Adventures, Life Abroad, San Francisco, Writing
Comments 3

Post #77: Plane Spotting at SFO

Post #77: Plane Spotting at SFO.

Two industrial smells have always inspired me: one is the smell of a freshly printed book or magazine (a smell that reminds me of my Dad, even to this day), and the other is jet fuel.

I love the smell of jet fuel in the air. It’s a smell filled that triggers equal parts memory and imagination. I remember Mum piling us kids into the car in our PJs to go pick my Dad up from airport after his business trips. Being at Nippers on Sunday mornings at Eloura Beach, watching the 747s fly in over Kurnell. Winding down my car window on my way to uni, inhaling deeply, hoping that the next trip was not too far off. It’s a smell I connect with impending adventure.

Airports are infinitely interesting to us. So when we’re not actually travelling, we love to visit them. The American has been an avid plane spotter for decades, and used to memorise the timetables of the major airlines in days before the internet. I love planes, but I also love the emotional element experienced at airports. We’re both travellers at heart (in the non-Gypsy sense of the word). It’s a shared passion.

The fog starts creeping in over SFO.

Yesterday, we spent the day out at SFO, San Francisco International Airport. From our regular vantage spot near Millbrae Bart, we watched the comings and goings of beautiful pieces of machinery. It was high tide, and consequently there was only a hint of the salty smell of marshland to mix with the jet fuel and cooling breeze. The breeze mitigated the sun’s strength on my skin. Local pelicans circled above the water, eyeing their prey before belly-flopping onto the surface of the water in a most ungraceful manner. I wondered if they were ever successful with a strategy like that.┬áThere was a slight haze in the air, the fog creeping in over the mountains above South San Francisco. Mount Diablo stood watch over the bay, rising out of the haze on the eastern shore. We threw a baseball around in between the notable landings and take-offs.

Air France arrives while Mt Diablo looks on.

Planes in, planes out. Planes up, planes down. The technological and engineering side of the airport is beautiful, and seeing the A340-600 glide in is one of my favourite experiences. It’s the most perfectly proportioned plane ever made. But for me, the real beauty in airports is the human experience. The farewells with tears, the arrivals with tears. Flowers, balloons, handmade signs and the biggest hugs imaginable. The expectant looks on the faces of those waiting for loved ones to exit, craning their necks to see if the person with the red suitcase is their wife/husband/brother/sister, the squeals of delight when they see them. It’s seeing people awkwardly pass the time until their flight with their loved ones in the food courts, the final wave goodbye as they enter security. It’s the longing on the face of the weary traveller who doesn’t have the welcome/farewell their cabin mate does.

The opening scene of the movie, Love Actually, is one of my all time favourites:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that.It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.

When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love, actually, is all around.” — Love Actually

I love imagining where these people are going, and where they’re arriving from, or heading to. Is it an exotic destination like Singapore or Abu Dhabi? Or something a little less interesting like Boise, Idaho? What’s their relationship? Is this a happy trip or a quick jaunt for business? How long has it been since they’ve seen each other?

The airport is a place filled with as much happiness as it is sadness. And I love that.

Up, up and away.

Credits: I’ve been playing around with Pugly Pixel‘s tutorials this week, so you can thank her for the snazzy looking photo arrangements!


  1. Thanks for the pictures. They bring back many memories of landing and taking off from SFO. Also, looking forward to taking off from there on Monday :-).

  2. Reading this post reminded of the scene in Dogma, where Bartleby and Loki are in the airport and Bartleby explains his love for airports saying: “This is humanity at its best. Look at them. All that anger, all that mistrust, all that unhappiness… forgotten, for that one perfect moment when they get off the plane.”

  3. Pingback: Introducing our new short film — ‘Neon San Francisco: SFO’ | The Rebecca Project

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s