“‘I am not a great sleeper, and I loathe airports.'” : John Dwyer, as told to my friend the brilliant writer Elle Carroll
I have a somewhat significant visual impairment, but I never feel so blind as in airports. Signs upon signs upon signs, lighting that usually skews too bright, queues that run together, people in uniforms waving their hands at someone who is almost always not me. Someone may as well take my arm and guide me, because it’s as if I forget how to walk around like a human being. And yet I somehow manage a fair amount of solo travel.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. All the airport opinions I encounter are neutral at best. It definitely has the feel of a liminal space, and you may be preparing to fly through the air but it’s not magic. I’m also willing to bet that the vast majority of the people in any given airport at any given time have not had a proper night’s sleep.
It doesn’t matter the airport’s size. I’m more or less accustomed to Brandenburg by now. Linate, one of Milan’s secondary airports, is much smaller and still gave me mild trouble. Gate signage stresses me out. The way some airports are designed, you never quite know where your gate is.
At the risk of sounding trite, I also associate airports with unpleasant or uncomfortable feelings, like saying goodbye, and not knowing what the future holds, and wondering how my fortunes will fall or what mistakes I’ll make when I reach my destination. Chalk some of these up to the aforementioned lack of rest, in all likelihood, but being left to your own devices in an overstimulating environment really compounds the Low-Level Terror of it all.
Planes themselves give me mixed feelings too. I try to sleep on flights. Jack Donaghy of 30 Rock has a rule against it (“I don’t want to get incepted”), but forcing myself into power-saving mode helps me combat the fact that I am a somewhat nervous flyer at least during takeoff and landing. Better to put on sunglasses and a deadpan face and just pretend I’m on a very bumpy car ride.
Who knows what you’ll find at the airport on the other end. I’m not crazy about these new electronic passport readers many airports seem to have; given that I don’t trust my eyesight, I would rather interact with a human being. Anyway, the whole process is much smoother on flights within the EU, and I’m trying to get back to the ‘intra’ traveling itinerary for which I had such high hopes before the pandemic. I may not like airports, but in this case they’re a small price to pay.
Even so, my favorite part of any airport is leaving it. Including when I bring friends to one, wherein I get to be of moral and physical support, wish them well in their travels, turn around, and waltz out without having to deal with any of the stresses. I could leave airports for the rest of my life. The journey from an airport into the ‘real’ world can actually tell you quite a bit about the place. Maybe I’ll start documenting those.
Image: I didn’t actually take any photos of Linate so here’s Brandenburg before my early flight out