I’ve been in airports a lot in the last week and a half. I wish I could say the reason for this was a far-flung vacation, or some travel writing gig, but the trips were all work-related. Work or not, however, I am overjoyed when anyone pays to put me on a plane anywhere. The last time this happened was when a school in Korea sent me off on an airplane bound for Seoul, where a dozen, young Korean children would regularly call me Princess Jenna Teacher and delight me with their insights on life.
Of course, the ideal situation is one in which I am choosing the destination and itinerary, but really, who can afford to be that picky these days? A free flight is a free flight. You would be hard-pressed to find a destination I wouldn’t fly to on your dollar. Even when boarding a plane last week to Phoenix, Arizona—a city I’ve visited more times than I can count and would generally describe as a never-ending wasteland of strip malls—I had butterflies in my stomach and a little smile on my lips.
Like Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiment in which dogs salivated at the mere ring of a bell, airports bring to mind every trip I’ve ever taken, every airplane I’ve ever boarded, every new city first glimpsed from the sky. I can’t help but feel a little nervous elation when my feet first hit those gaudily-carpeted floors.
Long-forgotten details of previous trips will come back to me in airports, as if by some spell: That time nearly a decade ago when I ran full speed through Rome’s Fiumicino airport, dragging one broken-wheeled suitcase behind me and crying helplessly when I was randomly selected for a more thorough security screening, certain I was going to miss my connecting flight (I didn’t) and the security guard said to me gently, “You’re fine, you’re fine.”
Or when I left Korea permanently last April, and in a state of total sleep deprivation, stress and uncertainty, exited the airport shuttle at some out of the way cargo holding area and found myself surrounded by Korean ajosshis, one of whom laughed at me and insisted on giving me a ride to the correct destination in his truck.
Or even that time just last summer when I sat on a plane bound for Spain, my heart in my throat because I was leaving Italy behind after two glorious months, and also because a massive storm raged outside and I worried I wouldn’t ever make it to Barcelona.
I know what you’re thinking. Airports are crowded and expensive. They breed germs and sleep deprivation and disgruntled people who like to argue and listen to things on their phones at full volume without headphones. At best, airports are a necessary means to an end, and at worst, they strip you of your dignity and leave behind a broken shell of a human being.
Yes, most of this is true. But in the end, my heart still gives a little pitter-patter when those automatic sliding doors whoosh open and I enter the airport chaos. The countdown to takeoff has officially started. I’m on my way to somewhere, and suddenly the possibilities seem endless.
What's the best airport you've been to? I might be biased, but my vote goes to Incheon International Airport in South Korea :)