Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Airport People

One thing I like about traveling is the sense of temporary camaraderie you get with other people.  The airport, I think is one of the best places to have brief, interesting conversations with strangers.  I’ve been to the airport several times recently.  While I was waiting for somebody to arrive I watched bags for an English woman who was waiting for her daughter to pick her up at Atlanta (she was from Manchester and had a fantastic accent) and took a photo for some joyous African people who must have been reuniting.  I didn’t understand what they were saying to each other, but their continuous abandoned laughter let me understand their joy.

Flying is when you get the real sense of community, though.  When I came home for Christmas, the people on my small flight from Milwaukee to Grand Rapids seemed to all be chatting and laughing and not sitting in our assigned seats.  Of course, other times your fellow passengers are less friendly, but I often get a little bit of airport wisdom in the security line, or find the person in the seat next to me telling me what they loved about their college public speaking class.  Once I talked the whole way back from Boston with an older man who was in the army during the cold war.  He told me about his late wife and their house in New Hampshire and a little bit about serving in Berlin.  He told me that Kennedy would have gone after an “attractive young girl” like me.  It was fantastic.

These little airplane relationships, to me, say something about the relational quality of humanity.  Lots of people want to feel like they are part of something.  They want to feel interesting, important, understood.  Sometimes a smile and a snarky comment goes a long way toward making a temporary friend.  I rarely even learn these people’s names, but it seems that there is something about the frenzy of travel and about time spent in the sky, away from the ring of cell phones and the pressures of being earth-bound, that makes a brief connection.  And I like to think that this connection, although brief, means something significant.

9 comments:

Rachel Birr said...

I like this post. That is all.

Ron Rienstra said...

Bethany,

I remember one time flying back to Princeton after a trip for... I dont' remember what... and there was a huge storm that kept our plane circling NJ for 3 hours. I'd finished both books I brought along, and in desperation, I turned to the woman next to me for conversation. Turns out she was Jane Dempsey-Douglas, a prof at PTS, and a really classy lady. That plane flight was the beginning of my "profs are people, too" discovery.

Bob K said...

I once struck up a conversation in an airport with a young woman on her way to visit her boyfriend at West Point and a wealthy business man. our flight was canceled and everyone lined up at the desk to rebook. I sauntered over to another desk and discovered that they could do it to so, rather than being 144th in line I was 3rd. I signalled to them to come over to my line and the business man was so happy he bought us both dinner.

That was the beginning of my "business types are people, too" discovery.

Anonymous said...

I once engaged a would-be terrorist in conversation on an airplane. I talk him out of killing me, and then we exchanged jokes and phone numbers.
That was the beginning of my "terrorists are people too" discovery.

jimmy said...

I was once seated next to a loud, screaming baby on an airplane. I stared at him in irritation and he glowered back at me and continued screaming his head off. This continued for several hours.

This was the beginning of my "babies don't become people until they learn not to scream their heads off on airplanes" discovery.

o1mnikent said...

Last summer when I was flying back from Rome, I requested a glass of wine with my meal... back when drinks were free on international flights. The flight attendant didn't believe me when I told her that I was 22. Then she started to get upset. This attracted the attention of several of those sitting around me, who then watched as I was compelled to retrieve my passport from my suitcase in the overhead bin. Five minutes later, I finally got my glass of wine with my now-cold meal. And a few people applauded.

That only confirmed what I had discovered years earlier: flight attendants are sometimes mean.

Jen G said...

Bus stops and rides are also fabulous places for connecting with people (as long as they're not plugged into an ipod or cell phone). You do get a slighty weirder collection of people, though, especially in a big city like Seattle. I do research on bacterial meningitis and I was informed in great detail yesterday that meningitis, along with many other serious illnesses, could be both prevented and treated by extracts from raw, wild honey. Interesting . . . :-)

My favorite experience of airplane cammraderie was a Christmas Eve flight into Pasco, WA. It was foggy and we circled quite a while hoping for a chance to land. Our pilot told us that she'd seen a few seconds of clearance that was good enough and she was taking us down rather than diverting to Seattle. The whole plane started clapping and cheering when we touched down. Definitely a nice "pilots are people who understand holidays with family, too" discovery.

Kathy said...

One time my Dad was on a flight that was stranded on the ground for hours. He talked the flight attendant (then called a stewardess) into opening the bar and serving everyone drinks. Everyone applauded him, and that was the beginning of my "people sure getting nicer with alcohol" discovery. (Bethany, this sure is fun. Hey Bob, it's me again).

Ryan said...

i love traveling for the same reason. i love sitting next to middle aged women. you get the most interesting stuff out of them - struggles with their aging parents, kids dating bad news people... they love that i am a teacher and we talk all about books and where they are from... if you sit next to a chubby friendly teacher guy who wants to chat for a bit, that's me...