Edward Snowden Edward Snowden, center. (Tanya Lokshina/Human Rights Watch)

Amid the news about Edward Snowden, I worry that we are losing sight of a critical fact: He has been in an airport for three weeks. There’s a certain irony in the fact that the person who has forced us to discuss privacy and security is stuck in one of the places where the trade-off between the two is most visible (and, in America, willing to pat you down with the back of a gloved hand). But also, this is reaching Terminal levels.

As a matter of full disclosure, I am pathologically fond of airports. I once started a MeetUp group for people who really like airports and wish they had an excuse to spend more time in them. Being stuck in an airport for three weeks comes very close to my idea of heaven. I could not survive a second if I fell into a mine or were stranded on an island. But roughing it in an airport? Absolutely.

Usually airports are blurs of regret. They are the things you run through, panting, to your gate from the security checkpoint, where you had to throw out six containers of liquids and one Wiffle bat as the other travelers stared disapprovingly at you.

There is so much to do there, and instead of doing any of it — having a long, relaxing meal at any of numerous TGIs Friday, getting a chair massage from those chair-massage people, buying tiny tubes of toothpaste — you are busy hurtling sweatily to your gate as they repeat your name over the intercom.

No matter what your idea of a good time is, you can do it in an airport — or try to, as former Idaho senator Larry Craig can attest. (Unless your idea of a good time is leaving your baggage unattended, or napping stretched out on seats that do not have uncomfortable arm rests dividing them.) Airports are like malls, but with fewer teenagers from the 1980s and more haggard people who have just lost their containers of liquids. In theory, you can get all of your shopping done for the year. Between the expensive electronics, new luggage, the purveyors of giant pretzels, and the one weird store that sells only scarves and polished rocks, there is something for everyone on your list. You can view being stuck there as a hellish nightmare scenario — or a fun opportunity to get some “me” time in.

Among the fun activities available:

  • Sit down next to a baby, announce, “PAYBACK TIME” and scream wordlessly for eight hours.
  • Buy a novelty shot glass with a stereotype of the city where the airport is located
  • Buy 38 magazines that feature profiles of Channing Tatum
  • Purchase universal remote at electronics store and use it to tune the TVs to something that isn’t Anderson Cooper Looking Concerned.
  • Sneak a workout in by jogging from gate to gate.
  • Get flowers and make a big sign with a common last name on it and stand there at the baggage claim looking hopeful, yet nervous, just to see what happens. Hey, maybe you’ll make a new friend!
  • Try to communicate with Larry Craig.
  • Actually read Skymall, cover to cover.

Sure, Anne Applebaum described the terminal as “the most soul-destroying, most angst-inducing transport hub in the world.” But remember — it’s what you make it! Now, back to that needed conversation about privacy, transparency, and security that we’ve been having.


Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".