Beyond the Eye of the Beholder

I love airports. People hate airports. Well, shucks.

Airports are massive inconveniences (in the US, at least): they are dreary, empty places where one must give up one’s privacy before being allowed to board a drab,  pressurized metal tube with crying babies and delays and other people,  am I crazy?

Don’t answer that. But here’s my thing: An airport is a launch pad for adventure. Just think about that for a moment. Your run-of-the-mill Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 can carry about 130 passengers. And while the possibilities may not be as exotic in Omaha as they are in LAX, JFK, Houston, Miami, or Charlotte, every single person is going to embark on some journey. That guy to your left may very well be going to heli-ski the alps, the woman in line behind you at the Starbucks may be going to visit her family in Zanzibar, and the overexcited unaccompanied minor might be going to visit his home country for the first time in his life. An airport is a building where so many human stories intertwine.

Back in 2006, I flew with my dad from Charlotte to Guadalajara, via Mexico City. In Mexico City, the plane–a Mexicana A319 flying in from Chicago (not that you really needed to know) was delayed by 4 hours due to severe storms in the Windy City. The airline gave us a free meal in one of the terminal restaurants–it was there where we met a fellow passenger. Her name is long forgotten to the ebb and flow of people I’ve met, but her story stuck. She was a worker at a Mexican business firm returning from a trip to China to talk to a supplier. While she was anxious to get back home, she had been stranded for 2 days on standby after being bounced from her first flight back home. The flight to Guadalajara was but a mere step in some long, circuitous route that the airline had her booked for, all she wanted to do was get back to her kids and husband. Once the plane arrived at the stand, we climbed on the bus to the boarding zone, said goodbye to the woman, and took our respective seats.

Don’t be so quick to discount her as just another victim of the airlines system. This was an hour-long encounter with a a living, breathing human who loved her family. This was a chance to get a glimpse into someone’s life and to learn what that person did, the names of her children and husband, the name of her firm, and to exchange fleeting glimpses into the live of what had been minutes before just another obstacle in the way of my family’s boarding of the plane. By exchanging words, she became less and less a shapeless…thing and more and more a person with likes, hates, dreams, and desperation like any other.

See why I love airports to much now? It’s not that the buildings are exciting (I find them VERY exciting), or that the planes are interesting (Planes are one of my passions, and I can identify them from the sky–model and airline, sometimes even destination), it’s the true cross-section of humanity present near those seats by Gate 9A, waiting in line for checkpoint C, and waiting for loved ones in Concourse A arrivals.

Beyond how you look at it. It’s how you think about it that can make or break your experience.

Eye Beholder

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