After running up and down stairs, I double check and triple check every room in my house to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. My bags are packed and ready to go, waiting by the front door. I sit down and have a cup of coffee to keep me awake for whatever journey lay ahead. I wait for my dad or my brother or whoever is driving me to the airport to be ready to go. I’m the one who had to pack, but somehow I’m always ready before them. It’s probably about three hours until I can even board my flight, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. There might be traffic or an accident. It might be crowded at the airport. You never know.
We drive to the airport making awkward conversation or blasting music to drown out the silence between us. Why is it always so awkward? Maybe it’s that wave of sadness you feel whenever someone you love is leaving for a while. You know you’re going to miss them, but you don’t know how to express that. But it’s not like I’m leaving forever. Maybe that’s what they’re afraid— that something might go wrong. Or maybe something might go right, and I’ll decide to stay wherever I’m heading. I can feel the tension, but I’m too nervous or excited or anxious or some combination of the three to figure out the cause of it.
We finally get to the airport and I awkwardly hug whoever dropped me off, thanking them, telling them I’ll see them soon. I always get the same worried request, “Call me as soon as you land!” and I always promise I will even though I always forget to call until hours later.
I probably still have over two hours until I can board my flight. I like giving myself that extra time. I print my boarding pass. I check my bag, which is probably too heavy, and I probably should have to pay extra money, but they always seem to let it slide. I keep reloading the TripCase app on my phone— hoping that my flight is on time. But sometimes, I haven’t been that lucky.
When I had to fly from Newark to Los Angeles to Melbourne, my flight from Newark got delayed two hours. I ended up getting off-booked from my flight to Melbourne and had to spend the night alone in a hotel in LA (such a hard life, I know.) Another time I had a flight from Christchurch to Auckland, New Zealand, to Brisbane, Australia, and the flight from Christchurch got delayed. They ended up switching me to another flight only slightly later. Then when we arrived in Auckland they let me off before the other passengers, met me at my terminal and helped me get to my next terminal before the plane took off. Sweating and panting, I had just barely made it.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. My biggest tip is to not panic. Let a flight attendant know your situation immediately. Be calm and polite. They’re usually really helpful. And keep in mind that everything will work out in the end, and you will eventually get wherever you are trying to go.
You also may worry about security, especially with international flights because they tend to be more strict. Sometimes the line takes forever, while other times you breeze right through. Usually in America, it’s the same routine though. I always seem to be the only one who takes forever getting all my stuff arranged. Take out your toiletries in their ziplock bag. Put your laptop in one bin, iPad in another bin. Make sure they’re both turned off. And make sure your cellphone is turned off too. Take your shoes off, take your jacket off. Where the hell did I put my boarding pass? It’s probably under my iPad. Finally, I get screened and wait for all my stuff to slide through. There’s usually never a problem. But when traveling other countries, some things seem so different. Some countries are much more laid back. In Australia, I didn’t have to take off my shoes. In New Zealand, I didn’t have to take out my liquids.
Once I’m through to my gate, I usually still have plenty of time to kill. I stop at a little cafe and get an overcharged bagel and coffee, but at this point I’m bored and hungry so I suck it up and deal with it. That’s another thing all airports have in common— the food is always too expensive. I put my headphones in and enjoy my food. I take my coffee back to the gate with me and search for an outlet to charge my phone. Someone usually asks me to watch their bags while they use the bathroom. When they come back, I usually ask them the same. And when I come back, we are somehow instantly connected by this small interaction and we start making small talk that always begins with the same question I had wondered earlier, “So where are you going?”
You meet a lot of interesting people at airports. You never know who people are, where they come from or where they are going. Everyone has a story and a reason to travel. I once met a nice, middle-aged man who was visiting his parents who happened to live in the same town as my mom. I met a young girl who had just graduated college and was going to backpack Australia. I met the band Honor Society, and ended up sitting next to one of them on the plane. Needless to say, I was totally starstruck. Getting to know people is also a great way to kill time at airports. Before you know it, boarding zones are being called. Soon enough, you’re showing your ticket to a flight attendant and awkwardly trying not to hit everyone with your bags on your way to your seat. Now it’s time to just sit and wait until you reach your destination. That is when the real adventure begins.
What are your airport rituals? Who’s the craziest person you’ve encountered at the airport? What’s the scariest or most surprising experience you’ve had traveling? Leave a comment below and share your adventures!