The World in an Airport

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Well, summer vacation is almost over. My vacation took me to France. And these days of checking in hours ahead left me with lots of time at the airport. And, although I did board the right flight, I ended up in a different place than I expected when I got to the airport.

Once I removed my shoes, keys and dropped my weird Euro change all over the floor passing security, I still had a lot of time. I settled in, prepared for boredom. But all that unscheduled time led me to re-discover the lost art of people watching.

And I found out time sitting in an airport is not actually boring. Some of the best comedy and drama anywhere is available for free at the airport.

If life is a journey, all of life's trips can be observed at the airport. As I sat there, the entire range of the human condition went wheeling by with suitcases -- from birth to death and everything in between. I saw a newborn boy in his young mother's arms. I chatted with a somber middle-aged man returning from his mother's funeral, high schoolers on a French club trip, flirty girls and show-off boys and a hilariously frazzled teacher. A retired couple, finally on that trip to Paris, the one they had always dreamed of and saved an entire lifetime to take. Mysterious people had me wondering...what was the story on that glamorous older woman with a handsome younger man? Who were those two guys traveling with an Asian baby?

I talked with a lady who was visiting her son after 30 years, at last meeting her daughter-in-law and three grandkids. We spoke different languages, but those tears in her eyes said more than words.


I watched sleek flight attendants wheel efficiently by, perfect hair and nails. I watched seal-the-deal handshakes from men in business suits, as they barked on cell phones and clicked their laptops, all at the same time. I sniffed at weepy reunions and smiled at those handmade signs and balloons that said "Welcome Home Daddy!"

I had a lot of time, but airports have a lot of people, each with a story behind their travels. I'd brought People magazine, but the real people proved more compelling than any magazine.

So next time you are stuck in a dull airport, change your mental space before you change your airspace. You may be surprised to discover the airport was one of the most fascinating parts of your vacation.

I did.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.