The Comfort Of Airports



I’m typing this in Comptoir, the Lebanese restaurant at Gatwick airside – yes, Mr Trump, we have a cafe full of Arabs inside an English airport – shaking with fear yet? When it comes to airports, I’m on author Brigid Brophy’s page. You may remember (at least, one or two of you may) that she wrote ‘In Transit’, about someone who loses their gender and identity in an airport. I feel the same way. You can be however you want, so long as you remain tethered to that little book in your pocket. Best, it allows you to quietly observe.

My argument then, your honour, is that airports are wonderfully calming places (only if you arrive in lots of time, obviously), and that even the great ones get bad press.

Squeezing past a fat tattooed man in shorts a few minutes ago, I listened to him patiently explaining to his recalcitrant son why he should buy a book. I watched a lady of no young years marching with a heavy case and two other bags up the stairs rather than take the escalator, and listened as my Lebanese waiter gave a young couple his favourite restaurant tips for their holiday.

The best airports I’ve ever been in are Singapore (for the staggering shoppertunities) and Cairo (because it looks more like a railway station). When I first went to the West Indies they used to set your luggage out in a field. In Cambodia officials stuffed entry money into suitcases they had hidden behind their counters. In  Italy, fog turned the airport into a hostel, and there was a knife fight in the bathroom.

Airports are virtually my only contact with families, although the grouping at Gatwick is usually mother and son going somewhere sunny. Yet for every flight going to Jamaica there’s one going to a place with which I’m unfamiliar. Easyjet caters for the more obvious destinations, but Ryanair will get you to places only Romanians know about. Even WH Smith seems more bearable at an airport; I found a book on the rack that I actually wanted to read (‘A Very British Scandal’, about Jeremy Thorpe, if you must know).

I watch staff hopefully milling around passengers trying perfumes they have no intention of buying (end shelf on the right, Tom Ford, my tip) and see the same poor sod in a cheap suit trying to raffle off an ugly man-car on the concourse every time I’m there. The Gap-Yah lads and girls (‘We had to go to Andorra for snow this season, the Alps were so dreadful!’), the wide-boys and their girlfriends shyly ordering pints and an FEB in Jamie’s, the harassed mothers picking up toys from three small children who are rolling about on the floor, the flight attendants (why can’t we call them air hostesses anymore? It’s so much more glamorous – attendant sounds like it should be preceded with the word ‘toilet’) all go to make it an interesting experience if you’ve a mind to be upbeat about travel, and not regard it as something horrible that merely connects A to B.

For viewing, watch ‘Up in the Air’, for reading try the Brophy, for listening, try the soundtracks to the OSS movies – and learn to relax.


13 comments on “The Comfort Of Airports”

  1. chazza says:

    “FEB”? Fried egg buttie?

  2. David Ronaldson says:

    Full English Brioche

  3. RobA says:

    Brilliantly observed. I’ve just started doing a reasonable amount of work travel after a few years of just been UK based and have always enjoyed the reflection time you can get in an airport – providing you are through to “airside”.. Does anybody ever buy that guy’s tickets?

  4. George Mealor says:

    Air Wranglers?

  5. admin says:

    FEB = Full English Breakfast. ‘Double EB, Fried Slice and a cup of rosie please!’ (See entry on breakfast last week)

  6. Vivienne says:

    It’s all OK until your flight gets delayed and you wondear if you can rush through some foreign airport for your important connection! Otherwise a great place for tattoo spotting.

  7. Porl says:

    I wish I could apply this!! The idea of the flight still fills me with so much terror and im always envious od those that get to enjoy this pre-experience and have it an enjoyable extra part of their trip. It just serves to fill me with an added two hours of dread! Need to address it.. :-/ I do love however waiting at train stations with a good book and people watch for a while….

  8. Brooke says:

    This post is somewhat ironic in light of the headlines about United Airlines.

  9. Steveb says:

    Funny enough, I’m just standing in Mexico City airport

  10. Richard Burton says:

    I used to be a chauffeur, so I spent a lot of time at airports. People watching was a life saver. Like the chaos of an Indian wedding party arriving at T3, to be met by an equally large welcoming party – cheerfully chatting and hugging as Arrivals ground to a halt around them. It was lovely and hilarious. The odd celeb, the huge selection of ties, dodging the carpark attendants, trying to beat my personal best for driving up the spiral carpark ramps, airports can be an adventure still. Limoges airport used to be fun when it was like a railway station, the cafe was bigger than the airport! Like an unrepressed Brief Encounter.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Had our European trip delayed 3 years ago by a labour dispute in Iceland. We spent the extra 2 hours with books and coffee in Vancouver airport (beautiful place to wander with some marvelous local carvings) and chatted with another couple headed to Britain. Next day we ran into them twice – once at the British library. Definitely my kind of people.

  12. Adam says:

    I’m a big fan of regional airports. From my local airport (still called Hurn Airport by everyone, but officially the much grander-sounding Bournemouth International), I can get from my front door to a tapas bar in Palma Mallorca in under 3 hrs, including check-in. They fly to a fair few destinations, and I’ve never had a delayed flight yet….

  13. Helen Martin says:

    With transport like that how can anyone in Britain be isolationist?

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