The Airport Zombie Lurch: The joys and suffering of long-haul travel

The pleasant anticipation of flying to Europe is quickly squashed once you enter the virtual and bizarre world of the transit airport. Entering the airport is a battle in itself—first you need to participate in the security ritual to ward off the evil demons we call terrorists, then deal with the Australian Border Force, which must be the most unfriendly name for an immigration service. When you then finally enter the airport with a sigh of relief, you run the gauntlet of the duty-free shops. And then, the waiting starts …

The inimitable Douglas Adams expressed the special nature of airports beautifully when he asked himself why nobody ever says that something is “as beautiful as an airport”. Airports are functional structures with the sole purpose of moving as many people as possible along as many shops as possible towards their gate.

We flew from Melbourne to Rome and had a brief stop in the navel of the world, Dubai International Airport. DXB, as it is known to the initiated, is one of the global hubs where people from all seven continent, bar Antartica, gather on their journey to further destinations. Thousands of travellers waggle through the terminal reminiscent of a gigantic zombie lurch. Travellers are like the living dead and exist outside place and time—jet lagged and tired, but full of anticipation about their final destination.

Philosophers have written insightful books about airports. As Roy Christopher put it: “The airport is a place made up of on-the-ways, not-there-yets, missed-connections. An airport is a place made up of no-places.” Alain de Botton spent a whole week at Heathrow as ‘writer in residence’ and wrote an insightful meditation about  the people that occupy this place. Airports are places where thousands of people gather, but rarely do they meet. De Botton tells the story of these anonymous soles that we see, but never meet.

Finally, after thirty hours of travel limbo, we arrived in Rome. The feeling of being freshly showered, lying on a cool clean sheets after a very long day can only be described in one word, a ‘bedgasm’.

But not for long, time to battle the time difference, overcome our tiredness and explore the eternal city. Ready for the tourism zombie lurch past ancient monuments …

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