What I've Learned from Airports


I love airports. I really do. Vast hallways echoing with footsteps and clacking carry-on bags suggest possibility. I love watching important people rushing hurriedly to get to important places, tourists ambling aimlessly killing time before their connection, and parents wandering zombie-like, just trying to make it through the next hour. I love stepping off a plane, bleary-eyed and disoriented, into new surroundings that are both familiar and strange. Familiar layout, foreign content. 

I harbor a secret theory that spending time in a country’s airports and airplanes can reveal certain truths about that particular nation’s character. In the interest of generalizing and stereotyping, here are some dispatches from a few of my favourite airports:

Charles de Gaul - The French flaunt rules and regulations as evidenced by many a dude smoking under a no-smoking sign (it's been ages since I've been in this airport, I don't know if this type of tomfoolery still goes on, but when I used to travel to France, this sight would always make me smile.)

Zurich Airport - The Swiss are orderly and efficient. This is the quietest airport I've ever been in. There is a grocery store INSIDE the airport  - an amazing design feature, perfect for picking up dinner on the way home. There is also a train station right BELOW the airport. Smart. I don't think I've ever stood in line in this airport for more than 10 minutes. Ever.

Pudong International Airport - The Chinese, modern and striving, believe that it's every man for himself. I have been scammed in this airport, shoved, pushed, butted in front of in line. Nothing new there. But what I find interesting is that all of this takes place in a hugely modern, well-designed, world-class building. 

Narita Airport - Like Japan, Narita is proudly Japanese, confusing, and difficult to navigate. There are few Western food options, though strange and wonderful culinary delicacies, carefully gift-wrapped, are to be found in every shop. Because you must always bring a gift. People wear surgical masks and slippers. This airport has THE BEST facilities for babies. I think that sums up Japan.

Seoul Incheon Airport - I've only visited once, but here’s what I can tell: a great airport if you have LOTS of money, but if you want to blow your cash on a magazine and a chocolate bar, good luck. Also, people are obsessed with washing their face and brushing their teeth. Is this true about Korea in general? 

Chicago O'Hare - Best fast-food. Inefficient lines. Overly-thorough security designed to keep the foreigners out, and achieve maximum passenger annoyance. Super-awesome fast food. Crappy airport lounge. Yummy fast food. 

Vancouver International Airport - Best airport lounge I've been in, strangely. Also, Canadians will stick a maple leaf decal on any surface that it will adhere to. All the better if a consumer product can be maple-leaf’d and then sold for a huge mark-up, preying on Canadians' latent nationalism and / or inferiority complex.

And as a bonus: I've come to see that travel + free booze = a dissolution of social norms regarding alcohol. You would not BELIEVE the number of people boozing at ten in the morning in an airport lounge.