March 1, 2019

In praise of eating in airports

There are two kinds of people in this world: those that get to the airport just before check-in for their flight closes, rushes through security, and then wait with angst for the flight to begin boarding, and those, like me, who get to the airport early, several hours before their flight, and enjoy the luxury and relaxation that comes from not having to rush anywhere and having all the time in the world.

It’s no secret that I don’t like traveling—I’m a homebody by nature—but for someone that doesn’t like traveling at all, I do it quite a bit. This year so far, I have eight flights planned, and that number is bound to increase as the weeks go on. (There were years when I spent more than 70% of my days on the proverbial road; those years may have contributed to my reticence to travel, now.)

When I travel, my goal is to reduce stress, to reduce rushing, and to maximize pleasure. Getting to the airport early is a no-brainer: leaving myself plenty of time to go through the rigamarole of the air travel apparatus makes the entire experience more palatable.

The fun begins once I’m through security and approaching the departure gate. With more than an hour (sometimes two!) to pass before boarding, my goal is to find a good place to eat. I know many people who eat before getting to the airport, or pack food with them, or even wait until they get fed on the plane. I make no such considerations: I eat at airports, and I enjoy my meals.

The airport restaurant is a funny beast: they know they have a captive audience, so there is no reason to wow their diners, but so many of them do. A decade ago, most of the eateries I found at airports were owned and operated by large chains—fast food and casual dining—but more and more these days, I’m finding high-caliber dining opportunities wherever I go. As someone who usually eschews the in-flight food, having a good meal before boarding sets the tone for my trip.

I first noticed this in Toronto, when local chefs began opening up airport outposts. There is something delightful about having a glass of prosecco and nibbling on some arancini at Massimo Capra’s restaurant before your flight, or enjoying some Fogo Island cod and chips from Lynn Crawford’s eatery as the rest of the world rushes by you.

I have eaten incredible Korean food at Incheon, enjoyed oysters in Schiphol, delicious dim sum in Hong Kong, and memorable ramen at Narita. Even Laguardia, which has long been derided as the worst airport in the world, has revitalized itself: the French onion soup and burger at Bisoux was a standout among airport food worldwide.

Eating at the airport isn’t just about filling your stomach: it’s about watching the world (literally) rush by you as you relish in the slowness of your meal. An airport meal is a reminder that we’re all connected to each other, flying from one end of the globe to the other, through much more than geography; we’re also connected by our need to nourish, and our desire to make connection over food and drink.

Next time you fly, show up early and park yourself at an airport restaurant. Enjoy the food, have a drink. Watch the people rushing from gate to gate, and remind yourself just how lucky you are to be able to see the world. There’s no better way to start your trip, no matter where you may be going.

(This rumination was inspired by Jesse Wente’s question on Twitter about favorite airport restaurants. You should reply to him with your favorites!)