It’s usually everyone’s least favourite part of travelling. The crowds and the waiting, followed by hours in a tin box, squished and dehydrated sharing a toilet the size of a shoe box with 200 strangers. We’ve all probably wished at some point that we could experience travel without the discomfort of airports and planes.
Last month I flew home to Ontario to visit family and boy was I feeling the disdain for planes! 12am redeye, screaming baby, squished seats… need I say more? However, in my hours of sleepless plane travel, I let my mind wander to the parts of flying I couldn’t live without. I’m surely not the only one who feels the pride of knowing how to manoeuvre through security as quickly and efficiently as possible, all while strangers mess about with belts and combat boots and liquids and electronic devices. I also love the long walk to the gate, past other fellow travellers either waiting to board a flight home or to a foreign land. I find it exciting to see where people are venturing off to and to decide in that moment if I think I’ll ever end up there too.
And then there are the people you meet in airports or on planes. They are the kind of people who you wouldn’t know in your day to day life, yet you can become the best of friends for the few hours you spend together.
I can remember my first trip to Australia. It was an ungodly hour and my flight had finally landed in Hong Kong; many hours late thanks to a long cold-weather-related delay in Toronto. I had missed my connecting flight to Sydney and had close to 8 hours to kill in the Hong Kong airport before the next flight out. I can’t even remember how I ended up befriending a family of four – a grandmother, a mom and her two small children – but somehow, we connected over our missed connection and spent 8 hours wandering the airport together. They were from Australia and on their way home to Queensland. The kids were tired, but incredibly well behaved considering. We ate dinner together in a quiet corner of the airport and talked about our homes and travel adventures. When it finally came time to board the plane, we went our separate ways, seated in opposite ends of the plane. When I got off the plane in Sydney, I didn’t see them again.
I’ve had a great number of conversations with people on planes as well. On one of my connecting flights through Vancouver, I met a girl who was from the city, yet had been living in Ireland for some time. She was on her way back to surprise her family. We talked for the entire 5 hours of our flight. Then there was the older couple who were very interested in the solo travels of my 19-year-old self. In fact, they were so consumed in the conversations that once we landed, the wife told me her husband was usually terrified of flying, yet our conversation had distracted him so much that he had forgotten to be afraid.
Usually, I’m like a racehorse when the doors of the plane finally open, full of speed and excitement as I’m let free into the airport. I would zig-zag through people, dodging roller suitcases and small children. However, this time I was happy to move slower and wait for this kind, older couple. We got our luggage together and I saw them out to their car, in no rush to hurry off to wherever I needed to be. With a hug goodbye, it seemed like they were my own grandparents for a moment, not two people who had been complete strangers just hours ago.
There’s an enjoyment I feel when I get to share my country with strangers and have them share their country with me. I am used to the semi-silly questions about Canada being cold, or what on earth the deal with Tim Hortons is, but every once in a while I come across a gem of pure ignorance and I love every second of it.
I was on a flight from Auckland to LA and was sat next to a woman flying home to Texas. She was a friendly lady and we made small talk while we waiting for the plane to take off. She had been travelling around Australia and NZ with her daughter and her daughter’s fiancé. They were all meant to travel home the day before but had missed the flight and instead were squeezed onto this particular flight, all separated to different sections of the plane. She had never been to Canada and was very curious about our way of life. Of course, she asked how cold it was and if we got snow. She wondered what side of the road we drive on and whether our electrical outlets were similar to the states. I like to imagine that she was preparing to ask if we live in igloos and ride polar bears to work but refreshment services began and our conversation died.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that everyone you come across has a story. Everyone is so busy going about their days that we don’t take the time to learn these stories. However, there’s no “so busy” on an airplane if you don’t want there to be. There is, however, a great opportunity to get to know a story that you wouldn’t have otherwise known.
Emily Meyer is still relatively new to the wonderful city of Medicine Hat, having moved here in May 2016. She was born and raised in Ontario and lived in Australia for a year and a half. Emily has visited 33 countries and will share some of her experiences and advice for globetrotters of all ages.