I really enjoy airports. I can saunter around Duty Free for hours, swatching makeup and giving myself a headache from all of the perfumes that I try on in an attempt to disguise my technically its been two days since I last showered because of the time difference musk. I usually feel bad about going into a store with the intention of not buying anything but still touching everything; except I’m always flying coach and think I deserve to at least be able to sport a first class worthy scent for the duration of my travels.
If I have the pleasure of flying internationally with United, then I overcompensate. Like going into the luxury retail stores, rummaging through the racks of clothes and displays of shoes, and telling the sales people that “I’m just browsing” every time they ask whether or not they can help me find something. This is coming from someone who will actively avoid going into a store that she actually is interested in buying something from if the employees radically outnumber the amount of customers.
Yet I’ve struck up a lengthy conversation with a lady while in line for a flight to London for the sole reason that we had the same suitcase. Because honestly, why not? I can’t remember what we talked about but I was proud of myself for being a little less misanthropic than usual that day.
Where do these unusual bursts of confidence come from then? It’s not from the layers of Duty Free perfume permeating through my brain. I think they’re pretty specific to the times prior to, during, and after I’m about to spend a bunch of hours (AKA a season’s worth of Veep) on a giant flying metal tube sitting too close to a bunch of strangers who are as weary to eat the chicken dinner as I am. Which is why I’m calling this the airport phenomenon.
There’s something about being on a trip that’s outside of your usual routine that feels very liberating. You know, “the world is your oyster!” “we’re all human after all, let’s talk!” kind of vibes. As opposed to, “I would rather be buried alive than spend another minute on this stalled train.”
Because in the latter scenario, if I have the option to be a) listening to a podcast b) reading a book or c) exchanging Tom Holland memes with my best friend via text, then I’m going to seize all of those opportunities before trying to make appealing small talk with a stranger on NJ Transit.
I once was on a Ryanair flight from London to Edinburgh with a boarding time of 7 AM, separated from my friends, and sweating through my layers of sweaters from having to stuff two bags worth of belongings into one (as you do). But upon hearing two guys speaking to each other (in Greek) about how they weren’t sitting together, I offered (in Greek) to move my seat to accommodate them. They were shocked that I understood what they were saying, expressed that to each other as if we didn’t already establish that I understood them, and I was shocked at myself for even opening my mouth. For a few moments, before everything went back to normal, we were all consumed by our shared shookness and it was great.
That’s the airport phenomenon in full swing. I can't emphasize enough how unlike me it is to start talking to not one, but two random people, and in a language I usually only speak in to family. But sometimes we can surprise ourselves.
Since almost everything about traveling has the potential to go wrong at any given moment, we might as well take advantage of the things that… could go right? Honestly I’m not sure where I was going with that one. But it’s fun to talk to people you normally wouldn’t talk to; to strike up a conversation with someone you would normally sit next to in silence with your headphones in until it’s time to go home. Maybe you, too, will have the chance to spend 48 hours in a small town on the coast of Ireland because your plane had to make an emergency landing and end up experiencing a new country with people who would’ve been complete strangers otherwise. I hope everyone can find the best in themselves when they’re traveling.