Another Pensive Airport Article

Airports can be hard to predict. When I got to the airport in Toronto ten days ago at 3:30am I was shocked by the mob scene that greeted me. It was only later when a friend informed me that it was the beginning of March Break that I understood the madness. Assuming that today is the last day of March Break, and that the same college kids and families who were flying out then are flying back now, I asked my lovely wife to drop me at the airport in Dallas earlier than I might normally have. From saying goodbye to being completely checked in and past the security checkpoint took a total of nine minutes. I decided to get in at least a few steps before sitting down with a cup of coffee, so I walked from one end of the terminal to the other a couple of times. I bought a package of almonds from one of the vendors, mostly so that I would have a bill smaller than a twenty in the event that the server once again comped my coffee.

I do not mind flying. There was a time when I was always really excited to get onto an airplane. Even in my late thirties and early forties, when I had hundreds of flights behind me and I was traveling constantly for work, my excitement had not quite abated. For the sake of appearing cool to my peers I would hide that excitement, often appearing to be as frustrated by the exercise as they were… but deep down inside I loved it. I loved the idea of sitting on a craft that would, in a matter of hours, transport me to another city, country, time zone, or continent. Even when flying in economy class, I loved that a lovely (or less lovely) flight attendant would come around with the drinks cart to offer me a beverage of my choice. I loved that when flying in business- or first-class I would be treated like a king, even if it was only for the few short hours I was on board. I loved the whole experience… and the minor inconveniences such as packing my carry-on bags with security in mind, taking my shoes off and emptying my pockets into a bin for scrutiny, and the long lines – from checking in, to security, to passport control for international flights – were just the price I paid for boarding an airplane that would take me into the heavens and transport me to a faraway place.

I am over that childlike excitement. It is not that I don’t like it now, only that I have gotten the childlike wonders of the romance of air travel out of my system. These days I fly less frequently than I once did, and though I no longer carry the status that made the whole process much simpler, my level of excitement about boarding an airplane is more about the destination than the trip itself. When I arrive at Toronto’s airport to fly to Dallas, I know I will within a matter of hours be with my wife, so I am always more excited than when she drops me off at the airport in Dallas for my return flight. When I am flying to Cuba, I am excited for the vacation, and when I am flying home, I am excited to return to the conveniences and relative luxuries of North America. Waiting to board the flight, getting settled into my seat and stowing my carry-on bags, getting jostled by people around me still do not bother me… but as the plane taxis, takes off, and eventually lands I am more likely to be engrossed in a book than watching out the window as we leave and come back to earth.

When I would fly with my parents, I was always disappointed that they would not indulge me with all of the tasty treats available at the airport, and when I was flying for business, I would buy whatever I wanted… as I would on board the flight. We would sit at the gate for however long we had to because walking around with little kids would have been taxing and stressful for them. When I fly now, I usually find a comfortable sit-down restaurant to nurse a bottomless cup of coffee, either while reading a book or writing (as I am now). Sometimes I just mess around on the Internet, scanning Facebook or looking at whatever scandal is currently embroiling our nations. As I am dieting, I try to not order any food, but I always let the server know that I will tip well for my coffee. Those treats that I would have bought for myself previously have been reduced to a bag of almonds… roasted, unsalted, and unseasoned. It is the healthiest snack that I can take onto the airplane, and I know that should I forget to buy them then I will be forced to eat the never-healthy snacks offered by the flight attendants. There is no joy in dieting until you get to buy smaller clothes.

I do not miss flying with my parents. As a child I was forced to follow their discipline (which, looking back as a parent, was the smart move on their part). The few times I flew with them as an adult – even when I bought their tickets for them – were no more enjoyable. I remember once snickering as my mother talked down to me about the realities of air travel… I had likely been on ten times the airplanes that she ever had been. Nevertheless, she was who she was, and telling her that she was wrong – or even telling her that I knew all about air travel – would have been a fruitless exercise. This was, after all, the woman who once held court to correct me and explain to a group of her friends about life in the Israeli Defense Forces, shortly after I had earned my Sergeant stripes in that army in which she had never served. Sometimes it is just easier to sit back and laugh it off… it would have been as easy for me to lift the airport terminal and move it as it would have been to convince her that she was wrong.

I do miss the excitement of air travel though. It was easier to leave wherever I was when I had that excitement about flying. I miss having the wonder in my eyes when the beverage cart would come and I would decide what to drink – so often something that was not available where I lived – and asking the flight attendant for a glass with ice, and to leave me the can. When I was not dieting, I would love deciding which snack box to indulge in… the crackers and cheese in one would be tempting, but the hummus and dried fruit in the other would be appealing as well. For longer flights I would love selecting the meal option that was most appealing to me – again, much more so when at the front of the plane. None of this excites me anymore, but fortunately it also does not bother me. My travels would be much more stressful if I let any of this – the madness of the airports and such – bother me.

By the time you see these words, dear reader, I will be safely home. Right now, I am still an hour from boarding my flight which will take me there. If I had not by now gone through five or six refills on my bottomless coffee, I would stay put for another half hour, but there are biological necessities to address, and so I will schedule this piece to publish tomorrow morning and will settle up before finding a restroom and then my gate. I will make sure my water bottle is full before boarding – it is so much more economical with airports offering water fill-up stations – because I am not going to order any more coffee on the plane, and their bottled water is really from a tap in New Jersey. Thanks, but no thanks.

The world is a much smaller place than it was the first time my parents took me by the hand as we boarded a Boeing 747 to visit grandma and grandpa in Florida forty-five years ago. I have seen so many of the far-off and wondrous lands that I might only have seen in books or on television, although I am still happy to travel to new ones… and to revisit some that I have already seen. There is no corner [sic] of our globe that I have not at least brushed against, and should the urge hit me I can, with planning, do it again. Thinking back on so many of those places that I have visited, it is most often the destination that has been more exciting than the trip itself. I will never shy away from flying, but I would not just board a flight for the sake of it.


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