Where do nations begin? In airport lounges, of course. You see them arriving, soul by soul, in pre-activation mode. They step into no man’s land, with only their passports to hold onto, and follow the signs to the departure gate. There, among the impersonal plastic chairs and despite themselves, they coalesce into the murky Rorschach stain of nationhood.

Kapka Kassabova

I wrote what follows a couple of days ago while sitting in Piazza Dante in Naples. I’ve just finished a nice Al Fresco lunch of pork cutlet and seasonal vegetables washed down with a Nastro Azzurro. Around me was the tumult of Naples. Traffic noise, emergency vehicle sirens and excited children leaving school.

However, my thoughts went back a little further and my airport hotel on the Bath Road near Heathrow. I stayed there because of the earliness of my flight to Naples yesterday. There is no way I could make that flight travelling by public transport from my home in Wiltshire.

Many holidays and business trips start with staying in a mundane airport hotel. My airport hotel was no different from the others I’ve stayed within, with its functional design, stark décor, and minimalist comfort. While all the hotel staff I’ve met over the decades were charming and helpful, there is a limitation to such hotels’ attractiveness.

No guest of an airport hotel plans to stay longer than a night. They are places of transit. Holiday travellers look forward to their getaway. Business travellers are preoccupied with the business matters that lie ahead. But, of course, they too might grab some leisure time. So, in both cases, if their hotel stay extends beyond one night, more often than not it means a flight problem.

The airport hotel stay is the mundane hors d’oeuvre of the holiday for those like me travelling for leisure. Or, more appropriately, given my destination, the Primi. What is to follow is the hope of a tasty main course of warm foreign climes. The airport hotel is an unfulfilling ‘beginner’ that only serves to add anticipation to the journey that lies ahead. A palate cleanser for the wine of character yet to come.

People in an airport Departure Lounge show the same transitory feeling. Their anticipation is battling their boredom as they meander around, glancing every so often at the departure board in the hope of seeing a gate number appear.

As I did yesterday, some passed the waiting time by having a bite to eat. Some took advantage of the shops. A sturdy few sought out a bar. Most, however, had that slow gait wander of lost souls in the Departure Lounge wilderness.

It’s in much contrast to Arrivals. There is palpable excitement amongst those waiting as they scrutinise the faces of arriving passengers seeking out returning loved ones.

To the best of my knowledge, neither a Departure Lounge nor Airport Hotel have acted as a muse for anyone to pen some soulful song. While Widnes railway station may have inspired Paul Simon to write ‘Homeward Bound’. I doubt the same thing is true of Heathrow’s Terminal 3 Departure Lounge. I may be wrong, of course…



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