“Wait…where am I again?”

I was in Woburn, Boston, either the night before or the night after visiting Sam Sleiman and Brenda Enos at Boston Logan International Airport. It was my third and final week-long trek to one airport after another — one hotel after another — one security checkpoint after another. My brain was literally at capacity, stuffed to the skull with tales and images of enabling projects, “postcard-stamp” sites, runway extensions, terminal amenities, sustainability efforts, low-cost philosophies of master planning and user fees, airport authorities versus city departments, CMAR, IDIQ, customer service goals, and so forth.

By the time I visited LaGuardia’s central terminal P3 project site, I had visions of San Jose airport’s magically chameleon-like ceiling art installation, changing colors according to the weather reports in various destinations. Boston’s impressive wall of Massachusetts history and Sleiman showing off the lounge-like furniture and interactive amenities-guide kiosks like a proud papa. I remembered asking how in the world a Victoria’s Secret and a hair salon could possibly be successful at an airport. He indicated it was a surprise to him too.

No less proud of their airports were the folks at SFO, Sea-Tac, DFW, Portland Jetport. Those at Kansas City, Philadelphia and Burbank are quite eager for the political forces to align so that they too can start modernizing their terminals. Sixteen airports, 16 airfield tours—and it never, ever got old.

The guys who hosted my Philadelphia airfield tour, including folks from TY Lin International, remarked that after seeing one impressive Airbus A380 after another land on the airfield at LAX, the smaller planes landing here must seem underwhelming. To me, the planes looked adorable, like beagles compared to Great Danes. Yes, I had been immersed in airports long enough that I was starting to zoomorphize planes.

Air travel can be notoriously difficult, as everyone knows. The airport people know this. They work like mad every day to remedy issues and make the time at their facilities as pleasant as possible. I always knew this on an outsider observer level, but to be given a firsthand look at it 16 times really makes it hit home.

I didn’t mention that while at Salt Lake City airport, I saw the FAA and airport officials unveil a new NextGen technology that allows air traffic controllers and pilots to send electronic flight plan codes to each other rather than reading them back to each other verbally. Or that Suffolk Construction is building a $165-million project to upgrade three gates at Logan for A380 jets—plus a special lounge from which qualified airline customers can directly board those jets.  

Almost like a bow to wrap up the airplane experience I’d been gifted with was the opportunity to help judge the Airports Going Green annual competition. Over 20 submittals reflecting airports and other aviation entities around the world—from  United Airlines’ biofuels program to DFW’s carbon-neutral achievement, from Hong Kong’s carbon management program to Vancouver, Canada’s “waste wars”—there are just too many great stories coming out of airports.

But it’s time to return some of my attention back to my other transportation beats, like roads and bridges, transit and rail, ports and canals. A good sign of this is that, coming back from my last flight, I finally got sick—and when finally going through TSA Precheck status, my bag promptly got pulled aside and searched. 

And then there were the expense reports...