Thursday, May 27, 2010

Of Airports

Ever since Douglas Adams' observation "It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression "As pretty as an airport..."  architects the world over have been trying to prove him wrong. Try hard as they might, I think they have all failed and are all doomed to fail: Adams had hit on a Fundamental Rule of the Universe in this case, too, as he had on so many other matters.

However, some airports do have various commendable features and/or eye-catching aspects. There were, for example, two airports in Thailand that impressed me: a cute, holiday-village, Disney-like miniature airfield on the mainland opposite the island of Koh Chang; and the vast, futuristic airport in Bangkog. I'll be able to provide more info and possibly photos once I get back home and can consult my travel notebooks and the hundreds of photos on my hard disk. But meanwhile, if the mere mention of Thailand whets your appetite, you're welcome to pop over to my Thailand trip page on Flickr.

The other airport I've developed a warm, fuzzy feeling for despite it's being, well, just a big international airport, is London Heathrow's Terminal Five. Rather than familiarity breeding contempt, it has bred a sort of comfy feeling. It's not a great spot for shopping – most shops are on the la-di-dah expensive side. But it contains the big, pastel-colored butterfly that for me has come to signify foreign travel: the Itsu coffee shop. [See pic on flickr]. The fare is a mixture of the fast-food version of sushi, snacks with organic, healthy-sounding names, and perfectly drinkable latte, and intrinsically I don't think it has anything to commend it beyond other eateries in the complex. But I find it comforting: a spot to zero in on when I have an hour's wait or so before my flight.

When checking in, Terminal Five believes in the silent treatment. Instead of loud, indistinct PA announcements along the line of "All passengers muffle muffle waffle waffle kindly requested mumbo jumbo to Gate Five muffle baffle immediately baffle toffle or else you will miss your flight. Thank you," they expect you to crane your neck, adjust your multifocals and read the dizzying messages displayed on the screens, or monitors, or what-have-you. On the plus side, they have weighing stands where you can weigh your luggage and curse your home bathroom scales for maliciously misleading you into believing your suitcase weighs less than it does; metal cages where you can insert your hand luggage to see if it adheres to regulations and curse when you think of the thingy you left behind because you thought the larger blue carry-on was too big; and smug self-service computer terminals where you can check in, select your seat and print your boarding pass all by yourself, then queue up very proud of your tech skills and hand all your paperwork to the clerk behind the real check-in counter.

As for landing and arriving at Terminal Five, I have very little to say, because I tend to concentrate on finding the nearest toilet, then following Hubby like a puppy, trying to keep up through the maze of escalators and corridors, keeping my eyes steadily on his back, until we are safely out of there.

One last paragraph concerning our port of departure, Ben Gurion International Airport. Having been used to the old terminal, I'm still surprised each time I find myself in the new one. I know it includes some ornamental features that I'm supposed to take pride in. Why, years ago, when the new terminal was in construction stages and I was working as Senior In-House Editor for The Gang, I spent weeks editing the English version of its website. No no no, please don't check out the website and point out the mistakes. I am not responsible. Once the texts were sent to the Airport Authority, they were out of my hands and underwent all sorts of abuse. I only meant to say that while editing I was made aware of murals, water fountains, domes, gangways, esplanades – all sorts of tourist attractions. But, bottom line, when I'm there, I do what all Israelis do and head straight for the Duty Free shop. I don't always buy; I often just stare and inhale the intoxicating scents. As for the coffee shops scattered airport – overpriced snacks and drinks combined with slow, annoying service. Stay away if possible.

Ta-ta for now; hope to write again soonish.


  1. Yaay... you're giving me a way to follow your adventures... even if so far they're only in airports. I agree with you about Terminal 5 at Heathrow... it's big and cumbersome and somehow friendly and homey at the same time. Don't know how the British do it. Ben Gurion Airport is always a surprise to me, too, when I land there and depart again. I keep seeing in my mind's eye the tiny little tent in the desert that is my image of the airport for so many years... okay not literally a tent but tiny and no frills and very long lines and waits for luggage... you remember, I'm sure. So the new one is beautiful and easy to navigate and just as commercially up-to-date as every other modern airport... and I'm delighted to be one of those who goes in and out of it every so often. Looking forward to more of your adventures, Nina. Thanks!

  2. There is also no expression "As dysfunctional as an airport

  3. I used the complaint form on their site to ask them to please refer to the terminals as Domestic, Cargo, and International (as opposed to 1, 2, and 3); and to change the confusing signage on the way in and out, i.e., is a train public transportation? Then why is the icon of a bus? They never replied.