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.