Arrivals or Departures?

Years ago,  a girlfriend of mine, confided that she often snuck off to the airport on weekends. She had no reason to go, it was purely for people watching. “I love that bit when you see people saying goodbye – I wonder where they’re going and for how long. I just like to feel a part of their excitement. It makes me happy”. I asked about the arrivals. “Yeah, that’s okay – but the departures are more exciting”.

I love the arrivals.

I’ve watched hundreds of people recognize the person they love as they’ve made their way off the plane. Hundreds of faces change from absent minded boredom to teary eyed nostalgia. It never gets old. It’s that brief moment where every thing is forgotten. You’ve made it. You’re back. You’re here. We’ve missed you.

If you ever want to test out if Gin really shouldn’t be drunk on a long haul flight – try landing in an unfamiliar airport and watching families re-unite while your own family is thousands of miles away. Unrealistic optimists such as myself always hang on to the hope that miraculously you will land in Malta/Singapore/Tripoli or Wherethehellisthatistan only to find a familiar face waving from the distance. Even though you know your Dad’s at the bowls carnival in Berri, it’s possible he may have found himself in Chicago on the same weekend as you. Right?

I know. I know.

Over the years I’ve installed a few mechanisms to cope with the disappointment. My favourite being the I’m going to pretend I’m a movie star entrance. That’s the one where I make my way in to the arrivals hall and begin walking quickly to avoid the paps while wearing sunglasses. I usually wrap a pashmina around my neck for impact. Unfortunately the pile of baby vomit on my shoulder, Cherrios stuck to my bottom and broken travel stroller have blown my cover over the years. Not to mention the lack of paparazzi and the chicken little backpack hitting me in the back of the leg with each step.

My parents avoid airport departure lounges. They were there for the first one and it wasn’t pretty. G and I had been married for a few weeks and he’d gone on ahead to Perth. It was time for me to join him. I was 30, it was just me and them. We hadn’t lived in the same town for years but this was different, I was moving states. I think we all knew it was just the beginning. They said all the right things, but we all cried. I sobbed for about the first hour of the flight until I settled with just letting out little hiccup cries, you know the involuntary ones that come out of nowhere? Just when you thought you’d stopped crying – there it is again.

They came back to the departure lounge about 18 months later. The first little traveler was 11 days old and G and I were traveling back to Jakarta with more luggage than U2 travelled with on their last tour. My Dad was assigned the job of swinging the little traveler back and forth in her basket while we all told him how he could do it better. I could see him looking at all of her little features, wondering what she’d look like next time he saw her. My mother was looking at me, wondering if I was really alright, not wanting us to go. It was so much more than a goodbye.

We don’t do departures now. We stick to arrivals.

My flight came in to Doha from Jakarta at 11.30 on Friday evening. I just presumed that G would have to stay home with the little travelers and I’d catch a taxi home. When I walked through the doors and in to the arrival hall I saw hundreds of faces looking back in my direction, it was noisy, bustling, people were holding signs. And then like something out of a movie, there was G, all 6 feet something of him, standing at the back of the crowd.

You’ve made it. You’re back. You’re here. We’ve missed you.

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  1. No surprises that I very much relate to this post. My family is hopeless. We do it all. Arrivals and Departures, often extended family included. 
    I also love watching families reunited. On our move back to the US, which included an entire days delay to our take off and a missed connection at LA, reuniting with the husband after 2 months apart was a pretty sweet moment for all. 
    Gorgeous post.
    Michelle xx

  2. Expatwithkids says

    Isn’t it great to see a room full of genuinely happy people? I think arrivals is a lovely place full of positive vibes that just has to put a smile on your face!

  3. This post gave me goosebumps. My love of the arrival gate started when I was just a child, my grandfather would visit us from Yugoslavia each Xmas & stay for 4 months. We’d all pile in the car & make the 3 hour snowy drive to the airport to greet him, we run into his arms & he’d cover us with kisses. His pockets would be filled with gum balls & chocolates & even pastries from the markets. Such warm memories for me. In a few weeks we will all pile in the car to make the 2 hour drive to the airport to pick up my Mom. I know that her pockets will be filled as well.

  4. I love and hate airports!
    Saying goodbye when we emigrated to the other side of the world was just awful (I’m all teary thinking about it, and it was almost 5 years ago now!) I get all emotional watching reunions at arrivals too. Have you seen the movie “love actually” the airport scenes get me going every time!
    I’ll be on airport arrivals duty soon when my parents come for a visit and I’ll definitely be taking the tissues!

  5. I love the arrivals, but don’t handle the departures well at all these days – leaving Son#1 in the US at Uni was excruciating.  I do still remember the (pre 9/11) excitement of coming off the plane to loved ones waiting right there at the gate – nothing like it! Certainly not the same feeling when you’ve schlepped luggage and kids halfway through the airport to meet people at the baggage claim!

