The girl on the plane

It’s not often that I find myself travelling alone. When I was in my twenties, most of my terminal hopping and orderly boarding was done solo, but since getting hitched and having kids, my airport experiences have shifted in flight.

I no longer have the luxury of time and tranquility that comes with traveling alone. I used to love lounging in an airport, coffee-sipping and people-watching, while more burdened travellers herded their children and awkward carry-ons towards their elusive gates. (Now I am one of those burdened travellers and can say that it’s about as enjoyable as it looked to me back then.)

The first time I boarded a plane I was eight years old. My slightly older sister and I were escorted to our seats by a friendly flight attendant while we sported special buttons that read, “I’m travelling alone!” (Oh, how times have changed.) My parents sent me and my sister to Ottawa to spend a weekend with our uncle. We (and another sibling set on the same flight, also travelling alone) were whisked to the cockpit for a quick tour and given warm, gooey cookies with milk. I was hooked.

There have been other flights since. There was the Halifax-Ottawa-Chicago-Amsterdam-Nairobi-Lukasa-Lilongwe milk run to Malawi when I was twenty. There was the longest 55 minutes of my life flying over southwestern Ontario on an 18-seater Beechraft during a lighting storm (I will never again be excited to sit in seat 1A). There was the first flight that my new husband and I took together, which surprisingly didn’t end in divorce. And the first flight we took with our newborn, which unsurprisingly did end in three shirt changes and a shortfall of diapers and clean soothers. (Flying with kids lends a whole new meaning to turbulence.)

My memories of waiting in the airport are even sweeter. Waiting in for my boyfriend to arrive from Ontario while I was still studying in Halifax; waiting for my sister to arrive at Heathrow when she visited me in the UK; waiting at the gate in Calgary with each of our newborns in our arms as family from the east coast ran down the moving escalators towards us. Airports have always meant something to me. When I was young, they were a gateway to a world I was itching to explore, and now that I’m older(ish), they’re an emblem of going home.

During my most recent round-trip, I was alone again. I was traveling to Nova Scotia to say goodbye to someone and I was sad. I saw young people flying alone, couples old and new, and many, many young families making the trek ‘home’ from Alberta to the Maritimes as summer finally begins. I bought my coffee, a chocolate croissant and a certain best-selling thriller that I’ve felt compelled to read for months now, and I sat. And read. And watched. And I felt grateful for everything.

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