Watching Arrivals and Departures brings a human element to YYC 

There’s something inexplicably childish that seems to bubble up inside me when I see a plane take off at the airport.

 It could be that silent thought in the back of my mind that still marvels at the idea that people can fly through the air.

Or maybe it’s the sight of jets speeding up the runway, then suddenly lifting their noses to the sky and leaving the ground so seamlessly. Or it could be the knowledge that going on a plane equals going on an adventure.

Unfortunately, the Friday afternoon crowd at the Calgary airport doesn’t seem to share my enthusiasm. Watching Departures invokes a certain melancholy. People are subdued and quiet; perhaps leaving their loved ones in Calgary for work.

Photo by: Eva Colmenero.

As I arrive at the airport, it appears almost deserted. A traveler here and there tries to find their airline, while the overflow of staff is looking for something to do or is just plain bored. The Air Canada side seems a little more crowded than the rest of the entrances, but it is not packed with people. 

All in all, it’s a lazy afternoon.

With nothing exciting to see at the entrance, I move over to the Starbucks at the Kananaskis Hall for a piping hot latte. As I sit down to enjoy my coffee on one of the somewhat comfortable airport chairs, I notice for the first time a glass wall that overlooks one of the many gates leading to one of the airplanes waiting outside in the cold.

Those who leave us

Gate 33. Delta Airlines. Destination: Minneapolis, MN. The waiting room is full.

No one seems to be excited about this particular flight. There’s a gloom over the passengers, or maybe it’s the lack of lighting in this area. Everyone is dressed in black or dark brown, the sky is cloudy and the sun barely shines on any of the buildings in sight.

There are no laughing children, no excited chatter; only strangers sleeping, talking on their phones, or surfing the web while they wait for, what seems to be, their walk into Hell.

A lady sits down on one of the cushioned plastic chairs, puts her head back against the glass wall and promptly falls asleep.

No noise can be heard in the hall, outside of the tacky 90s music and the soft thud of plastic wheels as they roll through the tiled floor.

At the gate, the attendants call the first-class passengers. And, with what seems like a heavy heart, the commuters stand up, their faces reflecting the cold weather and the overcast sky. Are they sad? Bored? Anxious? Whatever the emotion is, it’s not a happy one. The line-up to enter the jet bridge resembles a doom’s day march.

As the economy passengers are called to the desk to join the queue, a middle-age man shakes the sleeping woman, whose head is still against the glass. She opens her eyes slowly, looks at him. He points to the line of passengers that are filing into the bridge. She shakes her head and then nods. The man smiles at her and joins the line-up. She goes back to sleep. The line-up continues to move slowly. Observing the Arrivals area at the airport brings joy. Many people reunite with their loved ones.

Photo by: Eva Colmenero.

My latte has gone cold now.

At last, the sleeping woman dazedly wakes up, stretches her tired limbs and lazily joins the last few passengers making their way to the plane.

The waiting room looks desolate and a different sense of gloom takes over the whole area.

It doesn’t feel like the sadness of seeing a loved one go somewhere else; it is the general bleak sense that the people getting on the plane are off on an adventure, and we stay, in our sometimes ordinary lives, waiting until they return so we can live vicariously through their travels.

Those who come back

There is, however, a ray of sunshine at the airport: the Arrivals area.

I sit in front of one of the belts carrying the luggage of an Air Canada flight from Montreal. Excited chatter charges the air with happiness.

A little girl and her mom run towards a little boy and his dad.

“Daddy!” the girl screams as she lets go of her mother’s hand and dashes to her dad’s open arms.

Meanwhile, the boy drops his small carry-on luggage and rushes to his mom smiling from ear to ear; she has tears of happiness in her eyes as she hugs the boy tightly. The mom and dad then turn to each other for a kiss that probably means “I missed you” and “welcome home” all at once, and the kids look at each other awkwardly — the girl wanting to hug her brother, the brother wondering why he has to hug his little sister too.

I found myself smiling at the cheerful atmosphere. This is where the gloominess parts and the happiness comes in.

This is, it seems, the place where people are as excited as I am about being at the airport.

And maybe their excitement doesn’t come from the same sense of childishness that I get from going to the airport, but it’s happiness nonetheless.

Despite the gloomy sense that permeates the departure area, all the cheerfulness in arrivals brings back the child in me, and I can’t help but feel glad I’m not the only one who’s happy to be here.