A Life Lived in Airports

I recently mentioned to my mom that I hate airports. Her reply? “You picked the wrong guy if you really despise them!”

Touché.

Departures Madrid Barajas AirportMy most-frequented airport, Madrid Barajas

What is it about airports that brings out all the feels? The airport environment is heightened somehow, as though they put something in the water or air. The arrivals area is decidedly more cheerful than departures. At the arrivals gate you see signs: “Welcome home, Katie” held by the cutest set of parents and dimpled younger brother; “Mr. John Smith” held by a blankfaced businesswoman; “Happy anniversary” accompanied by a 20-something young man holding a boquet of tulips. These people are awaiting the arrival of a loved one, a business associate, a girlfriend or wife. The hugs are numerous. The tears flow. No one seems too impatient or upset.

Departures, on the other hand, is entirely different. There are the goodbyes—the long hugs and last-second embraces, the sad tears, the last glances. After the goodbyes come the impatient sighs as we wait for that passenger (you know the one) who can’t remember to take out his laptop, the lady who insists that she isn’t wearing anything metallic and then finds her keys in her pockets, the TSA agents who can’t really be bothered—basically, the security theater to which we travelers are submitted every flight. You can see worried glances at wristwatches, foot tapping, and lots of fidgeting as well wait together. Momentarily united, we hope never to see each other again after this moment.

After the security theater, endured by all and hated by everyone, we rush to our gates, only to wait some more. We buy $3 cokes, $7 salads, and silent wish we were in a European airport, where at least we could enjoy a 350-mL bottle of red wine for $5. We watch for the screens to change, dreading any potential delays. Our supposed boarding time comes, goes. Nothing.

Finally a bored-looking airline employee says one word, which no one really listens to, and there is a bum rush to line up at the gate. Nothing happens for another ten minutes. We are now separated into two camps: those who choose to line up and those who do not. We believe fiercely in our causes, call them just and true. We look at the other camp despairingly, as if to pity them and their poor choices.

Then the privileged passengers, those who pay way too much money, are allowed to board first. I’ve never understood why boarding first is a privilege. More time on the airplane? I spend more than enough time on those things, thank you very much. Then parents with young children get to board, but the word young is interpreted differently by some. There is always that one family with a nine- and ten-year-old who try to take this chance to board before the rest of us plebes. I think it’s a bit too old; we all think it’s a bit too old, come on! But, of course, we remain silent, and they are allowed on the plane.

Zones are announced. People who line up hate zones. Me? I love zones, and I especially love it when people try to board before their time and get denied. Oh, sweet, sweet denial. You thought you were so smart, didn’t you?

You just got zoned.

Finally they call my zone. I wait some more, because—again—I am going to make it on the plane. Why rush it? I still end up having to wait in that tunnel while those special passengers try desperately to shove their overlarge suitcases into the overhead bins. The rest of us must follow rules, but these people—they’re special. So forget about the rules! Put your huge suitcase up there so the rest of us can’t. (These people tend to be the same people who are in a hurry to board. They know they’re in danger of having to check their bag.)

My airport anxiety is worse than my airplane anxiety, and it doesn’t dissipate until we’re off the ground. I hate taxiing. Taxiing is the worst, especially when the pilot keeps telling you that you’re next to take off. Lies, all lies! If we were next, we would be taking off by now, fibber! I try to take a few deep breaths at this time and remember that soon they’ll be serving us food. Delicious airplane food, am I right?

Finally, we’re in the air, and I can relax. Phew. Another day, another airport. On to the next.

What kind of feelings do airports bring out in you?

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10 comments

  1. Hahaha I really enjoyed reading this post! You really voiced things that most of us think when we’re in the airport…like why in the world would you want to get on the airplane first?

    For me personally, airplanes and airports have always been fun/positive experiences. From the pairs of rumble strips leading up to the entry toll plazas, to the strange combination of brewed coffee and airplane gas, and the great people-watching opportunity, I always enjoy going to airports. Thankfully I’ve never had to sleep overnight in one, so far *knock on wood*

  2. I only want to get on the plane quickly when I travel with Ryanair. Or I should when I used to travel with Ryanair, the anxiety of not knowing where I could end up sitting!! I hated it. Now I’d rather pay more for my tickets than using that airline ever again.
    I think that sometimes we rush into the plane because we want to get home as fast as possible! I can relate. When coming back from Hong Kong, not having slept in 30 hours, I almost went running from Barajas to Atocha on my own foot it that meant getting to Seville in a second.
    I’m now used to airports and I try to enjoy the whole experience but I prefer train (if the distance is short).

  3. Whew! I thought I was the only one that got pleasure when the “special ones” get denied. I so agree with you, I along with everyone else is getting on the plane so why rush.
    I love guessing where people are going and what their story is when I’m at the airport. Ahh so many people, so many places. This is what keeps me going.

  4. I also enjoyed reading this post, and can relate to most of the subjects discussed, especially the sadness on departures and happiness at arrivals. With pre-boarding the kids…..only after I had a chance to experience flying with own young (2 and 1 year olds) children, the whole pre-boarding for kids does not make much sense at all. The worst thing kids absolutely hate is patience as they are required to sit still for extending periods of time….so to have them on that plane even longer before an actual push-off, then add already mentioned “hated” taxing accompanied by pilot’s fibbing, plus the climb to a cruising altitude….well, at that point there is only one thought going through your mind: “I am never ever doing this again!” So I would suggest having kids the last to board as they can run freely in the gate waiting area, maybe if travelling as a family have one adult pre-board and get ready for that dreaded time before plane makes it to the cruising altitude.
    Airports are awesome, like their own little cities, and the ones in Europe…..I can still smell the freshness of pastries being delivered to Vienna’s airport shops at 5am!

  5. As a kid, I associated airports with feeling nauseated (probably too many early-morning flights), but now I love them. It’s all the excitement in the air, the possibility of travels ahead. There’s always the crazy and annoying people you encounter, but you learn to take it all in stride.

    Now, sleeping in airports, that’s a whole different story. Hope I never have to experience that again.

    1. “sleeping in airports”…..now i’m quite confused!

      i love the English language since I was at school, and i always have thought that you must use the preposition “at” when it comes to an airport, as in “we shall depart on the morrow, so we can arrive at the airport earlier to get the first flight.

      so both “in” and “at” can be used? sorry if the question looks silly or hasn’t got to do with the post, but i wish to know everything about English……I’m just curious and obviously i have not still mastered the language.

      it would gladden me if i were told about those two prepositions with airport.

    2. I’ve found that I don’t mind them nearly as much when I’m taking a short flight—say, within Europe. It’s really the transatlantic ones I hate.

  6. I laughed out loud at your observations on the “privilege” of boarding first! I won’t forget that one the next time I fly! It sounds like you got your sense of humor from your Mom! Enjoyed her comment as well! Thanks!

  7. My b-friend and I are complete opposites when it comes to travel–I like to get to the airport a bit early to have cushion time for security lines and such. He is usually running late and doesn’t want to wait too long at the gate. Just this week we ended up with about 2 minutes to spare to get on a flight – I scooped up my bins full of items and sprinted to the gate – carrying my shoes. The flight was delayed and then we were grounded for an extra night. I try to remind myself that the bottom line is that we eventually get home safely.

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