I could never have foreseen myself measuring my time at university through Christmas flights home. How I wish I could go back to that first, innocent year! The blind faith and adrenalin that led me to believe I would get home. And get home I did. As I’ve done every other year, though not without a bit of a headache.
As I write this, I’m sitting at Heathrow Terminal 3. Although I cry at any mention of the word last — including spending fifteen minutes viewing the Last Supper — this is one chapter of university that I’ll be glad to close. Traveling during the holidays brings me into a frenzied panic. The calm, tranquil traveler, who likes to think she knows her way around the security line, disappears. In her place the girl who needs to get her bag on the train first, get everywhere quickly, simply know that she will in fact take-off, enters my body. It’s like my fourth year self and the phantom of the first year girl who had to fly to Dublin to get home combine. They turn into a completely new person. Though, from the looks of the terminal, everyone feels the same way during holiday travel.
I can’t write about holiday travel without describing Heathrow in 2010. Every weather report is measured against the one cm of snow that the BBC described as ‘blizzard conditions’. I see the days my friends choose to go home through the lens of that snowy weekend as well. Everyone said they were staying to Sunday, yet I was one of the few people left in halls come Saturday evening. In the years past I’ve learnt my lesson: leave early, avoid crowds. Yet not a year has gone by where the word ‘snow’ hasn’t sent me into a panic. I’m forever ruined for the song ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’. Not anymore, I’m not.
You could read myriad articles to prepare you for Christmastime travel. Huffington Post will tell you to avoid sitting next to the bathroom-goer and NY Times will encourage you to pack only a carry-on. These facts are nice, if you’ve never boarded a plane before. What most articles fail to mention about holiday travel is this: it’s so hard because you just want to get home and it feels like you want to be home more than anyone else, when the truth is the same frenzy drives all of us. Traveling during the holidays is a lesson in empathy.
What shocked me more than anything else during Heathrow 2010 was how calm people were. Despite standing atop a guy sleeping on the floor wrapped up in a foil blanket, there was a team spirit in the air. We all needed the same thing: to get home. Since no one had information — and at the Aer Lingus check-in desk our flight was always scheduled — we needed each other as well. Even the people who were at the end managed to hold it together. It was inspiring.
Last Christmas, after our flight being delayed for two hours, then rerouted to London and delayed with an uncertain take-off, I noticed a similar phenomenon. We were cooped up in an old, crummy American Airlines plane for thirteen hours total, but people managed to stay sane. We were brought together by relief to be in the air, relief that we were headed home. I’ve never heard more genuine clapping when the plane touched down.
Flying home during Christmas has been awful. I hate the stress, I hate the fear, I hate the overwhelming desire to just be there already. Yet, struggling through the crowded airports and uncertain plane schedules has given me hope. Despite the fact that we wander through the world, feeling like isolated individuals, holiday travel never ceases to reinforce the fact that we are a community. Traveling during the holiday is a collective identity. You may be going home, you may be going on vacation, you may be escaping from something or to something else entirely; but you’re working through the same crowds and greeted by the same sparkling fairy lights. The connections can feel ephemeral, even false but they are there.
I don’t know where I’ll be next Christmas. Will it require a train, plane, bus, boat or quick walk to get home? We’ll have to wait and see. What I do know is that these four holiday travels are an experience that I’ll be thrilled to leave, but feel blessed to have survived. Barely.
Have you ever flown during the holidays? How was your experience?