In Defense of Airports by Alan Decker

In Defense of Airports

Earlier this week, our beloved site mistress expressed her…shall we say misgivings with the current state of air travel.  In many ways, it’s hard to disagree with her.  Most airports do have a sense of sameness to them.  Maybe there’s a mural here or there, but mostly they’re long concourses lined with gate after gate of uncomfortable seats broken up by the occasional food stand or overpriced bookstore/gift shop.  Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport does give you the option of playing slot machines, but that’s about as close to personality as most airports get.

Really, most airports can be broken down into a series of regions where you get to stand in line.  There’s the line at the check-in counter, which looks pretty much the same at every airport.  And then you snake through another line waiting for the joy of passing through airport security, where you too can be considered a potential criminal just because you had the temerity to travel by air.  This is followed by the wait at the gate leading to the line to get on the plane, a slow-moving affair continually hampered by people who can’t seem to figure out how to smooth get their carry-on items into the overhead bins.  Once this is complete, travel actually happens!  And then you land, stand in line waiting for those same people to figure out how to retrieve their items from the overhead bins so you can actually exit the plane, and then wait in the line/mob for your luggage to hopefully emerge unscathed at baggage claim.

So, yes, air travel and airports can suck.

But I love airports because of what they represent.  Airports are all about potential for me.  They are the gateway to new places, the sign that my trip is really underway.  They are also home to one of the wonders of the modern age: the airplane.  Earlier this week, I was at my regional airport seeing our beloved site mistress off on her return trip home.  We had a little time to kill, so we took my daughter up to the airport’s observation lounge, where floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on the concourses and runways beyond.  I’m pushing 40, and I still love watching planes take off and land.  There’s something awe-inspiring about these huge metal contraptions that are able to break free of gravity and take to the skies.  Thanks to the ingenuity of humans, I can now get to the other side of the continent, a trip that used to take months, in a matter of hours.  I think with the annoyances of air travel and the relative discomfort of airplane seats, we tend to forget how amazing it is that our species has created machines capable of these feats.

Aside from the potential airports offer to just go, I also appreciate the opportunity they provide to people-watch.  Airports are buildings of welcomes and farewells.  I enjoy seeing people’s faces light up as they recognize a just-arrived loved-one approaching from down the concourse.  And I can empathize with those who have to say good-bye to a dear friend or family member who is about to depart.  It’s these types of situations where people tend to let their guard down and be a bit more human, and, if you like observing, airports give them to you in bulk.

As much as I like airports, I would never want to work in one.  That would be monumentally depressing to me.  All around me, people would be heading off to parts unknown and waiting for those they care about to arrive.  Meanwhile, I’d just be at work and going nowhere.  To someone who loves travel as much as I do, it would a kind of torture.  Instead I prefer that airport visits remain special for me.  I’ll be back in ours in about a month to pick up my brother, whom I only get to see about twice a year.  My kids and I will be waiting impatiently at the end of a concourse, gazing down it as far as we can hoping to catch a glimpse of him.  Once he arrives, my daughter will race over and wrap her arms around him.  He and I will exchange greetings and maybe a couple of smart-ass remarks, because that’s what we do.  And I won’t care in that moment how ugly airports can be because my brother is back home.

- Alan Decker (@CmdrAJD on Twitter)