The news that soon there will be direct flights between London and New Orleans made me feel happy, for several reasons.
I’m glad of course that our cities will now be linked so much more closely. I also welcome the prospect of more people coming from New Orleans to London, and going from London to New Orleans – there is a tendency for Londoners to think of the US as simply New York and California, with nothing in between. So wrong.
The prospect of direct flights also reminds me how much New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport is a happy place for me, unlike London’s Heathrow or some of the southern US airports I’ve had to travel through on trips there. While I would never recommend that people coming to New Orleans spend much more time at the airport than they need to given all the city has to offer, it definitely has its attractions.
It’s named after Louis Armstrong, a musician whose life and work means a lot to me. I first visited the city to go to Satchmo Summerfest, a festival in his honour; later spoke at that same festival; and, as I have learned more about him over the years, have realised how much he – with his joyfulness and sense of hospitality – embodied all that is best about New Orleans.
You wouldn’t necessarily expect an airport to share the qualities of the person it is named after – but in New Orleans it does. While they’ve not always been joyful in the strict sense, my experiences at Louis Armstrong Airport have never been bad. The airport always seems efficiently run, yet also relaxed – which cannot be said for any London airport.
The airport is also certainty hospitable. I’ve been greeted by a brass band in baggage reclaim on more than one occasion. Also, once when feeling sad in Departures I heard what seemed like an appropriate performance from a local singer of Amy Winehouse’s melancholic and beautiful masterpiece “Love Is A Losing Game”. This song – like all of her work – is so of London, yet this singer made it sound like it was from New Orleans, which of course in a way it was because she was so influenced by the jazz tradition to which the city gave birth.
This is what airports and flying do. The former might seem like soulless, transitory locations, but they represent the places and people they belong to. Meanwhile, the acts of travelling and transition they embody, and the links these create, help to construct the identities of those places and people.
Image: Mike Chaput