I had always thought airport layovers were because I either couldn’t get there from here without stopping or because the mid-trip lounging at somewhere other than my destination was worth the money we were saving.
“In this environment, free of goals, free of the promise of a new challenge, you become a true human animal. Your condition resembles a state of nature, except without the threat of privation or predation: There are perfectly safe sandwiches, apples in reasonable shape and, frequently, a store featuring a wide range of Tom Ford fragrances.”
— “Letter of Recommendation: Airport Layovers,” Sasha Chapin, The New York Times
Seems a bit much, but it was actually kind of interesting, mainly because I had never given any thought to what happens when I get off a plane to wait for my next flight other than … well, I get off the plane to wait for my next flight.
The first goal is to find the gate we’re taking off from — especially given my paranoia about missing flights. Once that’s done, my wife and I may look for food, hit the bathroom, walk around a bit to stretch our legs or find someplace (preferably near our gate but without a lot of people around) to hang out with our books and the internet until it’s time to board.
While the best layovers are the ones that don’t exist — as in we took a nonstop flight — at a minimum, I want it to be long enough so I can get to the next gate without any issues.
In other words, a little bit longer layover in a place like Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta isn’t the worst thing in the world because it’s large and spread out.
I also don’t mind spending a little more time in Shannon Airport in Ireland because I’ve either flown all night or are about to fly all day, and I could really stand a meal instead of a snack. (Their pancakes aren’t bad.)
But otherwise, after too long, I start to get stir-crazy, and oh yeah … I’d like to get where I’m going.
There’s one other thing I want a layover to be.
Make that two things.
Boring, and predictable.
While traveling is exciting, and I enjoy people-watching at the airport (unless they’re getting in the way), what does it mean when something other than routine airport business is going on?
It means something bad is probably happening.
It means that whatever I prepared for pre-flight is probably about to change.
It means that Toronto is fogged in just as your flight arrives from Ottawa, and the return flight to Boston is not only delayed a few hours, it’s delayed in a terminal that’s way too small even if passengers from one flight are waiting, much less three or four who are all delayed.
It means that between your (perhaps) early teenage self, your preteen brother and your mother, no one does the math when plane arriving in Albany to take you to Florida by way of Newark (ahhhh … People Express … those were the days!) is late by about the same amount of time the layover in Newark was supposed to be.
And that means the three of you — Dad stayed home because he didn’t like going to Florida in the summer — rush across the terminal, luggage in tow, to make the connecting flight, arriving on the tarmac in those pre-jetway days to see the door actually starting to close and only making it on because a ground crew worker signals to the pilot.
Nope, none of that please. This “human animal” is perfectly fine finding his gate, grabbing some food, hitting the men’s room and then absentmindedly passing the time until boarding.