What Air Travel Reveals About Humans


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“In 2004, Steven Spielberg made an entire movie about the terror of getting stuck for months in an airport,” my colleague Ian Bogost wrote in a recent article, “but I might be happy never to leave the new LaGuardia.”

I had the same feeling flying out from the newly rebuilt LaGuardia Airport in New York City this past Thanksgiving. “I could spend the day here,” I texted my family as I browsed the expensive candy options at one shop in my terminal. That’s an odd feeling to have about a place that, as Bogost notes, has long been defined by how placeless it feels. “Like hotels, conference centers, and shopping malls, they could be distinguished precisely by their indistinctness,” he writes.

The new LaGuardia is trying to reinvent the airport as a place that actually feels like a place. But for now, most airports across the world will continue to be defined by their lack of distinctness. In part because of that fact, airports are good places to watch humans being human: worrying, rushing, dawdling, arguing, eating. Then we get on the plane, and we take a breath—we watch movies, we dream, and we sometimes even cry.

Today’s stories explore who we are when we travel, and what we really want from the experience of getting somewhere.

On Flying

Image of LaGuardia Airport
Peter Garritano for The Atlantic

America Built an Actually Good Airport

LaGuardia is reborn, and it has a message for the nation.

By Ian Bogost

Man running in the airport
Ariel Skelley / Getty

There are Two Types of Airport People

By Amanda Mull

Some travelers love being late.

DreamWorks Pictures; The Atlantic

The Guilt-Free Pleasure of Airplane Movies

By Lenika Cruz

Amid the endless tiny indignities of air travel, only one true retreat remains.

Still Curious?

Other Diversions


My colleague Amanda Mull’s airport story inspired weeks of passionate debate from both early- and late-arriving travelers back in 2019—so much so that we rounded up a collection of reader replies.

One reader sounded like they might not even need a rebuilt LaGuardia: “Airports are fun … Why hang around that extra hour in the hotel or at home when you can sit in an airport, nursing a beer and watching the planes go by?”

— Isabel

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