Things Airports Taught Me

One play that I’d really like to see in its entirety is Carol Shields’s Arrivals and Departures. Once upon a time, when I was a wee teenage drama student, we did excerpts from it in class. It’s a series of vignettes: slices of airport life.

I like airports, better than I like the actual flying part. While I can think of a million ways that flights can go wrong, airports appeal to my slightly neurotic side. Everything has signs, everything is scheduled, labelled, and ordered, and the rules are quite clear. Then there’s the notion of airports as liminal space, in-between space. That concept of the way-station, the passing-through point, appeals to me.

Plus, I write really well in airports.

Over the last year, I’ve been in a lot of airports. So many that when I tried to tally them up, it looked kind of obnoxious, and I wasn’t even sure if I remembered them all, and it just seemed better not to try.

You get good at airports, after a while. You learn their individual quirks, and how to adapt to new ones. You also learn to entertain yourself, which is what I’m doing right now as I sit at yet another gate. And so…


–        Proximity to outlets is the most important factor in determining where to sit. Sometimes this is the floor. That is ok.

–        It is also ok to wear dirty jeans and lug a giant backpack around, even if everyone else has a suit and briefcase.

–        Jaffas are not the healthiest lunch, but you will survive. And if it is your birthday, you can eat all the Jaffas you like (yes, I spent most of my last birthday in an airport, but it was Auckland, so I can’t complain).

Mmm…Jaffas…I miss you.


–        I am generally pretty awkward, but I am getting good at whipping out my laptop, finding every last coin in my pocket, and shucking off my coat in no time.

–        Sometimes, you know best. I cannot count how many times I have had the following conversation:

  • “Ok, dear, come through.”
  • “Wait, I haven’t taken off my belt!”
  • “You don’t need to.”
  • “But it always beeps!”
  • “You can leave your belt on.”
  • “No, trust me, it—”
  • “Come through, dear.”
  • Beep. Beep. Beep.

–        Everyone has a story.

–        Random things distinguish airports. I remember that Dulles has a Starbucks by the baggage claim. Wellington has the weird pay-as-you-go computer terminals (or was that Auckland?). The Island Airport has the awesome lounge of free things.

–        Stressed-out, sleep-deprived people are not the brightest.

–        The mantra of air travel: I guess we’ll find out.

–        Departures is more fun than Arrivals, unless you’re arriving home after six months.

–        Window or aisle? is a more revealing question that you’d think.

–        Information travels best by osmosis.

–        Free wi-fi is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

–        Sometimes, looking young and helpless is not necessarily a bad thing.

–        Air New Zealand rocks.

–        Responding to “Purpose of visit?” with “A science fiction convention!!!” will, in fact, get you weird looks

Time to board!


Posted on April 22, 2013, in Travel, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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