April 28, 2020.   Open Spaces.

In normal times, the nation’s airport terminals are among its most uncomfortable public spaces: crowded, claustrophobic, and noisy to the point of assault, filled with the racket of screeching kids and public address announcements. You would think, therefore, that a stroll through an airport in the throes of COVID-induced isolation would be a pleasant one — a chance for those few remaining travelers to savor some peace and quiet.

But for me, during a couple of recent airport visits, that’s not how it happened. I didn’t feel any sense of solitude or relaxation. What I felt was shock and horror: the full crush of the COVID fiasco manifest through desolation and emptiness. If you want an idea of just how massively this crisis has impacted commercial aviation, behold the airport in April, 2020.

Last week in Boston, on what ordinarily would be a busy Thursday evening, I walked from Terminal A to Terminal C. I did not see another person. Neither a passenger nor an employee. A few days later I found myself standing in the check-in lobby at JFK’s Terminal 4, gazing across row after row of empty kiosks and counters. Again, not one other person in view. It was eerie, haunting, and, from this employee’s perspective, terrifying. How any airline will survive this is beyond me. I took some pictures:

The bottom photo shows Terminal 4 at Kennedy. Look just to the left of the banner suspended from the ceiling and notice the red and blue, diamond-shaped panels. That’s the tail end of “.125,” the famous mobile constructed by Alexander Calder in 1957. (Yes, Calder also hand-painted at least two airplanes for Braniff Airways in the 1970s).

Supposedly the fourth-largest mobile in the world, “.125” hung in the arrivals hall of the old Terminal 4, better known as the IAB (International Arrivals Building), before being moved to the departure level of the new building. Where, for the moment, it hangs in view of almost nobody.


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