December 8, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 40°F

ColumnsInto Identity

Perplexing pre-flight instruction

Between having family on another continent and in the Midwest, and traveling back and forth from school, I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time on airplanes and in airports. I’ve got an arsenal of airplane and airport mishap stories: Some are hilarious, others are unfortunate, and a select few leave you thinking, “Are you kidding me?”

A little more than three weeks ago, I had my most recent “Are you kidding me?” flight travel experience. I was waiting at my gate for my first of three flights back to Ithaca when the gate attendant made an announcement: Anyone with a mobile boarding pass or a home-printed pass needed to come to the counter to confirm their seat number because the system may have mixed up passengers’ seat numbers, she said. A line formed at the counter almost immediately. People were telling the attendant their seat numbers or showing her their boarding passes. As she entered each seat number into the computer, she addressed each person by first name followed by, “OK, you’re good to go!” That wasn’t the case for me.

When I told the attendant my seat number, she typed it into the system and looked visibly skeptical. She looked at me, said my seat number and asked me, “Are you sure?” not once, but twice. I was getting nervous, thinking my last-minute seat change online didn’t go through. But I instantly figured out her confusion once she asked me, “Is your last name Johnson?” I told her yes, and she said, “OK, you’re good to go!”

I was annoyed. I understand that people of East Asian descent aren’t expected to have Western last names, but it’s not unusual with adoptions and mixed-race marriages occurring in the U.S.

This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. When I flew home for winter break during my first year, a gate attendant asked me, “Did you just get off the Shanghai flight?” after I told him my previous flight was delayed.

I laugh at these mishaps now, but they do leave me — and probably others — thinking, “Are you kidding me?”

My point in telling these stories is that they are examples of microaggressions. The two gate attendants didn’t have harmful intentions with their comments, but I was taken aback by what they’d said. Oftentimes, people classify certain words or phrases as microaggressions simply because they don’t like them. That’s not what a microaggression is, and these anecdotes are just a reminder of what the definition really is — a subtle, often unintentionally offensive comment.