The Charms of Flying & Airports

Most people detest airports and flights for varying reasons from stringent custom rules, unfriendly intimidating officers, jet lag, lost luggage, and long lines causing worries of delays and missed flights. Dry airless planes will frighten the average person, never mind the germ-a-phobe. 

I vehemently disagree, despite the long list that I have endured throughout my flying career. I happily will accept these minor inconveniences to travel a long distance in a short time to explore the world. I feel freedom as soon as I clear customs. I feel as if I am entering a free neutral zone. The heavy weight on my shoulders are lifted of burden, obligation, and stress. Finally, I can purely focus on me fulfilling my wanderlust, and quality moments with my travel companions. 

Travel represents excitement and opportunities.

I find it difficult to sleep the evening prior to a vacation in eager anticipation. Each journey whether a solo trek, with friends, family, or meeting a special person in a familiar or undiscovered place will hold a special tale. Detours will occur, and sometimes that is part of the wonderful adventure. The unknown builds character filling my heart with a bag of mixed memories (happiness, fun, sorrow) shaping who I am today.

I share snippets of past journeys: 
I was 12 years old when my family (parents, brother, grandparents, and cousin) flew to Waikiki, Hawaii. That was my first trip on an airplane. My next had to wait a long period well over another decade. It was a big deal for a child of immigrants living in a working-class neighborhood to fly off to such an exotic tropical place. I did not know of many families that travelled more than a couple hours away from our city, never mind on a plane. Those kids that had flown, were usually on a one-way flight from their home country to immigrate into Canada. Flights are now a common expectation and convenient form of transportation for me now, but the novelty has not been lost. I still remembered being offered a glass of wine with my meal on route to Hawaii although I was clearly underage. “Miss, red or white?” That was when alcoholic beverages were offered complimentary with North American airlines. Now many airlines charge for soda, and the basic human necessity, H20. I felt very special to be greeted upon arrival with leis and vaguely recall walking through the arrival terminal with eagerness. 

Not all travel memories are filled with innocent childhood nostalgia. I entered a travel shuttle heading to the Cabo, Mexico, airport, sobbing after saying goodbye to a boyfriend who didn’t deserve me and a fading bruise on both my face and heart. It was a blessing in disguise, the demise of our relationship. The American girl beside me holding an alcoholic beverage handed it to me, indicating, “I think you need this more than I do.” She cheered me up distracting me from my thoughts by talking about grad school and her adventures.

After a long journey from Africa, 10 hours in the Amsterdam airport seemed luxurious. It’s amazing how much time I frivolously wasted in the airport casino playing slots. Ironically, I often say, “I’m too cheap to gamble.” The only reason I removed myself was to head to the airport food court. Something as simple as seeing the familiar Golden Arches of McDonalds after weeks in a 3rd world country was comforting.
I think my girlfriend recalls the flight to Amsterdam as more amusing. I took a muscle relaxer to alleviate the pain and stiffness from whiplash. That year, I was an innocent bystander in 2 car accidents. I ended up falling asleep on a passenger who looked like the Uni-Bomber. This poor man that I not only labelled, just finished months of working in the bush explaining the scruffy appearance, but also used his shoulder as my body pillow. I had a great relaxing slumber snoring away. I would assume I drooled too, as I often do whenever I nap on an airplane. 
That same trip we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya without any luggage. It was expected to arrive the following day, except we were on route early to our volunteer orphanage placement in Arusha, Tanzania. Over the previous months, we had collected specific goods and supply donations for the children and appropriate apparel for ourselves. The shuttle driver agreed to make a pit stop back to the airport where we entered the chaotic security clearance again running to the small dingy office that “supposedly” held our baggage. We easily worked up a sweat due to the heat, adding to the perpetuating steamy body odor stink throughout Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Watch YouTube – Jamie Foxx,The Africa Smell. His stand-up description “god-damn musky funk” is funny, but one cannot truly understand unless it is experienced (sniffed) directly first hand. It all came together. We finally claimed our late baggage after some challenges with language barriers. What a relief!   

I am normally a poor sleeper, but I experienced another fantastic slumber in the Mexico City airport on route from LAX to San Salvador. I spread out on hard plastic chairs quickly heading to zzzz dreamland due to travel exhaustion. Although I set my phone alarm, I completely missed the buzzing despite my head directly resting on my knapsack pocket that held my iPhone. My only saving grace was that the building air conditioning kicked in. As a result, I awoke when I experienced the chills. It was a quick awakening when I realized how little, if any, time, I had to figure out my departure gate.

Recently, I wrote and wrote until my fingers became numb holding my pen too tightly on a 9-hour London flight from Heathrow back to Canadian soil maximizing the opportunity of uninterrupted time. I crafted my Toastmasters speech using my travel adapter as a metaphor for the many continents I’ve visited. I became inspired when my hand felt the universal adapter as I rummaged through my carry-on purse searching for my ear buds. I eventually advanced through 3 contests with this speech, each time embellishing my stories to captivate and encourage audience laughter. I eventually got ousted, but was proud of how I did. I also utilized the time to finalize a travel blog story that I had been procrastinating, and finished a Ben Affleck movie. I am that passenger who embarrassingly cries profusely when watching romantic dramas 
I blissfully took advantage of the Yoga Room in the San Francisco International rport awaiting my next flight. It was wonderful to focus on hip and heart opening poses after being confined to cramped airplane seating. I self-cared for my physical body while practicing the traditional yoga-lineage sequence, Surya Namaskar A & B. Why don’t more airports include Yoga rooms as part of their facilities for people to loosen their bones & muscles?  

