People watching – passing time at the airport

I flew to Sydney this week to attend a business seminar.  I had not been on an aeroplane for almost two years, which is a new record for me. I started reminiscing about all of my travels and then it occurred to me that it has been 10 years since I first ventured out into the big wide world that was my first trip to Europe.

No psychology degree needed here

Think the opening and closing scenes of the film Love Actually where a montage of clips are shown of people greeting each other at what I assume to be Heathrow airport. One does not need a psychology degree to understand human interaction and behaviour. You can educate yourself for free at an airport. Airports present a wonderful opportunity to people watch.  There is a heightened intensity of emotions in travellers and it can bring out all of their nervous habits and ugliest obsessions. An airport is a melting pot of people from all different cultures, class structures and occupations; varieties of wealth and personalities. I rarely read or listen to music while waiting to board a flight because I prefer to people watch. Six years ago while waiting to board a plane at Heathrow airport to Canada, had I become engrossed in a book or magazine I would have missed a sighting of my favourite singer Belinda Carlisle being escorted to what I assume a more private environment in the airport. Of course hardly anyone recognised her as she walked through the terminal but I certainly did.

It’s just plane fascinating and marvellous

I also find it fascinating watching planes land and take off. I could sit in an airport lounge or in the window seat of a plane watching aeroplanes land and take off all day long. There is something whimsical about watching an aeroplane take off to an international destination. On board sits a group of passengers each with different motives, goals and desires as to why they boarded the plane in the first place.  I always wonder why people have to fly interstate or internationally – is it to see someone they love, go to a funeral, attend a business event or start a new life?  I know who I am, what I’m doing, where I’m going and when I’m coming back. 10 years ago I was an extremely nervous 23 year old whose childhood dream was about to come true. I like to observe how people act at airports and try and think about their lives.

I still marvel at the fact that an aircraft has the capacity to travel such long distances. Los Angeles to Sydney is a straight, painful 14 hour journey. Before the aircraft takes off, I always think of the fact that it is about to leave one country only to arrive in another country. You can leave one destination been able to speak English and navigate yourself easily to arrive at another destination with a completely different set of customs, rituals, language and culture.  It really is an amazing world we live in.

I thought I was waiting for my sister to arrive at the airport. Not racing Michael Schumacher at the Spanish Grand Prix

On the couple of occasions I have waited at the international arrival area of Melbourne airport to pick up my sister, I enjoyed observing the many travellers, who have just disembarked from their aircraft, often weary eyed and jet lagged, walk through those large doors to be greeted by their patient, loved ones. There is a wonderful atmosphere in the air when one is surrounded by hoards of people waiting in anticipation and excitement in the arrival area only moments away from seeing their visitors arrive. Every time the automatic doors open, people are eagerly searching and scanning to see if it will be their loved ones that are about to walk through the doors. Heads and faces turn and some people even push their way to the front of the barriers as if they were Michael Schumacher waiting in poll position to race in the Grand Prix.

Some people go to the effort of bringing large banners, flags and balloons to welcome home their international visitors. When one walks through those large, automatic doors after clearing customs it can be very overwhelming as there are so many people looking at you. The eyes are searching for any sign of familiarity but once they do, just watch their eyes and face light up.  I know as I have been on the other end walking through those doors many times myself. Especially after a number of years abroad without seeing my family and friends.

Why oh why does Australia have to be located, as one ex Prime Minister so elegantly stated, ‘the arse end of the world?’

The distance and kilometres between Australia and the rest of the world is one of the reasons why I believe the international arrival area of an airport is so electrically charged with emotion and anticipation. When I do observe people finally greeting each other I wonder how long it has been since they saw each other. Generally for most backpackers and travellers, it has been an extended period of time, even years.  Unless of course you are Richard Branson who can afford to fly to a destination such as Australia just for afternoon tea, travelling abroad to and from Australia is not the sort of travel experience the average person takes lightly as it usually involves a fair amount of planning and saving. For me, it took 10 years to plan and save for my first overseas adventure.

Which brings me to my next point. Planning and deciding where to go for my next overseas destination. The thinking cap is on.

Dear reader, are you a people watcher at the airport?

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~ by Shae on February 28, 2010.

6 Responses to “People watching – passing time at the airport”

  1. Mmmmm – frankly I find waiting at airports hard work…. the people around you are unwittingly displaying a maelstrom of different emotions – anxiety, fatigue, excitement, frustration – but most of them mask this by trying to look cool and disinterested – I don’t know why, but it doesn’t seem to be the ‘done thing’ to actually display your emotions. That is – right up until the first boarding call, when the cool, detached crowd suddenly becomes a seething mass trying to be first in line at the gate – even though the call was only for seat rows 38-45. When the airline booking staff reiterate that it is only for select rows – they revert back to their nonchalant selves and shuffle back to their seats. The positives though, is the joy in the eyes of the people receiving friends and loved ones from a long flight – the relief that they have arrived safely and the eagerness to get them out of that damn terminal full of people and get them home…..that is the best part of airports for me.

  2. What a lovely, feel good blog Shae! It made me smile. xx

  3. Hi Shae, even though i have never travelled overseas, I also enjoy the feeling and atmosphere at airports. We usually do a bit of celebrity spotting and come across a vast range of human emotions as people wait or say goodbye to loved ones. The aircraft themselves have always fascinated me ever since I saw Nan & Pop take off to a trip to New Zealand many many years ago.
    Thanks for another great read!
    Debbie xx

  4. I, too, often find myself watching people and wondering who are they? Where are they going? What type of life are they living? Are they happy or sad?

    I think travel in general, whether it be by foot, car, train, or plane reveals a lot about the person in transit. I’ve seen hoards of grown adults crowd an elevator or bus entrance before the passengers inside have a chance to leave because they are impatient, rude, and worried about their spot or seat. You can learn a lot about these people because they aren’t noticing their behaviors because they aren’t in a direct social situation. They are somewhat more likely to show their true colors in this environment- both good and bad.

    I’ve only had the opportunity to leave the country once for Puerto Rico. I hope that I get to see Australia someday, among other places. Good luck with your travel plannings Shae!

  5. Great post – an exercise in making the most of a situation. I’m reminded of a comedian who was talking about how people complain about things which are, objectively, pretty sensational – whinging about a 20 minute delay in a boarding lounge, before boarding a plane and flying across an ocean to a completely different part of the planet!

    So yes, I’m a people watcher – it’s a bland world if we don’t pay attention to what goes on around us.

  6. Hey Shae, this was a good read!! I love people watching!! Am quite happy to sit at the airport waiting for family and friends to go off on a trip or arrive home from their travels, and of course just watching and observing other people around me. I must admit I am one of those people who likes to get there early just to watch the “comings and goings”.

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