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The Hidden Beauty of Air Travel

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We all have our opinions on the process of flying. The arduously long check-in lines, the inexplicable delays, the screaming children, the overpriced coffee and the baggage claim lottery. But for every weary-eyed traveller who curses the seemingly impossible-to-adhere-to baggage restrictions, there's a frequent flier who regards the artificial lighting and recycled air as welcome reminders he's home (see George Clooney in 2009 film Up In The Air for more on that).

As I sit here about to take my 17th flight in just 12 months, I have given a little thought to the bigger picture surrounding flying, and why the process of air travel doesn't have to be as dreaded as it often is.

Without doubt, modern-day flights are a nuisance on multiple levels; tiresome tasks include filtering liquids into pointlessly small containers, holding endless staring contests with the departure gate board, and removing 99% of your clothing before shuffling through security without your trousers falling down. Sadly though, these things are a result and a reality of the times that we live in, and are designed to make us safer.

Airline travel is compartmentalised in every way imaginable. 2013-08-14-img3.jpg We pack our belongings and toiletries into suitcases, we neatly construct our hand luggage, we check-in at a certain section of a certain terminal with a certain airline, and head to a number-specific gate to sit in a number specific-seat to a specified destination...you get the idea.

Consequently, all of this physical compartmentalisation presents itself in a mental capacity too. We don't even think about where other people might be going or what they might be doing, it simply all becomes about us. "When's my flight? What gate do I need to go to? Where can I get something to eat?"

Flying becomes all about the individual, and airports are full of them. Thousands upon thousands of people, all walking in different directions, flying to and from different cities around the world for varying reasons. Some are taking a break, others are doing business, and some are never coming back. Whilst many reluctantly wave goodbye to their loved ones, others cant wait to head through security to begin their journey around the globe. Every flight has a story.

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Credit: Andrei Dimofte

The arrivals gate at London Heathrow Airport is a wonderful, bittersweet mixture of emotions. Seasoned veterans breeze through with one piece of hand luggage, whilst others labour under the weight of four over-stuffed suitcases. Sun-kissed holiday-goers who look disappointed to be back in the country are overtaken by adventurous travellers reunited with their family after 12 long months.

Airports turn over hundreds of thousands of passengers a day, infinitely transporting the masses to their destination. Each traveller's journey is as important as the next, yet we all whisk around the terminals blissfully unaware of the thousands of untold stories that surround us at every angle.

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Home to hundreds of stories.
Credit: Rob Annis

Without a care in the world, we all carry our luggage onto our next destination in search of something greater. As we leave the terminal to continue our own journeys, a new story passes us on its way to check in. Airports are temporary homes to millions of thoughts, feelings, stories, hopes and dreams. For me, that is the hidden beauty of air travel.