“Almost all U.S. airports are utterly barren of things to do. The dirty little lunch counters are always choked with permanent sitters staring at their indigestible food. . . The traveler consigned to hours of tedious waiting can only clear a spot on the floor and sit on his baggage and, while oversmoking, drearily contemplate his sins.”
Airport conditions haven’t changed much since this article was published in Fortune in 1946. Except for the smoking. Now smokers are confined to those glass rooms, a human terrarium. I always feel a bit sorry for them, especially when kids stare and point, like they’re caged zoo animals.
Airports are a necessary evil, definitely a case of can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. I used to spend as little time there as possible, driving up to departures with about a minute to spare before the gate closed. My husband and I are different that way. So, after one, too close call, I abandoned my wicked ways for the sake of matrimonial harmony. I prefer not to tether myself to a socket and start watching videos before I’ve even gotten on the plane, so I’ve managed to find ways to entertain myself while waiting to board. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. The Bar – Drunkards have slurred it for years, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” You know where it’s always 5? Airports. I’ve yet to be in one – morning, noon, or night – where you can’t get a drink. Need to put a little bon in your voyage? A perfectly mixed Bloody Mary will do the trick, especially before a 6:30 a.m. flight to St. Maarten.
2. Art – Most airports feature dedicated exhibit space displaying the work of prominent or local artists making it quite easy to get a culture fix. Some invite controversy like traditional museums, such as this recent brouhaha at Edinburgh Airport involving a Picasso nude. Others, like the public arts program at Miami Airport, are renowned internationally and have multiple galleries showcasing fine art and photography.
3. Bookstores – As bookstores fade from our retail landscape, I’m confident they’ll always remain in airports. Yes. Kindles, iPads and Nooks are terrific travel companions. I am thrilled to no longer require a separate bag to carry the books for my annual beach vacation. But the easiest way to pass a flight for me is to physically flip every one of the 1,000 pages in Vanity Fair. My husband prefers to fall asleep reading Clive Cussler’s 53rd Dirk Pitt novel. And we always make our purchases at the airport to avoid schlepping them through security.
4. Skycaps – The jobs of these terrific airport employees are definitely on the endangered list. Airlines, sensing an opportunity to squeeze even more money out of travelers, are taking over this service and charging a flat fee for it. Proud descendants of train porters, the skycaps work for tips and they’ve saved my bacon more than once, especially when traveling with three small children. Why anyone chooses to stand on the interminable lines inside is beyond me.
5. Local Restaurants – Airport food courts often features outposts of famous local restaurants. Step into the terminal in Memphis and the scent of Corky’s BBQ greets you. Even if you only have a layover at O’Hare, you still have an opportunity to savor a hot dog, Chicago-style, at Portillo’s.
6. Human drama – I’m not talking about couples screaming at one another, which happens routinely in airports and always makes me wildly uncomfortable. I’m talking about the young man standing with a bouquet waiting for his girlfriend to arrive. Or the joyous return of a soldier. These movie-worthy scenes make me feel great each and every time I witness one and I immediately forget how mad I’ve just gotten about tripping over someone’s carelessly rolled wheelie bag.