I’ve been flying back and forth to St. Louis one weekend a month because my mother is sick. As if this weren’t  enough cause for glamour envy on your part, I fly as a non-priority passenger, made abundantly clear by the nonstop parade of First Class, Platinum, Executive Platinum, and Mile High club members who board before me.

I can accept that because in a normal year I only fly every couple of months and not always on the same carrier, I am the kind of passenger airlines equate to rice cakes and expired pop tarts: lacking in any real taste or value and something for which you’re grateful only when the s*** hits the fan.

What I can’t accept is being treated like actual, hang-a-bell-around-my-neck cattle.

As I waited at the gate in St. Louis for my flight home, everything was proceeding in typical, reasonably orderly fashion. Then suddenly, as the cleaning crew exited the jetway and we were about to begin boarding, the gate agent decided to make an announcement.

Now, this in itself would not generally be a cause for stress among an entire group of travelers. But this wasn’t just any gate agent. Either hard of hearing or oblivious to the fact that there were other human beings milling about in the terminal who were not on flight 27, he picked up the intercom mic and began to talk – at the exact same time as two other agents at nearby gates were also making boarding announcements.

The din was unbelievable, and unintelligible. Surely he’ll stop, I thought, once he pauses to suck in air and realizes that he is talking over two other people who are currently addressing their motley hordes. It was, after all, virtually impossible not to notice.

But our agent remained blissfully oblivious. As he plowed ahead, unfazed, the passengers all began to glance around wildly at one another, searching for the one flier upon whose forehead a transcription of the gate agent’s directives might appear, like some sort of human Times Square jumbotron.

When that didn’t work, the entire group of 200 lurched forward, EN MASSE, trying to get close enough to read his lips or discern patterns from the wind escaping his mouth. The lurch was sudden, fast and threatening, like a post-Super Bowl riot or a flash mob of terrorists wearing flip-flops and “I’m Not a Gynecologist, But I’ll Take a Look” t-shirts. Our gate agent, who had clearly seen this sort of thing before when he made these announcements (but hadn’t quite put two and two together) held up his hand as if to halt an unruly group of kindergarteners.  

“What on earth are you saying?!” one woman screamed.

“I don’t speak gobbledygook!” an older man hollered.

As if a member of a secret Synchronized Gate Announcement consortium, he ignored the cries and calmly concluded his directives. He replaced the intercom mic on its clip and began accepting passengers of a variety that we could, only from previous experience, assume were First Class and Those Whose S*** Doesn’t Stink (to this airline).

Such was not the case, however, for, after several minutes, he called – now loudly and clear as a bell, free from the interference of other gate announcements – Group THREE. “Where on earth were Groups ONE and TWO?” several dozen of us demanded. He ignored the angry complaints of Group One passengers, many of whom (including me) had paid $29 for the privilege of boarding at a time when there was still guaranteed to be overhead bin space, and simply smiled serenely.

Groups One and Two immediately bum-rushed the gate and there was a lot of hair pulling and crying, and several threats of the “You better hope you’re not sitting in front of me” variety. Our gate agent ignored the goings-on and focused his attention on scanning boarding passes, albeit with a lackluster attention to details, since one person who ended up on the plane was supposed to be going to San Francisco and had to be removed.

Onboard, passengers attempted to pound their carry-on’s into already full overhead bins and demanded that the flight attendants do something about “that moron at the gate”…who I can only imagine was now sitting in the frequent flyer executive lounge, sipping a martini, enjoying several stolen bags of peanuts and chuckling at the stupid cows who can’t figure out how to get on a plane.

I suppose I can’t blame him. Working for an airline these days is probably just about as grim as flying them. You gotta get your jollies where you can.