For most people airports are part of a necessary but undelectable stretch between point A and point B. For others, such as myself, airports are a world unto their own, with secrets and discoveries that could keep one occupied for hours on end.
My infatuation with these hubs of transportation began at a very young age. I remember several times checking at LAX in with my mother as a young child, the alien but wonderful view from the restaurant that faced the tarmac, the reverence with which I treated my passport and the kindness that the flight attendants showed us when they upgraded us to business class.
I can also recall the first time I was allowed to fly alone (9 years old), and my silent seething rage when the staff at Chicago airport made me sit in the unaccompanied minors room – a hell filled with other children, the stale smell of McDonalds french fries and an endless repeat of Doctor Phil and Ricki Lake shows on tv.
As great as my frustration in Chicago was my joy in Heathrow when I was allowed to roam freely for the very first time at the ripe age of eleven. Everything seemed absolutely extraordinary seen through my newly independant eyes. I spent almost an hour browsing the confectionary shelves of the gift shops. I spied on mature gentlemen in tweed enjoying an afternoon pint at the airport pub and with dire solemnity allowed myself a cup of tea and a sandwich at some now forgotten coffee chain, carefully counting out notes in a foreign currency at the counter.
Years later, when travelling alone has become the norm, I always make sure to check in well before necessary, if only for the joy of discovering a new airport, or of reliving the hubub and atmosphere of an old acquaintance.
Some flights have been memorable than others. I recall spending the night at Lübeck airport after Ryan Air had denied us boarding. In the middle of the night we slipped out and walked down foggy woodland roads towards what we hoped was Lübeck city center. We didn’t make it all the way, but I still have the amateur horror scenes we shot in black and white in the airport parking lot and the sudden sound of guard dogs exploding in a rapture of barking and growling somewhere close, too close.
Another vivid memory is landing in Palermo for the first time. How the plane seemed to fly past the island, only to do a hairpin turn and – caressing the side of the mountain – take a deep dive seemingly into the ocean only to land on an impossibly thin strip of sun-bleached land.
And I’ve been drunk at airports more times than I care to recall. Working in the restaurant business it has becom a regular feature to rather wait for the morning in a local bar than head home and perhaps fall asleep and miss the flight. Our low point was probably waiting for a flight to Paris in the early morning. Bored, drunk and merry we spent our time wheel-chair racing outside of the security check-in at Gardemoen Airport, Oslo. Strangely without any reprimands from airport personnel… Similar activities have been indulged in at Kastrup Airport. Back before the trains between Copenhagen and Malmö ran all night one was more likely than not to be stranded after a long evening shift. A bunch of us would take the metro out to Kastrup, go to the 24.hour Seven Eleven and buy candy and copious amounts of beer, then waste away the hours until the first train in the morning.
Today I have a ritualistic approach to flying. Since I’m away maybe once or twice a month I always try to grab a glass of champagne in transit. It’s a lovely feeling of simultaneous immersion and isolation to sit on ones own, gazing at the crowds with tired eyes. I’ve also come to appreciate good food and a decent wine selection on another level than before. My favorites are the little family run Asian place in Frankfurt Airport Terminal 1, the delicatessen that also serves delicious whites anchovies in Barcelona Airport and and the Obicà bar in Fiumicino Airport, Rome. Obicàs mozzarella and burrata bar is great for a lunch or snack, and together with a good selection of wines from Feudi di San Gregorio it’s reason enough for me to give myself a good extra hour or two in the airport before takeoff…
To put it simply, the atmosphere and promise of airports and travel enthralled me at a young age and continue to fascinate me to this day. And they just keep getting more and more interesting…