The place airports have in the world…and in our minds

Airports are not really places we like, are they? For most of us, they’re simply a means to an end, with the security queues and delays something to be put up with to get where we want.

But that doesn’t lessen their significance in broader terms. Being part of ITV Granada Reports’ ‘Airport Uncovered’, a series of films looking behind the scenes at Manchester Airport (click ‘How the other half fly’ to see my contribution), over the summer reminded me of that significance.

Major airports like Manchester have two real impacts. One, they bring the world to an area. Two, they allow that area’s people to connect with the world with a speed and an ease that their forebears probably couldn’t have thought possible.

It’s quite easy, I think, to forget this interconnectedness that airports bring when stood queuing to get through security or waiting for the flight to board.

The fact that the distance and time-shrinking impact of airports can be so easily lost shows, perhaps, how air travel and air cargo is taken for granted.

Perhaps when there’s talk that air travel has little glamour in a world of low-fare airlines, it’s prompted not just by a nostalgic yearning for a lost (and semi-mythical) romantic age, but a unspoken realisation that in our era of e-mail and telecoms, air travel isn’t quite the fastest mode of communication it once was.

But that doesn’t lessen its significance in shaping today’s world. And by that I don’t really mean the physical impacts, which are obvious. I mean air travel’s impact on people’s minds – the knowledge that somewhere completely different is just a few hours away, which can be reached in relative comfort and ease. That’s shaped the minds of my generation, arguably the most travelled generation ever.

Granted, it’s difficult to think of all this when you’re tired stepping off the plane and waiting to collect the bags at an ungodly early hour. But it’s still true.

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