O’Hare on Thanksgiving Eve and I had made it through security in less than 15 minutes. Now was clearly the time to celebrate.
I settled into a barstool at a vaguely depressing Chili’s, squashed between the luggage of a man who clearly enjoys The Sharper Image catalog and a fellow who had just returned from wandering aroud India. And it was there that it happened: I had my first airport beer.
I’m not an infrequent flyer, but the urge has never hit me as I schlup my bags through a terminal to sit down for a drink. Apparently I’m in the minority among travelers.
Lenghty layover? Bar. Ride is running late? Bar. About to spend a healthy amount of time with people you see twice a year? Big time bar.
Or, if you’re like one young man who shoved his way to the bar next to me, a spare 10 minutes is really all you need. He ordered, chugged and ran in just enough time (I assume) to make his Nashville flight.
So what is it about airports that make people crave a drink?
It’s certainly not the selection or the value. Not that the airport Chili’s wasn’t delightful, but it’s not the kind of place for craft beer or a cocktail. Think baseball beer—big, light and expensive. A 20 oz. plastic cup of Bud Light ran me a little over $7. Not awful, but not a deal.
Maybe it’s the convenience. There’s typically a spot to drink within sprinting distance of your gate. And if you can’t find a seat near the gate, chances are you can find one at the bar. There’s more room to stretch out. Heck, they might even have a spare electrical outlet. When it comes to finding a comfortable spot to relax before the chaos of boarding, a bar tops the list (though I’ve never tried one of those massage chairs. That might outrank it.)
Perhaps everyone is just looking for a transit meet-cute. True, an airport Chili’s isn’t my ideal spot to run into the guy who is also flying to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, listening to Drake’s “Take Care” and happens to have had his ride back out at the last minute when we land. But you never know. It could happen.
Just don’t tell me that an airport beer makes the trip more enjoyable. Oh, no. Because after my first airport beer, I figured I had enough time for a second airport beer. And that left me with just enough time to run to my gate and board. Two words: Airplane. Bathroom. Is there really any amount of buzzed bliss worth that experience? I don’t have a fear of flying, but I do have a fear of being on the wrong side of the drink cart when I need to use the restroom. And I’m just not sure that the $15 worth of beer I had pre-flight was worth the duress.
Emily Van Zandt is a RedEye reporter. Her typical airport routine includes eating at McDonalds, buying the latest Esquire Magazine and realizing her carry-on won’t fit in the overhead compartment. firstname.lastname@example.org, @mmxbars