I love small airports. I believe they are wonderful creations of God, made solely for the purpose of teaching big airports a thing or two about how airports are meant to be.
Small airports are refreshingly cosy. They don’t hurry you. If you are late, which in my case is almost always, there is someone willing to help you through with some good, old fashioned hollering. (“Hey, Bill, this gentleman has forgotten his luggage, can you run him home in your car while I hold the gates open?”)
At small airports, owing to the plethora of electronic equipment and assorted connectors in my hand baggage, I always get extra attention (“Ooh, what do we have here — let’s have a look-see, shall we?”), which never fails to make me feel special. Invariably, this allows me to catch up with the security officer about the weather, and thereafter guide him by way of a series of manipulative answers to ask me what I teach at Bournemouth University. When he does, I lie through my teeth and say, “Nanotechnology.” I always go for nanotechnology because nobody is impressed with journalism or journalists these days, and, between you and me, there isn’t much future for either.
The other reason I love small airports is because they come with small planes. Small planes are utterly charming, if you ask me. They have an individuality that big planes lack. You get to walk up to them and board, which makes the whole experience up close and very personal. You get to notice that the panting blonde who is waving you on to the plane is the same blonde who checked in your luggage when you arrived and the same blonde who scanned your boarding pass a minute ago. You get to see the dirt marks on the nose of the plane and the places where the paint is beginning to peel. If you plan the boarding carefully, you might even get to run your hands on the fuselage a bit. This is something you never get to do with big planes. Who amongst us can claim to have scratched the underbelly of an Airbus or a Boeing? No one, I bet.
When you walk into the cabin of small planes, you get to duck your head a bit and feel tall and powerful. This is good for the morale, particularly for short people, who never get to feel tall and powerful otherwise. If Napoleon had flown Flybe even once, I am certain the world would have been spared much bloodshed. In small planes, you can also peer over the pilot’s shoulder and say, “Aha, gotcha, you doodler!” After that, if you are the worrying kind, you could check with the flight attendant if the plane did indeed stop at your destination (“Excuse me, miss, but could you tell the pilot I want to get down in Edinburgh?”). I always do this because it is good to confirm things, and also because it reminds me of a more innocent time when everybody went everywhere by bus and you routinely passed on similar instructions to the driver.
Once you’re inside, small planes allow you to connect to the world in a manner big planes cannot. The flight attendants are less robotic, almost awkward, at times on the edge of a fumble. You see everyday traffic through your window as you taxi. When you take off, you receive a free back massage, thanks to the frantic reverberations of a small engine struggling against the big pull.
The best part is that you get to see the world passing beneath you in a Google Earth kind of way. And if you have seated yourself in the fore of the plane slightly ahead of the wings (in my opinion, the seventh or eighth row is best for this), you can press your nose to the window and watch the propellers whirring close to your face. Call me macabre, but there is something distinctly primal and thrilling about that sight. Big planes and big airports? No, it is not the same.