Airport scent

Last night, we drove a friend to Haneda. It’s the first time I’ve been anywhere near an airport since seeing Jenny and Dan off at Narita in February 2020. I stepped from the Cow to the curb and – bam – the scent of AIRPORT hit me.

It’s a distinctive mix of nerves, broken suitcases, jet fuel, lingering cigarette smoke, overpriced carbs, and stale caffeine. It smells pretty much the same all around the globe, though the fragrance of the local carbs and caffeinated beverages offers a subtle clue to where you might be.

I lived enveloped in this scent throughout the 2010s as I travelled around the world, with a lot of triangulation from Japan to the US and India leading right up to the pandemic. It was unremarkable then, simply the aromatic tang of “I am on my way,” one of the many subconscious sense markers that fill everyday life.

Little did I know it would become a scent memory that would nearly bring me to tears on the sidewalk outside Terminal 3 at 8:30 pm on a Saturday.

My reaction was visceral. I gave an “Ah!” of wonder at experiencing that first sniff, a smile at the delight of recognition, and my hand went to my heart to quell deep, unrealised sorrow. It was a struggle to keep tears in.

I don’t know when I will travel or even be at an airport again, but the scent of last night’s encounter will stick with me for a while.

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Mediatinker, Kristen McQuillin, is an American-born resident of Japan since 1998. This blog chronicles her life, projects, thoughts, and small adventures.