Airports, they’re fraught places, aren’t they? Contained yet sprawling domains, brimming with intense emotions. I was mulling this over last time I was in YVR, welcoming the lover from a trip. Just the right occasion for this thought to occur, being in the airport without being consumed by actual travel.
I’ve flown enough to know the drill but not frequent enough for the novelty and nerves to wear off. Passengers are walking cocktails of mixed emotions and airport environments are designed to keep us in proper behaviour. We feel excitement and anxiety, anticipation and dread, either relief or sadness from leaving people or a place behind. Temporarily or for a long time, in some cases for life. Layered over these is the guardedness, making sure we’re not attracting attention, our belongings and travel documents are safe, and that we’re heading the right direction so that we’ll make it to the gate on time.
I first got on a plane when I was four, moving from Davao to Manila. I don’t remember the airport, my memory jumping from a pickup truck (may have been an actual truck–trust me, we made it safely) that brought us there to the brightly-lit cabin of white walls and cushioned seats. It’s a shame–that was my only pre 9/11 airport experience and I can’t remember it. I wonder how different the experience of travel back then, how goodbyes were made. Send-off scenes taking place at the tarmac, plane propellers whipping hair at one’s face or waving at someone on a vessel unmooring from the dock are just stuff of movies. Like fairy tales. We are at the age of well-wishers watching their beloved disappear behind opaque glass panes, joining a long queue of tensed travellers removing jackets and shoes. In some airports (NAIA comes to mind), you say goodbye on the drop-off sidewalk. You don’t even get to hug in an air-conditioned lobby.
I imagine there are people who are used to it. Airline employees, maybe? Others who travel so often they breeze through security posts and immigration queues inured to the tension around them. Like many people, I wish I travel more and I wish travelling involved less stress. But I don’t feel like being one of those who are completely at ease in terminals and boarding gates. In a place where one is herded, scanned and surveilled, it would be nice to also feel and observe. Like a human being.