I have recently discovered that many autistic people have a fondness for trains. I think trains are cool enough, but I have always been more partial to airports and planes. I love air travel over nearly all other modes of conveyance and, as disappointing as it is that the environmental impact of flying is so great, I still love to fly.
As much as I love flying itself, I also love airports. I remember the time, more than 20 years ago, before the creation of the TSA and the imposition of all the security measures that exist now, that you could actually go to the airport and just hang out, watching people board and disembark, watching the planes take off and land. I have done this on more than one occasion in my younger days, just for entertainment. Since 9/11’s security policy aftermath, however, I only really get to “hang out” in the airport if I’m heading out somewhere far away.
Before the pandemic, my husband and I would usually fly somewhere at least once or twice a year. We have visited family in many states and have vacationed in others. We actually had a 10-day trip to Alaska planned for summer of 2020 that we had to completely cancel. We’re still hoping to take the trip, but it might not happen until 2023, at this point. In the meantime, I’m finally breaking my pandemic-induced air travel drought this weekend, going to visit my brother in Georgia.
There are so many things I love about airports. First, the rules. I’m not going to lie, the best part about strict security measures is that you can be pretty confident that most people will behave in predictable ways, at least more so than outside the airport. We are all being watched, of course, and “bad behavior” isn’t tolerated well. Whether you like it or not, it makes life a lot easier when people just follow the rules about getting from point A to point B.
Second, I love the “hub” aspect of airports. Essentially, you can safely assume that anyone not working at the airport has at least one thing in common with you: you both started the day in one city (or country, even) and will end the day in another. Some folks will be traveling from home and others will be returning. Some will have been just starting their journey and others are in the middle, having to transfer planes in the airport you are in. Some are traveling for work and others for leisure. It is an amazing coordinated system, if you think about it. And this system gives you at least one automatic conversation starter with anyone you find who looks interesting.
Third, it is also perfectly acceptable to bury your nose in a book, cover your ears with headphones and ignore everyone, if that’s your inclination. Some people will even be sleeping, not just on the flight itself, but in the airport. This is one of the few places I can think of where it is OK and relatively safe to nod off in public. If course you don’t want to miss your flight, so it might be good to make a quick friend first who will give you a shake if your flight starts to board.
Many people struggle with anxiety around flying in airplanes. Particularly around take-offs and landings, or in instances of extreme turbulence in the air, I often notice many people freaking out or gripping the armrests for dear life. I have always enjoyed these parts of the flying experience most of all, backward as I am. My anxiety builds more during the week prior to the trip, around packing the right things, not forgetting anything, getting to the airport on time, dealing with the security line (you never know how long it will take) and finding the correct gate. Once I get to the gate, I’m so relaxed and ready to go! I just hope this time that people wear their masks on the flight as directed and there aren’t any incidents of assholery I have to navigate.
So wish me luck on the trip. I expect I won’t post again until I return, so consider me on break for a while. I look forward to sharing a fresh perspective and some new stories when I return. It’s a good time for a reset.