“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends… If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
The British movie, Love Actually, immortalized the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport, and I totally agree with the sentiment.Airport departure halls, too, have their moments of joy. A departure hall always used to make me light-headed with anticipation, its utilitarian sparseness completely at odds with the potential realization of long-term dreams as passengers queue to pass through the myriad gateways – those Monsters Inc doors that lead to untold adventures. Every airport the same – sterile and humourless – the perfect foil to the excitement simmering below the surface.
Yet as I get older, waiting in airports to head off on a new adventure forever fails to inspire, a vacuum in time and space, and such a waste of both. Terminal? Totally. A drifting, dreary, interminable wait in queues and on hard plastic seats; announcements you either cannot hear, or cannot understand that apparently promise only endless, inexplicable delays or gate changes you cannot find. A cellphone that runs out of credit from sheer boredom, just as I realize I forgot to charge my lap top. I have seen all these shops a million times before, and the food is plastic, tasteless and over-priced. Frustrated and maudlin, I imagine dramatic, tragic endings to these aggravating proceedings that on the whole would be a relief.
Behind the vast glass windows life goes on. Here time is on hold. Here it is all baggage checks and long lectures about the dangers of travelling with a bottle of water or a too-large tube of hand cream. Will flinging water all over the captain really prevent him flying the plane? Will squirting him with hand-cream make his hands slip on the controls and crash the plane? It all seems so petty, time consuming and pointless. Really? I could blind him with toothpaste? Who would have thought? My mother’s knitting needles, yes, I can see those might be lethal in the wrong hands, but nail clippers? When did we all get so nervous? Do I really need to take off my shoes five times and have my handbag scanned every 20 metres? Do I look like someone with a penchant for lugging gunpowder round the world?
And yet, the reasoning, reasonable part of me knows they are simply trying to protect us all, and prevent disaster. The stiff officiousness is doubtless disguising impatience with all those whinging customers fed up with being treated like disobedient cattle.
So I bite my tongue, stifle my impatient, heavy sighs and immerse myself in a book, or entertain mself with a little people-watching.
And then, at last, boredom is curtailed, as a friend rescues me from cattle class queues and whisks me into the first class lounge for five star wines and a full English breakfast, the chance to relive the highlights of a happy holiday and forget my little irritations. After all, perhaps life in airports can be a pleasant moment in time like it used to be…