Third Floor, Ticketing
. . . and departures.
The International Terminal at SFO is like a large, architecturally stunning ghost town. Bank after bank of check-in counters of which only a few hum softly with activity: some mild-mannered travelers lulled by the vast, airy space accented with wood, steel, and glass.
It’s lovely and, I imagine, in a no-9/11 world, it would’ve been a location scout’s dream. SFO International should be the new LA Convention Center, but I doubt it is or ever will be.
The terminal is a perfect hybrid of city-centered autonomy mixed with peninsula-tax-bracket chic. The food courts are gloriously hot-dog-on-a-stick free, focusing instead on teensy versions of Bay Area favorites like the Inner Sunset’s own Ebisu. I suppose if I were leaving for far off lands, I’d like to take some Ebisu sushi with me as well. Except maybe if I were headed to Tokyo and then only for comparative purposes.
As a nervous (read: phobic white-knuckler of the highest order) flier, airports generally make my stomach flip even when I’m not traveling. SFO International, however, is soothing. Silent. Vast. Peaceful. Artistic.
There were thousands of well lighted angles begging to be recorded for posterity. Each view said “capture me because no airport window will ever make another square of standard flooring look this good again. Ever.” Heading for my car, I forced the elevator back up a floor because the postcard window called out and my blurry eyes fell for it.
In truth, though, no airport, no matter how expensive, shiny, or nicely appointed can comfort enough to compensate for the one post-9/11 change that ruins travel. No one can meet me at the jetway and I can’t prolong the good-bye until the absolute last minute. Along the serpentine maze of the security line – empty of people but still a mockingly annoying labyrinth of nylon cords and stanchions – gather family members of each passenger loosening belts and shoelaces.
It’s almost like It’s A Small World as I match traveler to relative based on costume and skin tone. That there’s only a handful of people makes it easier, of course.
If the good-bye were at the jetway, the way God and Maybelline intended, I could say goodbye and choke back my foolish tears until the ticketed passenger boarded the plane. Now, though, he can stop and wave at each turn. As he empties his pockets. As he loads his laptop back into his bag. As he walks away, through the glass partition, past the duty-free shop, and slowly – so very slowly – out of sight. When loved ones get right onto the jetway, you know you can’t follow and you can’t see them anyway. Now, though, they remain tantalizingly close, yet TSA-ed right out of reach.
San Francisco International Terminal: easy on the eyes, but just as hard on the heart.