The atmosphere at airports has always thrilled me – all those people coming and going, for all sorts of reasons. I try to imagine what it was like in ancient times: the same hustle and bustle must have been noticeable then at places where horses and carts came and went, and at the harbours where passenger ships set sail. Distances and travel times may have changed enormously over the years, but the excitement might have been even bigger back then, since travelling was certainly less common in those days.
These airport vibes have fascinated me since I was a small child, and I still feel the urge to find out why people are travelling and where they are going to. The most common reasons are holidays and business but there are many other reasons to get on a plane – some of them happy, some sad.
Quite a few of the passengers I meet are going to visit family or friends overseas. What strikes me in particular is often the length of time since some of these people last saw their loved ones. On a recent flight to Tehran there was a couple who hadn’t seen their parents for twenty years! Having my family around me, and being able to travel to almost every country in the world, it’s hard for me to imagine how it would be to see my family only once every twenty years. My heart missed a beat when I saw the Iranian couple re-united with their folks at the airport, hugging and hugging again and again.
Some people have a very sad reason to travel: to bury a loved one. It often crosses my mind that they probably didn’t even have the opportunity to say farewell, which is sad.
A particularly heart-rending experience was an older man who was travelling on one of my flights to ‘bring home’ his wife. She had passed away during their holidays in Mexico. He told me about all the great trips he made with her, about how funny and sweet she was and how much he was going to miss her. The only thing I could do was listen to him and wipe away a tear now and then.
Luckily, many people have far more happy reasons to travel. Like the girl on my last flight. She was going to meet the guy she had met while working for a foreign company. She showed me a picture of the love of her life and kept it on her lap during the whole flight.
I can’t think of any other place where so many different emotions come together every minute of the day as at an airport. That must be the thing that keeps the fascination going.