Monday, June 15, 2009

From Kitty Hawk Direct to My Heart

In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright performed the first heavier-than-air human flight in their new-fangled airplane. This magical invention begat over a century of expanded global travel, and, more importantly, the invention of airports.

I love airports. Train stations, too, but it's really airports that I could spend some serious time in. I like the bustle of them, the suppressed emotions (excitement, confusion, occasionally rage) in the air, the off duty flight crews clipping their way ever so efficiently through the crowds with their wheelie bags behind them, the over priced coffee and I-Heart-Whatever-City-We're-In souvenir t-shirts. But the thing I like most of all, more than taking off on a trip of my own, is the arrivals hall.

Just this past Sunday I went to pick up the husband from a business trip to Austria. A number of flights were arriving around the same time at Pearson's Terminal 1, so I had about 20 minutes to wait for Christopher to come through the doors. This gave me ample time to people-watch and I will tell you that if you want to witness pure human emotion, the arrivals hall at a major airport is the place to be.

Terminal 1 has a particularly good arrivals set up, because the travellers are slightly elevated above the waiting area, as though on a stage. So, with each swish-woosh opening of the automatic doors, the waiting crowd stands higher on their toes, necks stretched long and faces angled upwards, looking like a human version of a field of sunflowers. There's a collective holding of breath in the crowd as the travellers appear through the doors, and then a pause as each arrivee takes a moment to scan the crowd and each waiting person mentally processes whether this latest arrival belongs to them or not. And then, if you're lucky, there's a happy shriek and one of the sunflower crowd breaks free and dashes through the crowd, waving homemade signs or bouquets of flowers or just their hands as they charge up the ramp to their loved one.

(This includes me. I am an unabashed charger of ramps when it comes to picking up my husband at the airport and I don't care if I do look ridiculous.)

Airport arrivals always makes me think of those nature programs that show herds of animals, sheep in particular, being released into a field with their young. There's a moment of utter chaos and frantic milling about and then, like magic, the mamas find their babies and peace reigns again.

Magic and peace. This is exactly why you should, if at all possible, retrieve your spouse, parent, or friend from the airport yourself. It's not just about saving the $120 cost of a town car or shuttle, it's about that moment of pure joy, the rush of love (and relief, if you're a nervous nelly like me) when you see them come through the door and they're home once more.


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