Whenever possible, I book the aisle seat as I like the flexibility of getting up without disturbing my fellow aisle mates. I was not too pleased when I was asked to switch to the middle seat even if it was a short Las Vegas flight to LAX. I find being confined in between 2 people to be a claustrophobic nightmare. However, when the lady explained that she was the guardian for a high school band travelling (poor her!), and one of the musicians was ill. I felt empathy. Who does not feel that self-induced sickness after being in Sin City from overindulgence. Even worse as an adult chaperoning a belligerent adolescent. I know I did after 6 full days in Vegas, which was 4 days too long, partying with my cray cray friends who I love dearly. It was a week of drama and fun-filled Geordie Shore moments.  
Last summer when I was on route to Portugal I sat down in my pre-booked aisle seat, and the lady next to me clapped enthusiastically as she introduced herself. NO lie. That’s the type of seat companion I want for 10 hours. After she cheered, she exclaimed she was praying for a petite person like me. It was a bonus that I was ready for a drink before my nap. It’s amazing how one can become close friends for a brief moment and then waving, a permanent good-bye half a day later. She and her brother were heading to Africa for a safari to celebrate his milestone 40th birthday. Since a safari has been a fulfilled bucket-list item (check) I was more than happy to share my experience in the Seregenti. I told stories of lions mating (it’s fast…nano-seconds), wildebeest migration, waking up to full-bellied pregnant zebras grazing outside my tent. I also took the opportunity to discuss one of my favorite topics, volun-tourism.

This was not the first time I have experienced clapping on a plane. It’s not uncommon for passengers to clap when the pilot lands particularly after a turbulent flight. However, it’s not usual practice to clap for the flyers. Head to Boston for Patriots Day long weekend. It’s an official state holiday commemorating the first battles of the American Revolutionary War, and the prestigious Boston Marathon, has been held for over a century since April 19, 1897. I have been privileged to enjoy the Marathon and long weekend festivities as both a spectator and runner. It truly is an honor when a plane full of people starts clapping, acknowledging that those marathoners participating in an elite well-respected celebratory race earned their registration in search of the Marathon’s unicorn symbol, pursuit of an ideal.

By luck, 3 of 5 flights were first class when I travelled to Central America a couple summers ago. I looked forward to that experience as much as my holiday itself. I did not want to get off the plane. Customer service differs immensely, mainly there is service compared to the lack of, in economy class. One truly is treated as a human being, rather than cattle. I still cannot believe I was actually given a specialty mixed drink in a real glass and fresh linen WITH a smile. I shared a lovely conversation with my seat companion on route from Belize City to Atlanta. She was a single mom, a novelist, and someone who was very thoughtful in educating and culturing her children. One of the most wonderful aspects of travelling is encountering kindred spirits, even for a brief moment, who enlighten you on life.
The customs security dogs were sniffing baggage and passengers in the Guatemala City La Aurora International City Airport. Although I know I had nothing to be concerned about, I always feel a tad intimidated especially as an ethnic female travelling solo to dangerous countries. The twinge of anxiousness elevated to full on panic when the dog targeted my tote bag. Faccck – I have nothing to hide. I’m just an innocent friendly Canadian girl, eh. The customs agent examined my bag, and pulled out a flimsy plastic bag filled with corn tortillas. I guess the dog was hungry. I am trying for the life of me to remember where I got the tortillas from. I do not like the taste of corn tortillas, much preferring flour, but thought it would be strategic to carry them with me in case my stomach started growling for a long travel day.   

For any of those who live in cold climates that experience a snowy winter there is great happiness to venture off to a tropical beach. There is a challenging dilemma on whether to pack that bulky parka with the furry hood and cozy Uggs made of sheep-skin fleece. There was one Arctic cold winter where I decided against carrying those unnecessary items to Cuba. I looked ridiculous in my light-hoodie, thin tights, and flip flops with teeth chattering and body convulsing (please not, convulsing, not shivering) while crossing the street from the airport terminal to wait for the train to head home.As I write, memories flood me. I would not trade any of my experiences. I find it luxurious to have that time to meander through the airport retail shops, finish a smutty beach novel on long flights.
Next time your itinerary does not go as planned look at the glass half full. Your luggage went missing, only means you should check out the local shops. The reality is it is only stuff. Delayed flight. Use the opportunity to meander through the airport, finish the last chapter of the summer beach novel or read the work materials you brought along, chat to your travel companion over a local beer, or maybe meet a fellow passenger and share life stories. One interesting thing about strangers is that either one plays the therapist or patient role. I usually play the former, and have learned intriguing secrets about people which helps me examine life. Be still while calmly watching planes land, park, and depart. How often in life does one have an opportunity for quiet solitude?

I will be flying off in the upcoming weeks, and my stories are a reminder to keep an open mind if I run into any obstacles. Change is part of the charm of travelling.

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