16 Jan 2016

Transient

"It could be Rotterdam or anywhere", sang The Beautiful South. In the case of airport hotels, that is definitely the case.
While airports are inherently places of transit, the gaggle of hotels that cluster around the hubs try to create a sense of locality, because or despite the fact that they are mere providers of a commodity. Nobody chooses to go on vacation at an airport hotel. At best, people book them in advance of a scheduled overnight connection somewhere, like I did this past night. Or they are being used before a very early or after a very late flight, when no other locations can be reached on the same day. But more often than not, people end up in these forlorn rooms because things went wrong: Flights got cancelled, a connection was missed, weather wreaked havoc on the original travel plans.

Which means that typically, people at an airport hotel would rather not be there. As I sat down in the lobby lounge cum restaurant cum bar of my temporary residence in the middle of the industrial wasteland surrounding JFK airport last night, I found myself amidst a motely crew of freighter pilots, French tourists, travelling salesmen and a Kuwaiti family with mountains of luggage. None of them really wanted to be there - a sentiment I shared at the very latest after ordering the inevitable Caesar Salad from the completely uninspiring dinner menu.

Despite their grandiose names (Residence Inn, aloft, Four Points, or the particularly catchy Home2 Suites), the hotels are carbon copies of each other: Functional and bland rooms, a completely predictable restaurant, a tacky bar for stranded souls, and a 24/7 gym, from where treadmills make you feel guilty for having taken that cookie at check-in. The only thing that varies is the schedule of the shuttle bus back to the airport and thus, civilization. Some generic prints of landmarks on the walls are the one reminder of the metropolis near which one has bedded down for the night.

Most of the time, the establishments are in some no-mans land between freeway ramps, fuel tanks, rental car parking lots and self-storage depots, with jets roaring overhead. Perhaps this is why harmonious-sounding brands like "Garden Inn" and "Courtyard" are so popular.

If there is something positive to be said about airport hotels, it is that their sterile comforts far surpass the alternative, sleeping in airports. And that they are usually but a roadhouse en route to other, more alluring destinations. As, indeed, was the case last night, for I am about to be airlifted to my happy place,  and the marvels that wait beyond. With prospects like these, even the most bland of inns can claim Sweet Dreams. Guaranteed.

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