Two weeks ago, I was stranded at the Jakarta Airport for almost a day with an unconfirmed ticket. Along with the flights going full, there was my mind willing to squeeze one thought after another with a willingness to process observations. I’ve read and heard of people making the most of their experiences at airport and taking to pen and paper to immortalize the moments. Of the most notable, certainly, is Alain De Botton’s ‘The Art of Travel.”
Here are a few thoughts that kept my mind occupied at the airport despite my eye-lids failing me often –
1 – I understood why many people celebrate the success of an expedition with a travel partner. While travelling is a fun and adventurous experience that keeps you occupied, some circumstances eventually make you realise that man’s happiness is a reflection of the company he shares. A traveler’s misery can reduce greatly if accompanied by a trusted comrade who shares the discomforts in times of uncertainty.
2 – I understood the wisdom in the Islamic teaching of giving Zakat (alms) to a traveler to help him/her financially. This charity can be addressed to both Muslims or non-Muslims. While a man may live a comfortable life with community support back in home, he could face unforeseen difficulties during travel. Though a man would like to flow like the stream, he may be forced to remain stagnant like the pebbles underneath. The reasons could be many – the traveller may have prepared for limited number of days with limited money, the currency he carries – though abundant – may not be accepted for exchange, he may have been robbed during travel and so on. Act of kindness is not affixed to national priorities to help fellow citizens, rather it lies in your heart which understands a traveler in need as a brother in humanity.
3 – When there’s a technical glitch in an aircraft mid-air, the pilot does not lose his cool and manhandle the control. That’s an option that would not make it to the pilot’s conscience and common sense, leave alone a manual book. A passenger is no less a pilot in ensuring a smooth travel for his co-travellers. Either a traveller could be peeved with a situation to the point of making the discomfit contagious, or he / she could empathize with the situational demands and cooperate with those who work to rectify the issues. During the testing times at the airport, I came across a bunch of crass, rude, loud and indecent passengers who faced the same situation as me and others. Their uncivil behaviour with the staff of the airline suggested that travel methods of the modern world have failed to command their respect and dignity for the humankind. With the fear of stereotyping, I couldn’t help but wish that such people be limited to their ancestral vehicles marked by camels and horses. Even then, I wondered if an unsettled camel would have to be at the receiving end of their ire and whimsical nature. When you lack a travel companion to comfort you, it helps to adopt all your co-passengers and staff as if their comfort depends on the words that leave your tongue.
4 – Economic differentiation does not fail you anywhere, including the airports. Passengers are divided into Economy, Business or the First Class, and with the new schemes of Frequent Flyer Programmes (FPPs) – into Platinum, Gold and Silver. We have internalized differentiation based on wealth, and are never surprised when we are not necessarily treated the same as our co-passenger.
My stay at the airport has to it a poignant build up of some unfortunate events in the history of civil aviation. And another fact – as real as economic discrimination – stares us in our faces. However rich we may be as an individual and as a traveller, and how so every the airline’s services may have favoured our clout, an unfortunate accident would leave us as a trivial residue in the same debris that constitutes every other passenger – be it from the Economy, Business or the First Class.
Maybe the best of human values can be applied every day, in or outside the airport. After all, the most celebrated of all travels, is the journey of life.