It is rare to come across someone who hasn’t been to an airport, or even on a plane in the past year or so. Airports are a type of social and cultural enigma. Things that are considered socially acceptable in airports, such as genuine and unabashed joy or sadness, would be out of place anywhere else. Airports imply distance, travel, reunions, separations, adventure; often a potent mixture of several things. It is probably more common to see true emotion at a terminal entrance than a wedding altar.

Despite this, the glamour of air travel has somewhat waned with the advent of affordable airlines (nothing extravagant about budget economy). The passengers’ dignity is often stripped down, both literally and figuratively, as they navigate endless baggage scans, passport hurdles, take off their belts/shoes/jackets/jewellery, and face the dreaded pat-down.

Is the timeless adventure of travel endurable, or has it been dulled down and lost in translation in the face of an army of apathetic airport security and irritated stewardesses? There are two airports in every one; it is what you make of the experience that changes your airport into either The Good Airport or The Bad Airport.

There are few things more unpleasant than The Bad Airport. It is all your travelling nightmares rolled in one. It is the unlucky seat on the plane next to the inevitable crying baby. There is a queue of immeasurable length to the passport check, when you are already late for a flight. Naturally, you have spilled something within minutes of receiving your food on flight, and for the next 6 hours there is nothing you can do about it. The conveyor belt is churning out bags that are the wrong shape, colour and size because they are not your bag, which is either lost, got dumped on the wrong plane or is the last one out.

The Bad Airport is stuffy and crowded, it heaves with frustration and sleeplessness, it is a confused mess and in all the hurry you have forgotten something on your journey from terminal x to terminal y. Security is a nightmare, and they cannot figure out what it is that is beeping every time you go through, but they’ll be damned if they don’t find out. There is something at the bottom of your carry-on that is casting unsavoury suspicion on you, and you must take out your perfume/metal object/tweezers in the name of National Security. The Bad Airport is inevitable, at least once in a life time of travel. Not much can be done; a fast paced, angry tide is making it unlikely that things will work out.

The Good Airport is everyone’s greatest fantasy. Luck seems to be magnified in significance when it involves air travel. The Good Airport throws you that one-off, never again, airline-fluke business class upgrade – that rare and precious gem which has become airline legend to many, but which nobody is willing to give up the hope of. Your bag is in the first group to come out and you have managed to hit passport check before the crowd.

The Good Airport is self-assured and promises excitement up ahead. It is the journey to your holiday, not from it. It is the homeward journey after months away, not of painful goodbyes. It is breathtaking sunsets far above the clouds, stewardesses that give air planes their old 1950’s mystery. For once, you go through a scanner and nothing happens. The Good Airport promises a happy journey ahead.

While both experiences are vivid, and often unforgettable, it is more likely that a journey will consist of both the good and the bad. Each airport is both experiences, and while it is uncertain which is going to happen, there will definitely be some surprises. Airports have altered in significance. They are no longer for the Elite, they are for everyone, and despite their often annoying and unpleasant nature, they take us where we need to go. All we can do is fasten our seatbelts, put our seats upright and stow our tray tables; it may not be a pleasant journey, but it is a journey nonetheless.



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