Monday, October 12, 2015

Your flight's canceled, but you can set a spell

     A line of white rocking chairs are scattered along between Terminals B and C at Boston's Logan airport. Giving people a place to sit, and relax, and momentarily escape the exhausting slog of air travel. My eye was caught by this older couple, watching the planes come and go. There was something incongruous about them, the white haired man and wife, I assume, turning an anonymous airport causeway into their front porch or local Cracker Barrel, watching, not the mule nibble on kudzu, but a phalanx of vehicles through the floor-to-ceiling plate glass window. 
     Turns out that rocking chairs in airports is common, as documented on the web site, The Verge, which traces the phenomenon back to 1997, when a photo exhibit on front porches at the Charleston Douglas International Airport included rocking chairs as props. When the exhibit ended and the chairs were removed, flyers complained, and the chairs were returned. 
      The chairs took off, so to speak, after the 9/11 attacks, as a low cost, low tech way to encourage calm among travelers.  Now they are found in a number of airports around the country. Sacramento's are made of teak. 
     This is really a new twist on an old practice. Introduced in this country in the 1700s, rocking chairs found their way into institutions in the 1800s—"Rocking Chair Therapy," it was called. 
     There is some science behind the idea of rocking chairs to battle stress. A 2005 University of Rochester School of Nursing study found that seniors who rocked in rocking chairs grew less anxious, and calmed down more quickly when they were upset, cried less, and asked for less medication. 
     "Our goal is to keep people out of institutions," said the program director at an senior day program that participated in the study.
     Not that the chairs help keep anyone out of the institutions of airports; just give them something to do when stranded in one.
     I didn't sit in the chairs—I had a rental car to pick up—but will give them a try next time I've got a few hours to kill waiting for a delayed flight.
     So, a charming idea, but a charm that might also be worth resisting. It's as if the airport is saying: We can't spare you the time-killing TSA security theater. And we can't keep a third of the flights from being delayed. But we can set out a few rocking chairs to blow off the stress our poor performance causes. I'm not sure if that's something to feel good about.


  1. I think it's a really good idea.

    50 years ago my mom took my sister and I to Europe to visit the relatives. We landed in Frankfurt, and had a few hours to spare before catching the train. The train station had a movie theater where you could just walk in and watch a film while you waited for the train. I only remembered that they showed Wood Woodpecker cartoons and a spotlight shown on a large clock.

  2. John F. Kennedy comes to mind.

    Many years ago my mother had a gig playing the piano in what was officially called "The County Home," unofficially the "insane asylum" and colloquially, in those insensitive days, "the local nut house." It evidently had a soothing affect on the inmates. I once asked what they were like and she said "there's always one who rocks."

    Tom Evans

  3. Ah, in erudite Mr. Evans' case, this brings JFK to mind. For the likes of me, the image that popped up is a tad more sinister. Gotta say, rocking chairs didn't seem particularly therapeutic for Norman Bates... Though one could say that this pertains to Tom's "local nut house" reference! ; )

  4. For the record, I wasn't approving of obsolete and demeaning terminology. Just recalling it.


    1. That was clear, Tom, and nobody who reads these comments often would think otherwise. I was trying to wryly apply it to "Psycho", as might have been done when it came out in 1960. I apologize if you think that attempt was in poor taste or at your expense.

      As for the airport experience, once one has already taken one's shoes off, settling into a rocker seems like a logical progression...

    2. Hey Jakash, I found out what happened to your vanished comment -- it went to my Spam folder, for reasons mysterious. I posted it now.

  5. No apology needed J. Thick skin and all that. And I quite like being called erudite, even though some here think my taste for connecting fragments of past learning to Neil's contemporary ruminations makes me seem, in the words of Alexander Pope ("Essay on Criticism"), "The bookfull blockhead, ignorantly read. With loads of learned lumber in his head."

    Actually, I do know a little bit about a lot of things, but deep down I'm shallow.



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