I have become an efficiency master when it comes to airports. I can figure out exactly how long it will take to get to any airport in the world by way of any mass transit and still have just enough time to joke with the TSA agents on the way through security. However, I don’t always travel alone, and then I have to accommodate the habits of the people I’m traveling with.
One particularly interesting trip was with a close friend’s grandmother. We got along well, and I happened to be going somewhere she wanted to visit, so we were traveling there together. This woman, as you might imagine, was not a master of efficiency. She took her travel slow and cautiously, taking in everything along the way. The airlines suggested she show up 3 hours early for her flight, so she insisted we show up 5 hours early. Just in case.
We meandered our way to the airport from her little house outside of town through a series of buses and trains, sharing stories about trips we had made in the past. Once we arrived at the airport, she slowly worked through her documentation, double-checking each piece of information as she thumbed through it. She was fully prepared as we checked in with an actual person, talking about the weather and how busy it was today. This was all decidedly different from my usual breezing through the nearest kiosk and running for the security line.
Once we had finished winding our way through the security line, people-watching and offering help to parents who were overwhelmed by their children’s first time in an airport, we still had 4 hours to spare. The gate for our flight hadn’t even been announced yet, much less opened.
That is the moment I realized how much airports have to offer. Restaurants, stores, playgrounds, art, and so much more. We wandered the never-ending curved hallways of the airport, discovering tiny little stores with unique little things for sale as harried business travelers stormed past in a hurry. We sat and slowly ate a delicious meal as we made up backstories about the groups of travelers scuttling past. Some were on relaxing vacations to sunny beaches, others on business travel to huge sales conventions for the strangest things you can imagine. Every time they said something out loud, it only added details to the stories that were developing.
We relaxed, talked and laughed for hours as we took in all the airport had to offer. I had almost forgotten that we had a greater purpose for being there when she finally perked up with the announcement that our gate had been announced. We gathered up our stuff, paid our bill, and moseyed over toward our flight in the most relaxed manner I’ve ever had, smiles on our faces the whole way.
Ever since that trip, airports are no longer a necessary hassle on the way to the plane. I try to get there a little earlier just to explore and see the unique things that each airport has to offer. There are huge, awe-inspiring art installations. Bands perform amazing local music to international crowds who have never heard it before. Best of all, there are people who deal with rushed travelers every day, so walking up with a smile and asking them about their day will likely make it so much better.
The next time you have a flight, don’t try to cram as much in as possible by getting to the airport with as little time as you can spare. Show up a little early and take in all of the amazing experiences and people that were designed for the thousands of people that travel through every single day.