Although airports and airplanes are currently empty, passenger traffic will return. When it does, hordes of gate lice are sure to descend on the boarding gate nearest you — social distancing be damned. For those unfamiliar with the term gate lice, it is defined by the Dauntless Jaunter blog as follows:

Gate lice is airline parlance or crew-speak for the crowd of people who amass around the gate and gate agents when anticipating boarding the plane. When the gate lice are thick, that means that this crowd is not letting some passengers board by blocking the gate.

The term is most often used by first class passengers and frequent flyers with elite status who have priority boarding but find it difficult to pass through the mass of economy passengers crowding the gate. While I certainly do feel for those people, the effects of a gate lice infestation can be much more problematic for disabled passengers attempting to reach the boarding area.

Large group of people congregating in an airport boarding gate prior to the start of boarding.
Large group of people congregating in an airport boarding gate. | FlyerTalk / vincentharris.

The challenge is not simply having to announce my presence (“excuse me!”) to each person blocking the path, but being hit on the face with backpacks, fallen into by startled passengers and the unfortunate (but rare) scream of a person whose toes have just been run over by my wheelchair.

Early on in my disabled flying career, I teamed up with friends from a Facebook group for Delta’s top tier frequent flyers — Diamond Medallion members — to spread a message about keeping boarding areas clear.

In April 2015, I adopted Davina, a stuffed louse purchased from Amazon. She attended Lousetown Senior High and Gate Lice Technical College, before I elevated her to the position of resident Gate Louse Queen here at Wheelchair Travel. Her existence became a great source of joy and entertainment for my community of travel friends.

Over the years, my stuffed louse has joined me on many trips and logged hundreds of thousands of miles on airplanes. She became somewhat of a celebrity among Delta’s Diamond Medallion frequent flyer community.

A few months after Davina became a part of my family, we launched an advocacy campaign to prevent the infestation of airport boarding gates by gate lice. This involved the development of a notification card for distribution to passengers crowding the gate area. The card encouraged all passengers to make way for those in earlier boarding groups, including disabled passengers entitled to preboard the aircraft.

Business card with a close-up illustration of a louse, a description of the appropriate boarding order and a headline reading, You have been identified as a Gate Louse.
‘You have been identified as a Gate Louse’ card.

Although 1,500 such cards were printed, I estimate that no more than 100 were actually distributed to suspected gate lice. I handed them out to my friends in Delta SkyClubs around the country, and the endeavor really proved to be nothing more than an inside joke among frequent flyers and airline employees. Many laughs were had.

Stuffed louse pictured with three stuffed monkeys at a Delta Sky Club.
Davina hanging out with The Monkays at a Delta SkyClub.

Davina the Gate Louse — now on her third iteration (I’ve lost her a couple times) — has retired, but still takes to the skies with me occasionally. She and her foresisters have visited 5 continents to date. We’ve twice attempted to add a sixth, but my emergency gallbladder surgery and now the coronavirus lockdown have disrupted two planned trips Down Under.

In looking back on her career, Davina acknowledges that gate lice continue to proliferate in airports around the world. “There are too many for one louse Queen to control,” she says.

If you encounter gate lice blocking your path to the boarding area, she recommends sounding your wheelchair’s horn or yelling, “Excuse me, Gate lice, make way!”

Stuffed camel on the handlebars of a motorcycle.
Stuffed camel on a motorcycle at the BMW Museum in Munich, Germany.

After Davina retired, I adopted another stuffed creature, Ardy the Camel. He emigrated from Dubai and has also traveled to five continents. Ardy is a very good boy and doesn’t cause me to have nearly as many awkward conversations as his step-sister. He wishes you safe travels and a Happy Hump Day.

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