The airport I fly in and out of is modernizing. The whole terminal is being overhauled, upgraded and revamped. It’s all fine with me, except for the fact that they’re now going to have what are called “jetways” for boarding the plane which are familiar to most everyone – they’re the walkways which allow one to walk directly onto the plane. These have taken the place of the set of steps called variously “moving stairs” or “sky stairs.”

I welcome most forms of progress. I’m glad for answering machines, call forwarding, multi-disc CD players, and e-mail. But I need to mourn the passing of the moving stairs from the Albany Airport. As far as I’m concerned, part of the deal with buying my ticket is being able to walk outside, see the big shiny beast and climb the stairway to that open door. This is the vehicle that’s going to transport me – let me see it. When I order wine, the bottle is brought to me for my inspection – show me the bottle, show me the plane. I’
m not really inspecting it, I just want to marvel at the ingenuity of my species having created this giant metal bird – many tons, to be piloted through the lower atmosphere.

Those steps. Walking up the steps is full of anticipation and amazement, walking down them is my triumphant arrival. I think of all the photo-op landings on the tarmac – politicians, walking down the steps to a red carpet and a national band. The Beatles waving from the top of the stairs when they first touched down in America.

Words like “comfort” and “ease” are bandied about when the discussion turns towards the efficient moving of hundreds of people on and off of planes. With the advent of the “jetways” there are not a lot of differences between the clean, institutional decor of the airport, the walkway and the plane. My wife pointed out that sometimes it’s cold or raining when the plane lands in Albany. That’s never been a problem for me. In fact, after a few hours in the canned and recycled atmosphere of the plane, any sort of open air is welcome – and the more bracing the better. If it’s raining, there are friendly attendants handing out umbrellas with the logo of their airline emblazoned on it – a loaner to use to traverse the thirty yards from plane to gate. Wind, cold, snow – it only makes the stepping inside of the airport all the more welcome.

The only thing I do like about the jetways are the daydreaming they allow me. As I do often in various public structures – banks, restaurants, etc – my thoughts take up the challenge of what could I do with this building if it were mine. The jetways would make some fine tentacles snaking out from my house. They aren’t really a building, but they have lots of wall space and could be lined with bookshelves or framed works of art. Out-of-town guests would wander through my motley, free-ranging collections displayed proudly in these so-called jetways. After their visit I’d drive them to the airport. And, since this is my daydream, just before disappearing into the plane, they’d wave to me from the top of the moving stairs.

– David Greenberger

(aired on NPR’s All Things Considered, 18 April 1997)