  6. Bless him for coming!  I’m with you on the Arrivals.  The reunions, rather than the goodbyes, are way more fun to watch.  And participate in.  The goodbyes are too painful. 

  7. Kathlockett says

    Good on G!

    I admit t feeling deflated when we arrive in the airport to have faces expectantly turn towards us, only to visibly droop as if to say, “Oh. You’re not her,” and look away in disappointment!

  8. Lovely post! I love arrivals but also somehow enjoy departures (both watching and being part of it). I never get sick of airports although I do spend a lot of time in them – such fascinating places! I remeber the first time my dad came to visit me in Japan. I watched as a lot of Japanese families reunited but in such an understated way – a pat on the head or something like that. It was a pretty stark contrast with the bear hug my dad gave me!

  9. After years of commuting between Doha and Melb to care for my mother, and arriving to a sea of unknown faces at Tullamarine, it is now a sheer delight that my son has his driver’s license.  No more “newbie” taxi drivers who have not idea about where my suburb is.  Just a big, squeezy hug from my boys at the Arrivals Hall. And, as I pay for the freeway tolls, they take me to the airport as well…. probably pleased to see the last of me by then.

  10. Sob sob sob. Love it. Funny my OH did the same thing and was so pleased to see me after ten days back in Oz last year. Like you I love Arrivals. xx

  11. Gorgeous Kirst.

    Ps: I imagined his first words to you were: “Up for it?” and then I couldn’t stop giggling. I miss you guys.

    Pps: Seeing that it’s a new year…can we start the K,G and the kids will be here in so and so days yet??

    Ppps: H started walking today!

  12. I am the mother who avoids the departures but I loved the blog, you Dad still tells people about swinging the baby in the carrycot and I would say the excess luggage was a talking point in that airport for that day.  So nice to be missed.

  13. Beautifully written.   I have an impending arrival back into Doha and you have just made me look all that much more forward to it!

  14. Every bloody one of your posts makes me cry Kirsty!

  15. Great Post!  I am definitely an arrivals girl!  Love the family reunions 🙂

  16. Lovely piece! In Holland there is a TV show filmed at Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam) called “Hello Goodbye” and they look for likely suspects waiting, arriving or leaving to interview and tell them their stories. It’s great fun and sometimes very sad, but it’s real life.

    I’ve spent many many hours hanging around airports the world over (and I’m still doing it), and I always find it fascinating to watch other people and wonder about their lives.

    Of course your prince was at the airport!!

  17. Oh that made me cry.  Beautiful!

  18. Oh I so know what you mean – I MUST try the movie star look next flight 🙂 I am BAD BAD BAD at departures. I love arrivals 🙂 Glad you are you home safe and sound.

  19. I’m enjoying your blog, Kirsty! Before I had kids, I managed somehow to say my goodbyes and get to the gate without choking up. Now, on our return to Thailand after annual visits to the US, I find it impossible, with all the family who’ve turned out to give hugs to our two boys!

  20. Love your writing K! So emotive.
    I used to LOVE airport arrivals & departures – all of those strangers that I would make up stories for in my head – I could spend hours doing it.In October 2005 while were were living in the Netherlands, after a fantastic 3 week trip around Germany/Belgium/France, I took my parents to the airport at Brussels International to say bye & see you in 6 weeks for Christmas. That’s the last time I saw my Mum. She unexpectedly passed away while I was traveling to Sydney in December.I now can’t do departures.K x

  21. awww so romantic but so sad all the same. Airports are such bittersweet places. I imagine if I could ever write a book I’d be sat in an airport writing it

  22. I’m enjoying your blog, Kirsty. Before I had kids, I could make it to the gate without too many tears. Now, with two small boys, and everyone in the family turning up to say goodbye, it’s agonising!

  23. New to your post. Came over from the lovely Claire at ClaireyHewitt (who I found through Mrs Woog, who I found through…you know how it goes with so many awesome blogs out there). I love your writing & as the daughter of an Aussie diplomat who spent the first 21 years of my life moving countries I feel comforted by your post. I guess I’m like one of your kids, all ‘growd up’.

    I had such a love of travel, of moving, of the excitement and specialness that this unique lifestyle brought to us, that I found it very hard to plant roots. Even now, at 44, I get itchy feet out of the blue. But I have been blessed to take my kids to show them some of the places I grew up & the cycle sort of happens all over again. Airports have a special place in my heart. Now when I’m not the one leaving, but rather fare welling others, I really have to fight the urge to jump on the plane with them. I will forever be grateful for the childhood I had. My only regret was not following in my fathers footsteps and becoming a diplomat myself – or marrying one – so that I could continue the saga. Having said that, I’d miss my Mum waaaay too much!

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