By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Dec 31, 2023 at 9:31 AM

This is one of our favorite stories from 2023! Thanks for reading OnMilwaukee. 

Traveling, especially during the holidays, can be stressful. In particular: security checkpoints. Although absolutely necessary, they take time and patience – neither of which are abundant when you have four minutes to make it to the gate and you stupidly wore shoes with laces. 

But Barry Bateman, the former Mitchell Airport director, understood this. So much so, that 15 years ago he invented a word for exactly what needs to happen after you've removed everything from your pockets, put your laptop in a separate bin (why?), stepped into a straight-outta-sci-fi scanner, raised your hands above your head and nervously waited for your belongings to roll through the X-Ray machine even though you packed nothing to be nervous about. (Then again, there is that bottle of saline solution that may or may not exceed 3.4 ounces... Crap.)

After all that, Bateman knew travelers needed to recombobulate. And needed a designated area to do it.

So in 2008, the wise and good-humored manager (who retired in 2014), did what no other airport manager in the world thought to do: he invented a word and a concept, "recombobulation." Then he somehow got the TSA to approve the creation of "Recombobulation Area" signs and get them installed just past the two security checkpoints in designated spaces with benches and chairs.

"He understood that traveling can be stressful and the signs are intended to put a smile on people’s faces," says Harold Mester, the airport’s public relations manager.

In 2009, the American Dialect Society named "recombobulation" the most creative word of the year. Eventually, the word made it into dictionaries meaning the opposite of discombobulating or "putting back in order."

And surprisingly, prior to its inclusion in dictionaries, not a single grammarian complained about the signs.

"Whether it’s a word or not, I think we can all agree we all feel discombobulated after going through a security checkpoint and need a minute to recombobulate," says Mester. "People find the word creative, but also understand why it makes sense to have it in an airport."

Batemen's creation did more than bring a little lightness to a serious place. The signs have become a part of our city's culture, bolster our already-affable personality and make the short-list of uniquely Milwaukee endearments like Bloody Mary chasers and the Milverine.

Plus, thousands of people have posted selfies in front of the recombobulation signs on social media, elevating them to a traveler's quirky rite-of-passage like grabbing a "Wall Drug" bumpersticker when passing through South Dakota.

"Recombobulation Area" is not just for airports anymore, either. It's also the name of a popular online opinion column by Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer; a best-selling T-shirt for legendary apparel company "Too Much Metal"; the name of a local beer; a question on "Jeopardy"and even popped up at Summerfest

The most interesting aspect of these signs is that they are so effective in their absurdity. Humor isn't always popular in airports. They are sometimes solemn and emotional places. But the Milwaukee Mitchell Airport's "Recombobulation Area" signs offer the perfect amount of levity.

"We have a number of amenities here to help take the stress out of traveling," says Mester. "We want people to feel comfortable – even have fun here."

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.