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The five coolest things about airports

Airports get a bad rap. Broach the topic over dinner, and without hesitation you’ll be bombarded with tales of woe. A 17-hour delay in a terminal with no air-con. That trip to Rome when their luggage spent the week on a carousel at Paris Charles de Gaulle. Or just how bad the toilets are in some airport or other. 

We’re not here to deny any of that, because all those negative things – and many more – are true. 

But there’s another side to airports.

Along with the anxiety and the rules and all the other humans, it’s worthwhile, occasionally, to remind ourselves that they’re a gateway to the world.

They’re the pause before the starting whistle. They represent possibility, anticipation, hope, experience. 

Just this once, let’s forget about the delays, queues, ziplock bags and the weird smell of jet fuel, and instead, let’s focus on the positives. 

Here are some of the most magical things about airports. 

Airport emotion

Excitement and emotion run high at the airport. Photo: Getty

Public displays of emotion

We’re often told it’s healthy to connect with our feelings, but the fact is it’s far more convenient to shove those emotions as far down as possible and ignore them.

Of the select few places where it feels appropriate for them to surface, most are relatively private; the maternity ward, for example, or the darkness of a cinema.

The airport is the exception to that rule.

At any hour on any day, there’ll be grown men sobbing as they hug their teenage sons goodbye ahead of a gap year.  Young couples nervously clutching their newborn, awaiting that first visit from the grandparents. Romantic reunions, complicated by an overpriced helium balloon from the gift shop.

There’s so much emotion, and it all plays out under the strip lighting of Arrivals and Departures. What a glorious thing.

Kids at the airport

Next time you’re trudging through the concourse, feeling jaded about travel, scan the horizon for someone who’s new to it all.

Chances are, it’s a child, being pulled along on a Trunki or gazing out at the planes on the tarmac, very possibly licking the glass. 

Take a moment to remember the wonder and excitement you felt when it was still a novelty. Remind yourself of what a privilege it is, to be able to jet around the globe. And stop your whingeing. 

The breakdown in normal behaviour

Most of us have a routine that we stick to in everyday life.

As we set off on our travels, there’ll be some attempt to continue with that, but once you reach your second or third destination on a long-haul flight, all bets are off.

Sure, it might officially be 4am when you land in Doha, but 15 hours in Economy Class has turned time into an abstract thing. You’re just as likely to tuck into bacon, eggs and coffee as you are to hit the Champagne bar. 

Sleeping in the airport

Nowhere is off limits when it comes to getting some shut-eye at the airport. Photo: Getty

With that blurring of routine, any sense of what we ‘should’ be doing evaporates.

The number of strangers you’ll see publicly brushing their teeth increases exponentially. Grown-ups can be found napping literally anywhere. Seemingly sane individuals perform lunges and squats in any open space. 

Despite all the extra rules and regulations at the airport, so many elements of civilised life fall by the wayside, and it’s truly wonderful. 

Location, location … location?

Just as time becomes strangely flexible when travelling, so does our sense of place. Because, yes, we may have been physically in Kuala Lumpur since touching down two hours ago, but if you don’t actually leave the airport, are you actually ‘in’ Malaysia? 

It feels like a philosophical question, and one that very few of us can answer while jet-lagged. 

Regardless, there are benefits to these interstitial pauses during air travel.

One of the best is the chance to try the snacks and meals that are (we assume) local to our temporary holding pen. And, of course, if you don’t fancy anything, there’s always duty-free Toblerone.

It’s also very enjoyable, though far from fiscally sensible, to pretend you don’t understand the exchange rate as you browse the shops in this no man’s land. Is a tube of mascara costing 180 Qatari Rials good value? You’re too tired to calculate or care, so just tap that card. 

Airport employee

Your trip is only possible thanks to the co-ordination of thousands of airport workers. Photo: Getty

The sheer scale of the operation

An airport, whatever its size, is an intricate system of interconnecting roles.

On a typical day at Sydney Airport, for instance, there are about 30,000 employees at work, keeping things ticking over.

From flight crew and air traffic controllers to retail assistants, aircraft mechanics and dog handlers, it’s a microcosm of life, making it possible for us to explore the world. 

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for airports. 

Topics: Airports
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