I have a confession to make. Sometimes I sleep on airport floors. Is that a big deal? I’m sure that in most places it’s not against the law. But there’s something about those hard, velvety floors redolent of your local R.S.L club or mid-range office building. Just smart enough to make you think there might be something wrong with sleeping on them. When I do, I usually feel like I imagine a small domestic animal might feel if they soiled the carpet: more comfortable, somewhat relieved but unaccountably guilty.
Sometimes I arrive in a new country and rather than checking into the airport hotel, I check into the airport. I roll out my sleeping mat, sleeping bag, pillow and curl in for a cosy night’s sleep. One time, back in the leaner years, I even booked my flights to arrive and depart at times that facilitated spending my first and last nights at the airport. It’s so good it’s gotta be bad. And I know that in some peoples’ estimations, it is. Fellow travellers walk by and glance at airport nappers like me with disdain. I’m the great unwashed. An insalubrious backpacker.
Since those lean years I have worked to change my ways. I stayed in a trailer park near the airport once. And a drab grey airport motel another time. I feel like I’m getting too old for that airport sleeping stuff now anyway. Plus Christchurch airport in New Zealand, the spiritual heartland of the sanctioned (even supported?) campout sleepover has suddenly changed the game.
For years the Christchurch airport has been the only one where I felt I could roll out my camping bed without a flicker of guilt, even with a sense of belonging, and enjoy a refreshing sleep. I would often find myself surrounded by travellers, trampers and mountaineers from all over the world. The atmosphere was convivial, festive. But the golden age of sleeping in Christchurch airport is over. So this post is actually for people like me, for people who have factored in a night or two at the airport to ensure their trip stayed within budget or just to revel in the experience. My friend, change your plans.
I flew into Christchurch airport at 2am a couple of months ago and noticed an absence, a new sterility. The corner of the airport usually festooned with drying thermal underwear and filled with colourful sleeping bags was empty. I approached an airport official and asked whether we were still allowed to sleep there. He assured me that yes, it was fine, and handed me an armband similar to the one I was given at Homebake, a rockin’ Sydney music festival, when I was 14. It was purple and it was my licence to sleepover. Over the next four hours I discovered that the licence extended only to sleeping sitting up in a plastic chair with the flexibility of a steel chassis, two armrests and a back rest that stopped between my shoulder blades, or sitting up on a comfortable red pouf with no back rest at all. It didn’t really work out.
By the time I flew out a couple of weeks later the airport had introduced a new lounge, where you can pay some money to sleep between certain hours under certain conditions. One of them might be that you sleep sitting up.
Fortunately, New Zealand is still full of wonderful, free havens where you can rest your head. What a great country. Too bad about the airport.