Airport Lounge Lizards
You may never notice them in the lounges of airport boarding gates, despite your being a seasoned traveler. Even if you did, you might find their vacant stare mildly disturbing. Even more disturbing is their apparent disdain for boarding announcements. As you board the plane, you pay no further attention until they reappear aboard minutes later. They are the last to board, seemly the cause of your late departure. You find their stupid grin as off-putting as their need to move you gear around in the overhead, extracting just enough space to jam in their horrid, worn out carry-on luggage.
There is story behind this odd breed, intent as they are on bucking the well-formed norms of the experienced traveler. Triangulate that vacant stare and you will find a singular focus on the large displays cycling through last minute seat assignments and remaining seat totals. Realize they have no seat and you can understand the normal boarding procedure holds no interest for them. For a lucky few the joy of a seat assignment brings a surge of adrenalin and smile that comes from knowing they have just won an unfair lottery. They can’t afford the risk that comes with checking in luggage. That bag now jammed in the overhead carries their survival kit.
They are non-revers, and they yet might get home tonight.
Seatless not Stranded
For those working for airlines or their relations, there is a nice benefit. You get free seats on the airline’s flights with a catch. You fly standby and there are no guarantees of a seat on any flight. The airline refers to these as non-revenue tickets. The game is that you register your intent for a flight and receive a seat request in place of a boarding ticket. You make your way to the gate with a list in your head of all the others taking the same bet. You then cross your fingers and hope none of them make it to the gate. You watch the standby list scroll past on the large display keeping an eye on the seats remaining. Right before the plane leaves you learn if you get a seat. For those left behind or for you at the next connection, the game is played all over again.
My first experience of non-rev flying came on a trip to Australia. As an Agilest waiting to see if I would make it back to the U.S, it occurred to me that this whole exercise was much like being a low value story caught at the bottom of a backlog, with the plane being a software release. High value “stories” had their boarding passes and were grinding their way through customs. Most of the time there are seats left but a secondary prioritization kicks in. The ranking in the standby list is a combination of how long the employee has been working for the company and a priority. The priorities work like a limited deck of cards. You get a couple of high value priorities per year and few lower ones. A pilot may get a few “Aces” “Kings” and “Queens”. A desk agent may just get “Queens” and “Jacks”. When you check in you have to declare which of your available priorities you wish to use. The challenge is to use one just high enough to trump anybody else in the standby list you studied before beginning to play.
Much like smaller stakeholders without clout, grasping for the rarified developer talent, you hope those above in the list, including paying customers, meet with some unfortunate twist of fate opening a slot that will allow you to be pulled in. Your family is your minimum viable product. As with development, the smaller the size of your MVP, the better the chances of grabbing a slot.
“Abu, party of seven”
The name of one poor family that did not heed this advice and the plaintive call of the agent echoes in my mind – “Abu, family of seven, Abu, party of seven”. I was making the last hop on an international trip with my two daughters and there were no seats left. I had resigned myself to looking for hotels for the night. However, I had not forgotten the first rule on non-rev club. Never leave the lounge until the plane is in the air. On past jaunts, planes had been showing full only to have the agent come back having found empty seats. For this night flight, I pondered the chances of a family of seven making it aboard. They would need luck and this night the luck of “Abu party of seven” ran out. Queue the stupid smile of undeserved success.
I have often found fertile ground for learning from the cross fertilization with experiences external to Agile. Finding these parallels reinforces for me the idea that techniques from Agile have a wider application. More importantly, that there is an atmosphere of experience that each us can bring to the Agile airport. We don’t have to be Agile experts to contribute, just be willing to play with what we know, fail then learn.
Next time, I’ll continue this traveler’s tale with how my PMP addled project manager monkey brain got forcibly rewired for real options.