Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gateway to the Universe

I have always loved the airport. It's a magical gateway to the universe. On long layovers, I like to walk up and down the concourses looking at the names of exotic destinations like Akron/Canton and Omaha. I look at the people waiting to board planes to Los Angeles and compare their fashion to those waiting for flights to Dallas or Detroit.

I often found myself surprised by how much alike those going to London Heathrow seemed to those going to Indianapolis. I would look at the names of the destinations above the gates on my way to Chicago or Denver and wish I could shift gears and jump undetected onto a plane headed for San Jose, Costa Rica instead.

I've always taken mishaps in travel in stride because I've never minded long waits in airports. There's no better place on earth for people watching, I thought. And the airport was always so much more diverse than my typical surroundings, especially in small mountain towns where the number of people representing most minority groups didn't even reach into the double digits. There were people with accents and different colors of skin, wild fashion, bad fashion, no fashion and new fashion in the airport.

Now that I am spending more and more time in the airport and examining the people who travel through it carefully to measure the likelihood they will part with their personal information in exchange for a fuzzy blanket with penguins on it and the dim hope of a free flight in the future, I'm rethinking the way I look at airports.

They're not nearly as diverse as I once thought they were. I work on the Frontier wing and nearly every Frontier flight in the country comes through Denver. The concourse also hosts a number of international flights from carriers like Continental and Lufthansa. With travelers from all over the country and all over the world, you would expect to hear more languages and see more colors. It struck me recently that the population in the airport is not at all representative of our overall population. It's not a whole lot better than the little mountain towns where I have lived. And there are definitely fewer Latinos in the airport than there were in Jackson Hole.

I know travel is a privilege and especially air travel. It's not something everyone can afford. It's not something everyone can even imagine doing. I've talked to hundreds of people on their first flights ever or their first flights in more than a decade. They never sign up for a mileage card. Never. It's as sure a sign they won't fork over their social security number as a sweet tea request was a guarantee of a bad tip when I worked in the restaurant. But they are interesting people to talk with. They're usually traveling for really big, life-changing reasons. A lot of people are hoping for a new job and a fresh start. Some are coming back from weddings or funerals or honeymoons.

The bank tells us we have a 90 percent approval rating for our credit card. I don't believe it. That's simply unbelievable in these times of limited credit. I told a woman who was applying about our hard-to-believe approval rating. She and her fiance were on their way home from Costa Rica. She agreed that the number seemed outrageous.
"But then it could have to do with the type of people who fly," she said.

This has certainly been an interesting job. I walk through security some days and imagine I'm there for my flight to Buenos Aires. I leave on bad nights wishing it was on my plane. I'm anxious to get going when I'm there yet a little reluctant when I'm in my real life with my friends and family. Four months seems like a long time. I went for four months the last time I traveled. But I'm older now. I wonder if I'll be able to make friends in the hostels the way I did four years ago. I wonder if I'll be able to tolerate dorms and long bus rides the way I did the last time I traveled. I hope my money will hold out.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to seeing the airport as a gateway to the universe again this Sunday night. Working there has made it a bit more like an ugly limbo world between worlds, a place where my coworkers and I make inexplicable money getting people to sign up for credit cards, a place where angry travelers vent their hostility at me. I believe in mileage credit cards. I use mine and fly free all the time. I think I typically get more from them than they get from me. But the bank has to be making major dollars off most of the people we sign up or it wouldn't pay us so generously to do it.

Well, this was a little scattered. But this is what's going on. I'll write again before I board my flight.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Funny and honest as usual. This one especially captures your voice--scattered as it usually is.

  3. The one thing you seem to be missing in all of your romantic idealism is that airports and, airplanes more specifically, are petri-dishes of germs and disease! Because heaven forbid the airline let you change or re-book your flight because you're sick, therefore, no matter how sick a person is they always seem to catch their flight!

  4. So glad to hear that you made it safely to Argentina. Can't wait for your next post! BTW, I just gave you a blogging award. Check it out!