Pre-dawn Magic

13 12 2010

Early morning has a kind of mystery about it. It’s my favorite time of day: The slow awakening and the lumbering way life begins anew every 24 hours.

Zurich’s airport also stirs gently from its nocturnal slumber, with little commotion. Passenger airliners of all sizes shift and move across the apron like featured pieces on a well-ordered chess board. Red beacons blink, runway lights sparkle, jet engines thunder, planes depart to and arrive from destinations unknown to the momentary observer.

Good morning, planet earth.

In the pre-dawn darkness, the airport has something magical, yet utterly rational and orderly. The long-distance mega-jets landing in from continents away disgorge their ragged passengers into the black, not-yet morning. For most of them this is just a short respite to stretch legs, grab a coffee and freshen up in functional terminal restrooms. Their final destinations are still hundreds if not thousands of miles from here – places they won’t reach until the European day is well underway.

A few can while away transfer time on the designer leather sofas of airline lounges, taking in the morning’s Financial Times and a Latte Macchiato. The exclusivity of privilege divides the traveling population into clearly demarcated groups of “haves” and “wish-they-hads”.

Meanwhile, the floodlit complex outside is dominated by “heavies” – Airbuses and Boeings of all shapes and sizes, with a couple of Embraer and British Aerospace jets thrown in for a good mix. Neatly arranged in rows and in various phases of ground operations, they await their next deployment. A queue of patient aircraft forms at the de-icing pad on the opposite side of the active runway.

You will hardly ever find private pilots cultivating their hobby before dawn, unless impending weather conditions demand an oh-too-early departure – a luxury the airliners, married to slot times and daily flight schedules, do not have.

Periwinkle-blue taxiway lights shimmer in the open space. I always thought these signals were a most peculiar, intense and unusual color – almost like an intruder among the white, amber, red and green that one would expect to find in a place where traffic meets. A disembodied voice from air traffic control directs the graceful giants of the sky through a labyrinth illuminated by these violet cones of light. Careful choreography guides aircraft to their assigned runway before they are once again released from gravity to do their job.

A few snowflakes meander through the air as the night fades to grey, and then quickly turns indigo. It’s the blue hour. Later, an orange stripe appears like a crown over the distant snow-covered Alps. And moments after that, the scene explodes into the bright yellow of morning.

Dawn has arrived and the day begins. The magic is broken. And the hectic daily grind of an international aviation hub commences.



2 responses

13 12 2010

Thanks for the mini stress reducer that came in the way of experiencing your early morning in the airport.

14 12 2010
René Sollberger

Nice thoughts, but as an early bird you should keep in mind that most of them also work for the late evening: blue hour, after-dusk magic, arriving and departing jets, the slow falling asleep of the day. I just prefer the late evening, when another 24 hours of life are – not yet – completed.

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