By Mark Okrant, NH Travel Guru
If you’ve been traveling for a long time, I’m sure you’ve noticed how your fellow airplane passengers have changed. For example, forty years ago, you rarely saw people from lower income families traveling on an airplane.
Greyhound and other intercity bus lines served as predominant domains for those who were economically disadvantaged. As the son of lower-middle income parents, I didn’t set foot on an airplane until Uncle Sam paid my freight, in May of 1970.
Looking around the waiting rooms in airports today, it has become difficult to determine the socio-economic strata of people surrounding you. During early years of air travel, most passengers dressed well for travel. Men wore suits or sport coats with ties; women were attired in full dresses or chic skirt and top outfits, with stockings.
When I first began traveling on a semi-regular basis to academic meetings and conferences, I wore a navy blue blazer or herringbone sport coat, polyester permanent press oxford dress shirt, a pair of pressed slacks, penny loafers or wingtips, and—at times—a necktie.
Leap ahead a few decades and you’ll see me dressed for travel in a far different manner. A sport coat(?) . . . you must be kidding! Long ago, I eschewed style in favor of comfort. Blue jeans or wash-and-wear chinos, a cotton polo shirt, and open-toe sandals are my travel clothes of choice. Most other passengers appear to be similarly attired. Jeans have become a predominant element of attire—for men and women. Colorful tee shirts with interesting logos and brands also proliferate.
Businesspersons are the exception. However, unless these folks are heading right from the airport to their meeting places, they, too, are likely to be dressed for comfort.
This creates a dilemma for those of us who study people judiciously. In light of this scenario, how is one to determine whether the person sitting across from you is a head of industry or a manual laborer (not that this should matter, mind you)?
One astute individual informed me that she looks at her fellow passengers’ reading material. Indeed, generalizations may apply . . . but be careful. If the person in the seat next to you is reading a Harlequin romance, you may be tempted to label her a low income, desperate housewife, or a lonely spinster. The truth is that 16 percent of romance novel readers are Men! The average romance reader is 30 to 54 years of age, in a relationship, and earning a mean of $55,000 per year.
How about that guy across the aisle, the one with the pocket protector, with his face buried in a copy of Popular Mechanics. Be careful how you prejudge him. While the magazine was originally created to review emerging technologies, this may not be that passenger’s interest at all. For, following 9/11, the magazine began to address conspiracy theories surrounding that terrible set of events. So, your neighbor may have a very different set of values than you would expect.
It should be increasingly obvious that reading material won’t help you to discern whether your seatmate is a lord or a laborer, a scholar or school dropout (Note: possible exceptions are women and men reading medical journals, theses about international relations, or erudite books comparing cultural art forms).
So, what is a discriminating passenger to do? Why not just open that copy of the latest murder mystery . . . the one you’ve been saving for just the right occasion. Sit back and relax; but don’t spill anything on your tee shirt.
After forty years as an educator, researcher, and consultant, Mark Okrant joins IndepthNH.org to offer concise, informative insight into New Hampshire’s travel and tourism industry as a business, while showcasing the people and places you want to know. This guy’s really been around. And, he’s funny, too.
For more about Mark’s compelling tourism-based murder mystery series, visit www.markokrant.com.
For information on current things to do in New Hampshire, go to: http://www.visitnh.gov/what-to-do/event-calendar.aspx