Travel is one of my favourite ways to spend time with friends and connect through shared experiences. While the amount of travel happening right now (in the age of COVID-19) is dramatically reduced (or completely eliminated), I look forward to meeting up with old and new friends as soon as it can be done safely so that we can build new memories together.
The experience of travelling, in itself, is usually a mixed bag of anxiety and adventure. Once I’ve reached my destination and settled in, the anxiety fades away and the enjoyment can really begin. The work of getting from place to place is the price of admission, but it is most often worth doing.
Airports - Ground Side
Starting out almost every trip I take is a drive to the airport, often trying to arrive early enough for a 6 AM flight. Ugh. Fortunately my home airport isn’t very large or confusing and the terminal building is also pretty modern in design. I always find the “ground side” of an airport to be the most stressful part of any trip involving flying. Trying to get to the airport at the right time, finding parking, and getting to the terminal building to check in is only the start. The feeling that repeated checks are necessary to make sure I haven’t forgotten something critical (like a passport) can be almost overwhelming even when I’ve used a packing checklist.
Once you’ve made it through the check-in maze, you then get the classic experience of passing through security checkpoints. The unknowable, always-shifting requirements (do I need to take off my shoes here this time?) put everyone on edge and the length of the endlessly-twisting line makes it clear that you will be slowly shuffling forward for a lot longer than you hoped. After you clear security, you have reached the first small victory of the trip: being reunited with your carry-on belongings and being allowed to put your shoes back on. One of my favourite celebrations of this feeling is the “recombobulation area” sign at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (KMKE).
For those of us traveling internationally, the next milestone is passing through customs & immigration checkpoints. Canadians travelling to the United States usually have the privilege of passing through pre-clearance in the last Canadian airport they depart before they enter the United States. After passing through pre-clearance, travellers are treated as though they are arriving domestically once they land in the United States and this is a huge time saver for anyone who needs to make a tight connection.
Airports - Air Side
After all of this checking, processing, poking, and prodding, the feeling of finally being released into the “air side” of the airport is a huge relief. At this point, all you need to do is find your gate and wait for your boarding time. Maybe check out what unusual shops and snacks they have and try something new even before you’ve arrived at your destination.
At this point, the process shifts from chaos to clockwork. You get called to board the plane, ideally everyone knows in advance where they will be sitting, and there should be no surprises. Once you’re in your seat, you can get settled in and wait for the flight attendants to complete their procedures to prepare the passengers and aircraft for departure.
Actually Finally Flying
The huge gas turbine engines reach takeoff power and you feel yourself being pushed back into the seat. After feeling like you’ve been rolling for just a little too long, the plane pitches up and you feel the forces shift, and your seat pushes you up into the air. There’s a bit of a moment as the plane is reconfigured after takeoff, bringing up the landing gear and flaps. Then everything stabilizes and you finally feel like you’re really flying (or at least I do!). As the chime goes “bing-bong” and the plane passes 10,000 feet, it’s time to crack open a good book, watch a movie, or listen to some music. Pretzels or cookies? What would you like to drink?
Arrival is the mirror image of this process. Once you’re on the ground, the clockwork returns to chaos as every passenger simultaneously attempts to stand up before the cabin door has even been opened. After what feels like an eternity, the path ahead of you clears and you can actually exit the aircraft. Emerging into the terminal is a return to the real world but somewhere different from the place you started. Now where’s baggage claim?
Going On An Adventure
Even going on a fairly mundane trip can feel like an adventure. I might be baffled by the user interface of the crosswalks in a new city and wonder why they charge so much for a chicken sandwich there, but actual face time with friends makes up for it all. I’m looking forward to going somewhere different again soon.