I used to think there were two types of people in this world: those who are so nervous about making their flight that they are only truly happy if they get to the airport four hours early, and those who are so blasé about making their flight that they are only truly happy if they get to the airport just minutes before takeoff.
Often these two people are married to one another.
Since having children, however, I’ve realized that there is a third type: those who just love airports. Namely my 3-year-old son, Holt. His favorite thing to say is, literally, “Let’s talk about airport infrastructure.”
“Again?” I reply, gently rolling my eyes.
“Let’s play ‘What’s your favorite ground crew vehicle?’”
“Wow,” I say. “That sounds like a lot of fun.”
This obsession can sometimes prove tiresome, but you know where it comes in handy? When we travel. All of the insanely annoying parts of air travel that adults normally dread turn out to be the highlight of Holt’s trip. For instance: the airport parking lot shuttle (loves it!), the self-service kiosk (yes, please!), the baggage drop off (we almost lost him down the belt!), the security lines (are you kidding me?), the various X-ray machines and metal detecting rituals (he could watch this for days). These are all so electrifying for Holt that it almost feels as if the cost of the airline ticket is really just an entrance fee to the airport that also happens to include a free flight.
And so, on a recent trip to Florida, I began to appreciate some of these moments we usually can’t wait to get through. For instance, Holt loves retractable belt stanchions. I don’t think I had ever thought about a retractable belt stanchion before he came along. I didn’t even know what it was called before he asked. (Yes, it’s one of those things they use to keep people in orderly lines.) So when an airport employee rerouted our line by uncoupling and recoupling a stanchion belt, you would have thought this worker was Moses himself, parting the Red Sea. Holt’s jaw dropped open. He jiggled in his shoes.
Up ahead of us, an older woman had inexplicably kept on all of her garish jewelry as she passed through the X-ray machine, despite all of the signage urging you to do otherwise. The airport security agent, who had clearly encountered her kind before, was giving the woman a polite but thorough shake down with her wand, which was emitting a series of boisterous beeps.
“You’ve got to go zzzghhffttt so you can finds her keys,” Holt explained to the agent, who paused in her wanding, briefly dumbstruck by this bit of feedback.
“Isn’t that darling,” the bejeweled lady said.
“Sorry,” I said and hustled Holt along through security and into the terminal.
This was when the real show began. The airport terminal was the ultimate safari park, with its wide viewing windows revealing a savanna of ground-crew vehicles. Holt stood, nose pressed to glass, occasionally making engine noises, hand lifting and declining with each catering box loaded into the hold.
“What’s that one?” he asked.
“Uh, I think that’s the lavatory truck ——”
“That fills the toilet with blue cement?”
“Ah, not quite.”
“What’s that one?”
And so on.
We stood for hours, our plane delayed and then delayed some more. I was growing annoyed in that way adults get annoyed when things don’t go according to plan. Holt could not have been happier.
Our plane finally showed up, only for the operator of the portable jet bridge to struggle for 20 minutes trying to align it with the door of our plane, jerking backward and forward like some extended gag from an “Austin Powers” movie. A growing crowd of passengers gaped at such ineptitude. I overhead the airline attendant at the gate say we would probably lose our takeoff slot and have to wait until the next morning, eliciting a small mutiny in the terminal. I fumed alongside my fellow passengers, cursing man’s general incompetence and specifically the imbecile operating that stupid jet bridge. But then I looked down and saw the great, unbridled glee in Holt’s face upon witnessing such a glorious malfunction. He was in heaven.
“It’s broken!” he said.
“Yes, and we’re going to miss ——”
“The men will have to fix it! ZZZZhhdgggfjjjsds.” This, for those not in the know, is the sound of a man (or woman) fixing a broken jet bridge.
His enthusiasm was so infectious that spending the night at the airport suddenly did not seem like quite the nightmare it once was. Florida could wait. This was the vacation, right here and now, watching a malfunctioning jet bridge twist back and forth like a drunken boa constrictor. This was more entrancing than any white sand beach or poolside mojito. ZZZZhhdgggfjjjsds.
“Let’s talk about airport infrastructure,” Holt said, reaching for my hand.
“O.K.,” I said. “Let’s.”