Watching Humanity On The Move

By Frances Ippoliti

Airports aren’t usually considered fun places. Travelers want to reach their destinations as soon as possible without spending a minute more than necessary in the process of getting there. However, in a different light, airports can really be the perfect places for reflection and people-watching.

For the first time yesterday, I went to the airport without needing to catch a flight or see anyone off. I was instead going to sit at my leisure while gathering observations and inspiration for an art project.

Armed with a journal, a travel cup of coffee and some apple bananas to munch on, I made my way to the international departures area and sat down in front of the ticket counter. It was delightful to be there without worrying about passports or boarding passes, and I found myself fascinated by the people and stories lined up in front of me.

What makes airports so different from other public places, such as grocery stores and cafes, is that they involve big decisions. Most people can’t afford to fly often, so they think long and hard about the trips they do take — and airports are the culmination of that decision, filled with the anticipation before a trip, and the triumph or disappointment following one. I sat witnessing it all in comfort, almost like watching a movie. It’s a symphony of diversity, and I drink it in — all different kinds of people rushing around, filled with their own affairs.

It almost doesn’t seem like a real place because no one comes there as a destination. On the contrary, it’s a hub, a portal to the rest of the world and everyone wants to be whisked away as quickly as possible. It’s especially fascinating to me that people can visit a place without really visiting a place — a traveler with layovers in Phoenix and Seattle will never really see Phoenix or Seattle. The fact that people from all over the world are brought together for such a short time and then leave again without ever stepping outside seems breathtaking to me.

Emotions are amplified at airports. Examples of anger, disappointment, desperation and loss are commonplace. Yesterday I witnessed a mother saying farewell to her grown daughter. The girl turned occasionally to wave goodbye, and her mother would smile back but wipe her eyes when her daughter wasn’t looking. Just as the girl was about to pass out of sight, she waved one more time and her mother smiled and waved encouragingly back. With her daughter out of sight, however, her smile immediately disappeared, replaced with a look of sorrow and anxiety. She stood there looking on long afterward, even though there was no chance of another glimpse. I wondered about those two: Where was the daughter going, and when would they see each other again? It reminded me of my own mother back in Indiana and our farewells; she’s so strong and smiles for me too, but she can never hide her tears.

I sat musing on this poignant scene for a little while. Then I collected my banana peels and empty travel mug, closed my journal and left feeling invigorated, stimulated, and more compassionate thanks to my time spent watching humanity on the move.

Frances Antoinette Ippoliti is a budding artist and writer from Indiana who moved to Honolulu after college. Follow her journey at or

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