I spent many hours of my youth classified as an "unaccompanied minor." My father lived, and still lives, in New Mexico. Including connecting flights, I was racking up eight takeoffs and eight landings a year. Those are solid numbers when you’re eight years old.
If you’re older than five in the U.S., you’re legally allowed to fly by yourself, although many airlines have adopted stricter rules. If you’re older than seven, you can fly by yourself and make connections with the help of the flight staff. Once you’re 15 (it used to be 13), you can make connections by yourself.
My trips started when I was around five and continued through high school. My summer vacations and winter breaks often began at CVG. For me, airports and planes were transformative. It signaled so many changes.
After four or five months of getting picked on at school and failing to meet the expectations of my teachers, I got a clean slate. I could wake up, ride my bike to the New Mexico State University Library and learn about whatever I wanted to. I think that’s where I first read Howl by Allen Ginsberg and wear taught myself all the terms used in fencing. A nerdy kid who refused to do homework in elementary school? Guilty.
However, leaving my mom and stepdad was usually not fun. This was the late 1980s and early 1990s, pre-internet, pre-cell phones and most importantly, this was before cheap long distance. I’d get to talk to my mom once every couple weeks. My stepdad would try to cheer me up and distract me while we were waiting for my flights. I thought the moveable jetways that connect the gates to the planes were called “gaushoozes” until I was late into my teens. He’s the type of person who’s so smart, you just trust everything he says.
I also missed out on a lot. I never had summer sleepovers with friends from school. I was 17 before I saw my first lightning bug. I just wasn’t here. Now travel is hard. Unlike back when I was a kid, my parents expect me to pay for my plane tickets. Obviously, work schedules are hard to manage as well.
When I visited the Comair terminal, I felt a lot of similar feelings. It’s an exciting experience see the hulking shell of the terminal. Then I remember all the moments I had in airplane terminals. No more kids running out of the jetway into the arms of their parents. No more newlyweds hold hands as they start their honeymoon. And much like the reason I don’t travel as much as I’d like, it all comes down to money.
I was lucky just to have seen it in its glory days. I can still feel the real metal Delta wings pin that I got on my first flight. My Looney Tunes t-shirt wasn’t quite the same perch as the lapel of a leather pilot jacket, but I still felt cool. I lost the later plastic ones after a few weeks, but I held onto those first ones for years.
Photographs made with a Bronica SQ-A and Rollei 35.
Part 1: Island in a Stream of Runways
Part 3: The Film