Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Comfort of Airports

Traveling out and about last week and this, and while it's on the road type travel (though no existential poetry from me, mind you, and certainly not on a scroll) it has given me the occasion to stop and think about traveling in general. For a while I was doing quite a bit of it in the air, to the extent where I managed to accrue enough frequent flier miles to actually use. I used up all of them at once, and haven't done much traveling since, but I figured at the time the nearly free ticket was better than holding out for the first class upgrade. At the rate I was traveling, if I'd kept going, I expect eventually I'd have made that upgrade though.

And let me tell you, it's a very, very nice upgrade. Not worth three times the coach price, unless you have that kind of money just lying around, but worth taking the upgrade when you can get it.

I like flying, for the most part. I have issues with take-off and landings, but that's simply my brain crunching the numbers and realizing that's when most accidents happen. Plus there's the noise and the shaking and the rattling... and that I don't drink before I get on the plane. Regardless, it's still enjoyable. Not my preferred way to travel, as coach is still coach, with not enough space, not quite enough food - though international travel has domestic trips beaten in terms of food quality and quantity by quite a bit - and too many people. Considering on the really long trips I can sleep through a lot of it, and that I don't suffer from jet lag, it's still the fastest way to go around the world.

Travel the same path often enough and you get to know the airports, too. To a certain extent all airports look alike, regardless of the country you're in. Partly this is because whatever the native language might be, English is the language of travel, and so it's on every sign you see. (The bilingual signs in Canada always crack me up, but that's another story entirely.) Partly it's also because the needs of the traveler remain pretty much the same the world over: food, trinkets/souvenirs, hygiene products, and diversions. That latter category includes everything from books to music to movies, now available just about everywhere. Even when there isn't a skymall.

That familiarity breeds a certain amount of comfort. You get off the plane in a strange land (and even if you've been there before it's still a strange land when you're far from home), yet you have this familiar buffer zone before you have to make the full transition. If you're going elsewhere and stopping on a connecting flight you have the chance to eat, walk, or whatever, again in a familiar and less crowded environment.

If, like I was, you find yourself traveling the same routes often, those foreign airports take on an extra degree of familiarity. It doesn't make the trip monotonous, at least it didn't for me, but it does alleviate some of the headaches when you know where you're going inside a massive international terminal. In some ways I had started to gauge the length of my trip by where I was. One airport was closer to the beginning, the next layover closer to the end, and so there was a sense of anticipation that built from place to place. At the very least, I knew where to go to find a good place to get out of the way and relax.

In an odd way I kind of miss it. Not so much that I find myself going back to airports to hang out - though there's a story in there, I think, and not the one with Tom Hanks - but just enough to have acquired a certain amount of nostalgia.

Because honestly, even if they have bench seats, airports still aren't all that comfortable a place to sleep.

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