Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

FLIGHTS of fancy

How much do I love airports? I've even gone on a date there

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For as long as I can remember, I've loved the atmosphere of the airport. The speed of travellers making their way to the gate, airplanes coming and going, the fact that the airport is always open -- these things made the airport seem like a very busy and important place. As a child (who had not yet experienced a flight delay or a missing bag), the airport looked like the epitome of efficiency and organization. I was fascinated by the coordination of so many flights, passengers, and luggage. The airport seemed like a community in itself. I was sure that one could actually live in the airport and never get bored -- eating in the airport's restaurants, browsing in its shops, and watching people and airplanes come and go.

Even those of us who don't fly will visit the airport to say goodbye to a loved one or to pick them up when they return home. For some, like me, the airport can be a destination in and of itself. I have fond memories of the observation lounge in the old airport terminal -- where, for only the price of parking, I could watch airplanes come and go for hours. As a university student, I went there for a quiet place to study. I even visited the observation lounge on a date with my then-boyfriend (now husband), where we sat and watched airplanes land and take off one night.

I was sad to lose the observation lounge with the opening of the new James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. But the new terminal is something Winnipeggers can be proud of. The building itself, with its wall-to-wall windows, is like one big observation deck. The amenities are fantastic and have a distinctly Winnipeg flavour (Stella's! Toad Hall Toys!), and the experience of actually travelling through the terminal is vastly improved.

But while watching airplanes is a great pastime, making frequent visits to the airport to do that might be impractical. Fortunately, there are many wonderful vantage points in our city from which to watch airplanes come and go. St. James, where I grew up and still live, is full of places to view airplanes up close.

As a teenager, my friends and I would ride our bikes up to the big fence along the airfield, just off Ness Avenue, and lie in the grass just south of the runway, watching planes land and take off. Now I take my sons for walks along the Yellow Ribbon Greenway, a multi-use trail that follows the airfield along Silver Avenue. From the trail, we can watch aircraft of all sizes and kinds taxi around the airport, take off, and land. On a bright, cold day after one of our many snowstorms this winter, I strapped on my snowshoes and headed for the Greenway. When I reached the part of the trail that lies directly below the flight path, I lay down in the deep snow and watched airplanes coming in to land overhead. The quiet, crisp air shimmered as each airplane approached with a roar, and I marvelled -- as I always have -- at the grace with which even the largest aircraft soar through the air and touch down on the ground as though they weigh nothing at all.

As an adult, I've been fortunate enough to travel, meaning I've spent time watching airplanes come and go from airports all over the world. Airports everywhere have the same sense of urgency and excitement. But there's only one airport where my family will be waiting for me by the luggage carousel, where I can get a slice of Gondola Pizza on my way to the gate, and where I can watch airplanes from a beautifully landscaped trail minutes from my home. That's what makes James Armstrong Richardson International so special.

Kathleen Cook is a lifelong St. James resident and former Air Cadet who doesn't mind occasionally being woken up by the sound of large cargo planes at 4 a.m.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2013 A8

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