Airports are terrible. Yes. We all know it. It’s such a banal and obvious statement that it feels silly, almost, putting it in print.
The list of things that are terrible about the airport are long and obvious. The waiting. The security process, the dead eyes that look at you as you walk through the creepy body scanner, the stress as you try and get your shoes on and grab your bags and get your belt back on, all while stuffing your laptop into your bag and there are fifteen people waiting behind you, everyone impatient, unhappy, tired, uncomfortable.
And the air. That recycled air, both in the airport and on the plane, that air that you just KNOW is getting you sick, the germs just filtering in and around you, grimy and vicious and disease-ridden.
Not to mention the screaming kids and the sleazeball sitting next to you on the flight who spends 3 hours hitting on you or the pretentious pricks in first class who you just know are judging you as you walk past them…it’s all pretty awful, flying.
Even at the things you’d think airports would be good for, like people-watching; they aren’t event good for that.
Why? Well, it’s just too much. Trying to people-watch at the airport…do it for more than five minutes and you’ll get that feeling you get after spending six hours at an art museum. Your eyes glaze over. It’s overload. There are too many people, too many walks of life, all smushed up in uncomfortable ways, all competing for your attention. It’s like there are two TV shows playing at the same time and you’re trying to process both. Or, better yet, it’s like trying to watch a TV show when they don’t drown out the background actors’ audio. You’re trying to focus on the main characters and what they’re saying, but the sound levels are screwed up, so you’re trying to aurally process like fifteen different speakers, and the whole thing gets all jumbled up and messy. This is what happens at the airport. It’s too much, so you just throw on your headphones and pull out the new trash novel you have and feel sorry for yourself because your flight got delayed and life is so unfair.
I met a kid once who liked flying. Loved it. To the point that he would book flights with the goal of trying to win more flights. Like, he’d wait to be one of those flights where they asked if anyone would be willing to give up their seat in exchange for ticket credit. He would then run up to the desk and offer to wait a few hours or whatever, and they’d give him a free flight. Then he’d hope that on that next, free flight, the same thing would happen. He told me that one year he flew 25 times, all for free.
I asked him where he went with all those flights, and he told me, I think, but we were also six whiskeys deep at a bar called Ms. Mae’s in New Orleans and I don’t really remember where he went or what he did. I just remember him wanting to go on all those flights. Some real Up In the Air type shit.
I don’t like flying. Not only because of the reasons listed above, the stale air and the screaming babies and the assholes in first class or even the low people-watching return on investment. I don’t like flying because airports make me think about myself in deep ways that I hate, ways that make me feel like shit. It’s impossible to sit in an airport for more than thirty minutes without transforming into an irritable five-year-old—all it takes is a slight delay to turn me into a cranky, self-obsessed cretin who can’t believe how shit my luck is. I have, without irony or self-awareness, complained about the way US Airways treated me, complained about the company in a way that I would normally reserve for someone who had assaulted me or stolen a good deal of money from my person.
I hate the way this makes me feel. I hate that I submit to the airport narrative so easily, this narrative that flying is TERRIBLE and everything bad always happens to ME.
But I am trying to change. Despite the lack of quality people-watching, despite mine own horrific tendency to turn into a whiny toddler in an airport, despite all that, I’m trying to change, to adopt an appreciation of the miracle of flight.
I know this sounds new-agey and Zen. I promise you it’s not. Or at least, that’s not my reason for doing it. What is my reason? Well, mostly because I’m sick of the other way. I’m sick of feeling sorry for myself. Of lamenting half-hour delays in the way I lament famine in third world countries. Of being such a spoiled piece of shit in airports.
So I am going to try. Try not to see the hordes of hideous, ugly people waiting with me as the hideous and ugly, but rather as a sort of miraculous gathering of Americana, the great melting pot, forced to come together and interact, despite how uncomfortable we are. Because there are moments of genuine human interaction at the airports. Good people un-self-consciously doing good things. We let the elderly board ahead of us. We watch a stranger’s bag when they run to the bathroom. We maybe even, on rare, beautiful occasions, applaud some soldiers hopping off a flight.
It is a miracle, you see, flight. And shitty people-watching possibilities, and flight delays and crummy food and recycled air that makes us feel sick and stale; it’s all irrelevant. Because flying is a miracle.
I’m going to try and remember that. You should too. Because it’s too horrible the other way, feeling sorry for yourself. Just appreciate the miracle. Notice it. The moment of takeoff.
You and your seatmates, newly brought together, a community almost, have to buckle in, shut down your cell phones, turn off your headphones, and, in an eerie whoosh, put your lives in the hands of another person. The pilot. Up ahead. And in that moment, that miraculous moment, you forget all the other shit, the greasy food and the baby screaming in the terminal and the thirty minute delay and the stale air, and you join your other seatmates in one huge inhalation, a gasp, as you put your life in the hands of the man up front. You submit.