By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary
You had a chance last week to offer a prayer at the dedication of the new terminal of the Louis Armstrong International Airport. What were your initial impressions of the new airport?
It’s really beautiful. It’s very welcoming. It’s very bright. There’s beautiful scenery when you are able to look out onto the runways. It’s very attractive. It’s something that we can be very proud of. Another thing that’s very good about it is that it is a sign of collaboration among national, state and local officials. It took a lot of people coming together to make this happen. I was very much impressed by the talks that were given by various officials because they kept bringing up the issue that we have to work together, we have to be one. Working separately, we can do many things; working together, we can a lot more. I think the airport is a symbol of that. God calls us to live and work in community.
You do a fair amount of traveling in your role as archbishop. What is that like for you as an inescapable part of your ministry?
I must say, the older I get, the more difficult I find it is to travel. But my work with various Catholic organizations and with the U.S. bishops does call me to travel, so that goes with the territory of doing my ministry. At this point in my life, I travel only when I have to do so for ministry.
Do you have any tips for making the flying experience a little easier?
Yes, I have what they call “Global Entry” and “TSA Pre-check.” That allows you to get through the lines a lot easier. It’s not expensive and it’s worth its weight in gold!
Do you have any pet peeves about flying?
I guess one of the biggest things is sometimes the lack of information you get if a flight is delayed or when a gate is changed. I do find in general that airport personnel and the airline personnel are very friendly and helpful, but sometimes I have more questions than they can possibly deal with.
Do you wear your clerical attire when you travel?
I do. It is an external sign of my vocation and can be a way to evangelize.
Do people whom you don’t even know come up to you in airports?
Yes, very much so. They sometimes ask me questions about the church. Sometimes they express the grief that they’re holding in their hearts or their dissatisfaction with something that may have happened to affect their spiritual life. Sometimes, it’s people from New Orleans, and sometimes it’s people from different parts of the country. I feel this is a real opportunity for pastoral care.
Do you do work on plane?
I do. I bring a lot of work, and I do a lot of work. It’s a time for work and for prayer.
Any luggage tips for travelers?
I must say I have not checked luggage in more than a decade! If there is any way possible for you to carry on your luggage, do it. The only difficult thing is if people ahead of me have clogged the overhead bin and I can’t get my luggage in, but it always works out.
How would you compare the new MSY terminal to the old terminal?
Well, it’s fresher, it’s more convenient, it’s more welcoming and it’s more passenger friendly. My only concern is the long line of traffic getting off at the Loyola exit. I’m hoping to do an experiment and use a parking agency on Airline Highway and have them fight the traffic so I don’t have to try!
Do you have a favorite airport?
Not really. I can tell you the ones I don’t like, but I don’t know if I want to get into that! There are some I try to avoid.
When was the first time you took a plane?
I was a senior in college – at St. Joseph Seminary College. I went to Houston for a meeting on religious education. One thing I remember was that on that same plane were The Dameans music group. They were going to the same convention.
Have you had any fearful or scary moments in flying?
I have. There have been times, but it doesn’t happen frequently. I feel I can pretty well adjust to that if it happens. Sometimes your mind wanders to the thought of that big plane weighing tons and tons and how it can stay up in the air! I heard someone say once when a flight was delayed and we were sitting at the gate: “It’s much better to be on the ground wishing you were up in the air than to be up in the air wishing you were on the ground.” God has protected me in so many ways. In boarding a plane, it is appropriate for us to pray for the pilots and attendants. God is faithful to all of us.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to email@example.com.