Thoughts, Travel

Home: Airport

June 16, 2018

I am what Alain Botton, the author of A Week at the Airport, would call a nomadic spirit, who cannot commit to any one country, who shies from tradition and is suspicious of settled community, and who is, therefore, nowhere more comfortable than in the intermediate zones of the world, landscapes gashed by kerosene storage tanks, business parks and airport hotels. In short, the airports of the world and the cabins of Boeings, Airbusses, Embraers, Canadair Regional Jets and Bombardier Dashs are my second home.

Even though I am afraid of turbulence and flying at night and through thick clouds, I love the atmosphere at airports, which tells you that anything is possible. If money is not an issue, you can be anywhere in the world in a little more than a day. You can fall asleep in Europe and wake up in North America. You can get on a plane in summer and get off in winter. And if you listen closely enough, the majestic four-engine plane that just arrived in Canada from Asia might tell you a fascinating story about its eventful journey across the Pacific. 

After more than 25 years and more than 100 flights in my 20s, I still remember my first flight vividly. It was an extremely bumpy Finnair charter flight from Vienna to Kalamata in Greece. Because my grandmother had told me that it was dangerous flying without your sunglasses on, I refused to get on the plane. A few steps from the white and light-blue plane, my mother hadn’t convinced me that it wasn’t necessary to put them on yet, so with at least 100 people in line behind us, she finally gave in to my request and took my small pink sunglasses out of her bag. 

It must have been quite an exhausting flight for my parents because I wanted to know every ten minutes if we were there already. I was also very curious about everything that happened on the two-hour flight, why the plane had to tilt, what fasten seatbelt meant, and why the flight was so bumpy. With regard to the latter, my father attempted really hard to find the best possible explanation, and I have to admit, I still have to laugh about it. He said that the pilot was a young blond Finn, who didn’t have much flying experience, and for some reason, childish naïveté perhaps, it didn’t even freak me out. Later, it turned out that the pilot really looked like my father had described him, but now I’m thinking if it was really so hard figuring out that the Finnish pilot was most likely blond.

I first crossed the Atlantic at the age of 12. Both flights were more adventurous than any of the ones I had been on before, not just because we flew Air France. Before the introduction of in-seat entertainment, there wasn’t much to do on the eight-hour flight from Paris to New York. Therefore, while my father watched silent Mr. Bean episodes on one of the four old overhead TV’s in the jumbo’s large cabin, I took a nap. I don’t remember the flight being particularly bumpy, but then again, I was only awake when it was time to have lunch and dinner, which we had selected from a small menu distributed before take-off.

The return flight was much more adventurous because the plane was broken, which, I guess, was not much of a surprise since we were flying Air France. After keeping us at the gate for more than two hours, they finally admitted that the jumbo’s engines had failed, and that we had to spend the night at Hotel Ramada near JFK Airport. While I was extremely excited about being able to watch Venus Williams play at the US Open that night, my father was not particularly happy because he had forgotten the key for his suitcase at home, and had to spend an hour in total opening and closing the suitcase’s locks with a small foil (yes, they were still allowed on planes back then). Luckily, my father got up early enough the next day to secure seats on the direct flight to Paris. Some unlucky passengers had to fly to Paris via Hong Kong because otherwise, they wouldn’t have gotten a return flight in days. 

While I only flew about twice a year when I was smaller and didn’t care too much about how I got to the lovely beaches of the Greek Peloponnese or the breathtaking rain wood forest of the small Canary Island Gomera, I became a passionate air traveler when I moved to Ireland at the age of 16. During my 17 flights that academic year, I flew through a thunderstorm in a small Aer Arann propeller plane from Galway to Dublin in Ireland, threw up on a Lufthansa plane from Frankfurt to Vienna, as well as at Frankfurt Airport, figured out that it was quite hard to communicate to a German stewardess that I urgently needed a puke bag (Speibsackerl in Austrian German, Kotztüte in German German), had to pay almost 1000 Euros for overweight luggage, and started getting interested in what plane took me home to Austria or to my second home in Ireland.

My love-hate relationship with air travel got even more serious during my university studies in Austria, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Canada. Especially after relocating to the West coast of Canada, I often either traveled home to Austria or to conferences in North American and Europe. As I am getting older and have had a full-time Job for a few years, I’ve started to realize that it is sometimes nicer relaxing on the couch, watching a James Bond movie than having to rush from terminal one to terminal three at Heathrow Airport to catch a 10-hour connecting flight, but I still love the atmosphere at airports, the endless possibilities that air travel has introduced to the world, as well as writing about my experiences at the world’s airports and on board various fascinating aircraft.

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