Adventures in Airworld

Travel Blog  •  Michael Yessis  •  07.13.06 | 8:15 AM ET


I consider myself a longtime citizen of “Airworld,” the space beyond the security barriers and X-ray machines in airports worldwide, a place that Walter Kirn, in his novel Up in the Air, calls “a nation within a nation with its own language, architecture, mood and even its own currency.” (That currency, of course, is frequent flier miles.) My father worked for TWA, so I grew up spending a lot of time in and around airports. Some of my strongest early travel memories, in fact, take place in Airworld. A six-hour layover at O’Hare, roaming the crowded terminals fruitlessly searching for a Pac-Man machine. The seemingly endless moving sidewalks at Heathrow. Spending the night huddled with a gaggle of fellow stranded travelers in Eero Saarinen’s swooping TWA Terminal at JFK, feeding quarters into a coin-op television and watching “Quadropehnia.”

Spending time in airports has gotten more tedious in recent years as just getting past security has become an exercise in patience, unpacking and packing, but whenever I travel I still get the buzz of being in Airworld. The smell of jet fuel. Picking up an airplane novel at Hudson News. Random encounters at the airport bar. I like it all.

When I’m not traveling, I get a contact high from a good Airworld story. This week, I turned to The Atlantic’s July/August issue for a fix from Wayne Curtis, who recently spent six consecutive days almost exclusively in Airworld. In his case, that meant JFK, Los Angeles International, Las Vegas McCarran, Detroit Metro, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Dulles International airports. 

He writes:

The British writer John B. Priestley once observed, “A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours.” I suspected the opposite might also be true—that an enjoyable holiday might be had by idling among overwrought travelers who were fretting about making it to the boarding gate on time. I spent 106 hours on what most people would call “layover.” I preferred to thing of it as “vacation.”

Curtis’s chronicle of his Airworld journey is a worthy addition to the genre. Unfortunately, it’s not available online. For a good fix before you can get to the library or the newsstand to check it out, For more, check out Greg Lindsay’s epic 15-part series in Advertising Age last year about his three weeks in Airworld.

Thanks to Washington Post Trav Mags columnist Jerry V. Haines for the story tip.

1 Comment for Adventures in Airworld

Canal boat holiday 01.30.08 | 8:34 PM ET

I have a phobia of flying but my work makes me fly back and forth all month long. Reading about adventures like that makes me shiver a bit.

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