Friday, May 21, 2010

And here I thought my next post would be about cricket...

Nope. Airports.

I like them.

I live in the most isolated capital city in the world, so airports mean I’m going somewhere bigger, or somewhere other. Big airports are all the same, as all hotels are the same: not in the detail or the design, but in the underlying form and, obviously, in function. (I admit, my sample size of airports and hotels is a little limited for these sweeping statements, but others have said it, so we'll go with it for now).  Outside airport doors, though, the smells, the light, the colours, the people – they are different. The anonymous, white, synthetic, air-conditioned airport sameness is the lobby to the warm, wet wall of air that hits you in the tropics; the constant dull grey of English skies that highlight that one blue-sky day; the high, fine-boned buildings and stained glass of Europe; and the food, the coffee, the wine, the languages of everywhere! The contrast to home would be enough, but it is exaggerated by this journey through the queues and tunnels and security and elevators and finally, finally out those glass doors to taxis and trains and terrible parking and that amazing otherness.

Airports mean I’m coming home, and I mostly like that too.

Jaded jet-setters and business travellers will roll their eyes at such exuberance, complain of the coffee, compare notes on Heathrow and Singapore and LAX, ask if you’ve ever been through Helsinki Airport, either because it really is the best, or the most boring – Helsinki here representing some obscure airport which they know perfectly well you’ve never heard of, let alone had any chance of flying through.* Or they’ll talk casually of the business or first-class lounges: the bars, the particularly good lasagne / hamburger / salad bar / free champagne in those comfy enclaves reserved for this inner circle of apparently-reluctant airport junkies, knowing full well that most of us might jag a random invite or fluke a visit when forced to book an expensive flight, but that we’ll never qualify for entry. They will moan about travel and about hotels, (I also like hotels) but all the while swan about getting free upgrades to first class and hoarding frequent flyer points. Which, despite all their muttering, they redeem for more travel and hotel accommodation. (Disclaimer: if I ever get a job and / or enough money to be like this, I will be. Just so you know.)

I especially like airports when I’m in transit. To get from Australia to, well, pretty much anywhere, you have to fly via another anywhere. This means you get varying amounts of time in big (usually Asian) airports, your luggage being mysteriously transported from one plane to another (not always succesfully) while you look at shops and bars and cafes. These shops and bars and cafes are either plastic and expensive, or luxurious and horrendously expensive, or plastic and horrendously expensive, but when else do you have nothing to do but shop, eat and drink? Admittedly, by then I mostly just want to have a shower and a sleep, or possibly a massage, but in the bigger airports, with enough money and time, you can usually get those too. Unless of course you’re a jaded airport junkie, in which case you get it all for free in your secret club’s cubbyhouse.

Whether in the clubhouse or a window shopping pleb, that time in transit, unencumbered by luggage, your only responsibility to get to your gate by a particular time, is somehow weightless, expectation-less. Because you’re flying – often into a new timezone, that small time-travel miracle – people don’t expect to be able to contact you, or you to contact them, they don’t expect you to do anything or be anywhere, (again, except at your boarding gate on time) and whatever awaits you at the other end of your next flight, right now that’s all it can do: wait. This weightless space might be the calm before the storm, or the hush before the applause, or the eye of the hurricane, or the still small voice… whatever it is, in it, you are, for these precious minutes or hours, free.

Personally, I usually use my freedom to drink Champagne and read.

*Apparently Barcelona has the most beautiful airport in the world.  This post is, in the nicest possible way, dedicated to Matt, Dave, Mark and all my other friends and associates who fly a lot.


Simon said...

Have you ever been through Manila airport? Not really my favourite.

missjane said...

Show off. :)

No, but I have been through KL Airport, which is nice but on the small side, and Kota Kinabalu Airport, which had lots of character but was busily being renovated into your standard Airport template.

I've heard the Brunei Airport is a bit of a shocker. Singapore is still my favourite, and I really could spend a few days there, but as above, I haven't been to that many.

On the other hand, you and I can say we've been through Tel Aviv, which has got to be the toughest security ever.

Anonymous said...

I am such an airport nerd, Jane, but rarely get to travel these days being all married and motherly. I do love Schipol, used to love Singapore but haven't been for a while; Dubai worth a mention; hate Dublin and Heathrow, have bad memories of Humberside and favourite is definitely KL.