The Romance of Airports

Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India

For different people, travel begins at different times. It ranges from an itch of going elsewhere, beginning the research, or booking tickets, finalization of the destination, applying for the visa, or maybe researching and freezing the itinerary.

For me it begins when I see the magical lights of the departure airport. It looks like an enchanted urban forest with fire flies, especially if it is a late night flight.

The approach towards the place, where modern day wanderers and explorers of sorts get together and then disperse to faraway lands, is captivating. The television screens are magical places with destinations traveled and unexplored listed on them. The extremely well lit airports have this other worldly feeling to them.

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The best part of the ‘airport experience’ is people. The busier the airport, the more diverse and heterogeneous is the group of people. The immaculately dressed staff in colors ranging from office-going safe navy blue suits to traditional sarees in experimental flirty orange. There are passengers from all possible ethnicity, ages and backgrounds. There are happy family vacationers, cooing madly-in-love couples, lost in deep thought solo travelers, engrossed telephone conversing business travelers and sleep deprived flight hoppers to name a few.

The more fascinating part of this experience is the range of emotions one gets to see. Airports are essentially about hellos and goodbyes. These have to be said in a limited period of time because of no waiting rules that govern most of the car lanes at the drop-off points. So the farewells get intense, for most.

The range of emotions might be multiple, but the profoundness is always extraordinary.  Interestingly, there was a Dutch airport reality television show titled ‘Hello, Goodbye’ (originally a British format). The show involved the presenter, roaming around Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and Heathrow Airport in London where people at the departures and arrivals were asked who they were saying goodbye to or welcoming home. The producer said that whenever he feels the world has less love, he goes to the airport.

Airports are also a display-of-strength of sorts. There are rankings and ratings that release a list of best airports of the world annually. They behave like a mini cities or countries, micro-universes, giving a glimpse of what that destination is known for. The décor is meticulous. The upholstery, scrupulous.

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The overpriced shops that sell souvenirs, books and other items are tempting. The washrooms customized to cater to long distance travelers are a relief. The poker faced immigration authorities throw an inviting challenge – ‘cross us if you can’. Even after traveling to more than two dozen countries I still feel my palms sweating when I approach the immigration and security check counter and feel a sense of victory when am through.

The romance of travel shifts to the next chapter when the announcement of your departure is made. The travelators or airport buses whisk you away to the sequel of the magical part of the journeys called air planes. How do planes fly, anyway?

[This post was originally published on The Times of India]

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