I'm sat on a flight to Peru having just left Amsterdam airport. I had read someone's scathing blog about airports earlier in the week which got me thinking about my own experiences of them. They can certainly be soulless places at times and I've spent more hours than I'd prefer waiting for flights, wandering aimlessly around bland shops counting the minutes until some delayed connection, eating bad food or shaving in the corner of some scrappy rest room that's well past it's sell by date. But, I can't deny, despite all their faults, I actually quite like them.
Airports are the staging posts that have led me to planes and those planes have carried me to many great adventures. Landing on the beach on Barra en route to the Outer Hebridean island of Pabbay. Crossing the Tasman Sea to explore the coastal climbing of Tasmania. Heart stopping landings at Lukla while heading for some Himalayan challenge. Fying through a wild lightning storm to land in Reykavik or a quick hop to Oslo or Spain for some Rjukan icefall action or sunny sport climbing. Each airport has a story to tell and each of those stories have become a piece of the tapestry of my life. Just as a flight to Amman was the start of a life changing adventure in Jordan (the story of which can be read here), then the Air New Zealand journey I took to Christchurch accessed the venue where I proposed.
If you visit them often enough some airports become like old friends and, just like old friends, you get to know their idiosyncrasies. There's a quiet corner in Doha airport where I always go for both good wi-fi and a well positioned plug socket for phone recharging. It's worth getting to Kathmandu's Tribhuvan Airport early if you are flying to Lukla so you can get a seat on the left hand side of the plane for stunning Himalaya views. When travelling via the twin airports in Kuala Lumpur it's always worth checking your flight schedule to make sure there's enough time for transfers between the two sites.
But, at the end of the day, the reason I like airports so much is really more about the people that you meet. There's a buzz about so many different people travelling to so many places. Take a flight to Alicante and you will probably be sat among a few stag groups and families heading for the beach or the bar. Fly to Lukla and you'll be sharing the flight with people heading to Everest Base Camp and others, usually with a far away look in their eye, heading for higher peaks. Take the shuttle to Heathrow and your fleece and approach shoes will clash with the pin stripes and brogues of the business men rushing for their early morning meetings.
I also love the contrasts you see at the departure gate. Just as flights mean some travellers are heading further from home, it also means others are flying back to their homes and loved ones. At today's gate I was sat among Peruvians heading back home just as a new batch of westerners headed out to explore their beautiful country. The happy faces of those returning home with heads full of great memories mingled with those of grinning travellers heading off for a grand new adventure.
Inevitably airports can bring sadness too. I looked around this morning and wondered how many of my fellow flyers were flying but didn't want too? Maybe some are being forced to return home because their visa had expired or a relative was sick. It's likely that some have been exploring the world but their funds have dried up or others have finished work contracts or are running from shattered relationships.
Of course airports often reflect national identity. Delhi airport is modern and comfortable but somehow the hustle and bustle that characterises the city is still evident inside the building. Fly from there to Ladakh and you arrive at Leh airport. In that building there is a calmness and frugality that prepares you for the delightful simplicity of Ladakh (if you ignore the bizarre baggage system!). Similarly, Dubai's airport is as modern, efficient and plush as the place itself.
Airports are also the hubs servicing aircraft that themselves reflect national pride. Today I travelled on KLM and the snack we were served had an Edam cheese filling. I recently travelled on Air France and we were given champagne before and then a cognac after the meal and last summers Air India flight had curry on the menu and Bollywood films for some of the inflight movies. And then, of course, we have Ryan Air!
I never tire of visiting airports because I never tire of new adventures. I hope you'll be sharing my fascination on an exciting adventure of your own sometime soon.