Essay: Alleviating Airport Angst, Or A Sacrifice This Side Of Security

October 21, 2014



Airport angst.

It’s a thing.

Anyone who’s felt annoyed when they’ve had to arrive at a placed composed primarily of tiles and x-ray machines four hours before they’ll be able to leave it ahead of an international flight has suffered from this condition.

The bulk of the human interactions you experience at an airport are built on suspicion. Sometimes those suggesting your character is less than savoury wear bibs and jackets proclaiming their Important Official status. But just as often they’re fellow travellers who, like you, are drained by the tedium of sitting on a cold steel chair and draining their smartphone battery of the power they promised to save in order to assure their nearest and dearest of their continued wellbeing once they get to wherever they’re going in a vain effort to stay connected to enthusiasm.

That this atmosphere is what awaits in the period immediately preceding what might be a dream adventure for many passengers is especially cruel: it all goes a bit Thabo Mbeki (a dream deferred and all that) there in the waiting area.

It’s a rotten state of affairs. Unless someone insinuates themselves into the situation for no other reason than because they realise it’d help make your day feel less wearisome.

These people exist. They never live close to the airport – who would want to, if they were able to avoid it? – but they realise that the investment they need to make to get there to meet with you for a pre-flight chat is worth more than the cup of coffee you’ll happily pay for.

A friendly face in a sea of stress – or relief, depending on which side of the barrier you’re standing – is as welcome (and surprising) as discovering that the duty-free store has your favourite chocolates incorrectly marked with the price tags from two years ago and don’t mind you making the most of their mistake by buying four solid kilograms of the stuff.

A recent departure required driving all the way across Johannesburg from west to east after three-quarters of a work day to check in on time for a flight that would leave late enough to ensure that we’d land so early the next morning that unless an impossible six-hour snooze in economy class was forthcoming, two straight days of wakefulness could be expected.

Add to that a personal situation temporarily groaning under the burden of assorted crises – a vocation gone AWOL, an associated dip in self-belief and the sort of aimless anger that goes with both those scenarios – and being the brave soul to step into the breach became an act nearly worthy of sainthood.

And yet here was someone willing to stay long enough to land themselves in peak-hour traffic on the way out; long enough to hear a repeat of a gripe they’d heard before; long enough to fill the time before the public address system suggested that it would be prudent to head through to security, passport control and the rest of the next phase of hurdles.

Airport angst can be a symptom. Perhaps it’s simply a manifestation of some deeper psychological lurgies brought to the surface by the administrative loops that need to be jumped before you’re allowed to step onto a runway. Or maybe it’s just another of the First World issues that reasonably rich people should get over.

Either way, it can be alleviated.

You’ll need to drive to an airport. You’ll need to park in some eye-wateringly overpriced ticketed parkade. You’ll need to seek out your friend; one person among hundreds or thousands in an enormous building. And you’ll need to do the whole process in reverse once they take their bags and vanish in the direction of their boarding gate.

But you’ll make a difference, guaranteed. You’ll give that person a reason to return from wherever they’ve gone to, and that’s a good outcome for any day.