun! I like to have fun. I don’t like to be mad or you know… feel like I’m being pressured to be somebody I’m not. You know what I mean?

D: Yeahhhh.

E: Because I like to be smiley, I like to be positive, not negative because it doesn’t get you nowhere. So, it’s like, you might as well be happy and working for somebody that makes you happy and is a happy person, it’s great. It’s awesome! I love it. And I will never – well I’m not gonna say I will never leave, but I’m gonna be with her for awhile.

D: That’s good!

E: And now that I started this other job, at the restaurant, you meet so much different people!

D: Which restaurant is that?

E: Working at Black Bear, at the airport, and it’s so different because we get so many different business people , and they’re so professional, and they’re so kind. And then you meet the people that’s like… you know… just classy.

D: They’re more stuck up and sadiddy?

E: Like um, yeah, like ok, “Thank you!!” Or like, gimme this, and gimme that! Or like oh HI! They’ll like actually sit there and have a conversation with you. Don’t get me wrong, the business people do tip, but it’s like, you know. We are all here living in the same world. So I feel like we should all… not treat everybody the same, but stay positive people! Don’t – if you wake up in the morning and like you’re having a bad day, don’t take it out on people! Cause that person did not do anything to you. Honestly, like I try my best to just be happy.

D: Well said!

E: Yeah!

D: Have you ever flown out of Bradley, or flown into Bradley form anywhere?

E: Not really. I never have. But I see people, you know… flying in all the time. And when I talk to people that are from, like Florida or like you know… different states, they’re like, OH! Connecticut is beautiful! And I actually live here. And I’m like really where? *laughs* There’s really nothing to do. People love it. People love that it’s so diverse and it’s quiet. And people that come from like Florida and stuff, say that they love this time of the year because it’s fall and they don’t get to see the changing of the leaves and stuff. So, people actually enjoy Connecticut. But then there’s the people that ask how do you even live here? Like,I didn’t have nothing to do! And I’m just like, I don’t know! *Laughs* So, you get those different people all the time. You just gotta … I don’t know. Stay positive. I have to say that because I like to stay positive.

D: I see!

E: *Laughs* You can’t be walkin’ around with a angry face. For what? It shows the typa person that you are. And people are not gonna appreciate that, and you wonder why people are not gonna wanna talk to you.

D: I see that you’re very approachable. So do people just come up to you?

E: Yeah! And I’m not scared to talk to anybody. And I feel like I’m very helpful too. Like, if I see somebody that’s not in a good mood, I give them a hug. You know, I just try to make someone’s day. Cause I feel like there’s all these different people that are like, negative and just not being nice. And it’s not fair to others that are, you know?

D: Do you see a lot of, like, weird experiences where people are being rude or something?

E: Yeah, you definitely do see the nice people, and then you definitely see the rude people. Um, mainly it’s a lot of the elderly people that are kinda not so nice. Like, it’s kinda weird to say because they’ve been here for a long time and it’s like, why do you act like that. But then you get the nice people. Don’t get me wrong, you get the nice older people. And then, like, you get the rudey, snobby, little young chicks or whatever. But it’s like, whatever, you know. I just don’t pay them no mind. I just say bye! Have a good day!

D: I just didn’t expect, you know, the elderly people to be the rude ones.

E: Yeah, you’d be surprised, like, a lot of people don’t even acknowledge you when you see them. For instance, when I used to work at the gift shops, we had to say hi to everybody that walks in. Some people didn’t even acknowledge you. They would just look away and not even say hi. And I’m like, are you serious! I KNOW you heard me say hi! But whatever. So it’s like, you really are surprised about that, and it’s really shocking because working in an airport you get different kinda elderly people. You get the nice people, you get the mean people, and then it’s like really, it’s not right.

D: Do you think there’s a hierarchy system, do like the – first of all, tell about the different kinds of employees. I know you said you worked at the gift shop and the sunglass place, but like, the security, and like you know, the people that work on the third floor?

E: Well the TSA people are like, you know, of course they have to be strict on people, cause it’s their job to kinda protect us or whatever. And then the people on the third floor, they mainly just. Honestly I just feel like they just sit in their offices all day… I don’t ever see them. So, the other people that work in the airport, they’re just very nice. All the other people, they just make you smile. They say hi every day and run jokes with you. They’re positive and everyone is just nice. But then you get of course the people that’s not nice but I don’t pay them any mind.

Terminology

·         TSA: Transportation Security Administration; security officers

·         Badge: An ID that must be worn and shown always to enter the inner most security of the airport.

·         Airline: An independent air carrier that services the airport by transporting travelers.

·         Pat – down: A physical search of one’s body

·         Delay: Pushing up the time of an event’s original scheduling

·         C.A.A.: Connecticut Airport Association

·         Passenger: A valid, ticketed person

·         Jet Bridge: Bridge used to transport passengers from inside an airport to inside an airplane by connecting the bridge to a door.

·         Run way: A strip of pavement or road that an airplane uses to gain speed and take – off.

·         Sky Caps: Airline assistants who assist anyone on and off flights who are in need of a wheelchair.

Intrigued Indeed

One of the most surprising things that I found out about airport culture is that it is merely drama free. I assumed that like most work places, there would be a solid amount of chaos and drama, but that was not the case according to Elsie, and I agree with her. During my time at the airport, I even witnessed the friendly and positive nature that many of the employees from different businesses displayed to each other. I also was surprised to learn that there were homeless people living in the airport at one time. From talking with employees that work late night shifts, I found out that the Connecticut State Police do a check at certain times of the night and in the morning to make certain that the airport is not being used as a shelter for people who are not paying passengers. That also disturbed me greatly. The one thing that intrigued me, was the same thing that intrigued me the same day I set foot in Norman Manley International Airport: the airplanes. They have a mystery and a wonder to that neither I nor scientists would never be able to figure out.

Learning Experience

After being both an insider and an outsider to the airport culture, I would like people to understand that looks are deceiving. You never know what a person is really going through until you carefully choose what you are going to say to them, and see how they react. I learned that I need to be more optimistic and smile more. Smile more not because I am pretty, and I should just do it, but because I am in customer service, and it could really brighten someone’s day.

Submitted for ENG 200 Advanced Composition, Spring 2017.  Assignment: Ethnography
Instructor: Daniela Ragusa

Photo credit: “Bradley Airport 2011” by That Hartford Guy.  Licensed through Creative Commons.