Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The journey of a a thousand miles...

The wonder that is economy air travel. Once it might have been excusable for passengers to arrive unschooled and stumble through the vagaries of airport check-in, security and the waiting... all that waiting. These days, however, with the long-ago advent of cattle class for the masses, you’d think people would be more prepared. You’d think...

Overheard in the queue to deposit hold baggage: “My bag, where’s my bag?” What? “Where’s my bag? It’s got everything in it!” What do you mean, everything? “Passports, boarding passes, money... Oh god, wallet, house keys! Everything!” You’d better telephone the taxi firm then. The man pats down his pockets but he already knows what he will find. “My phone’s in the bag!” Much grumbling and groaning as they excuse and extricate themselves from the snaking, concertina queue and stand, shipwrecked in a sea of teeming shoals of wheeled luggage. I can think of better ways of spending a very early morning than being entertainment for the schadenfreude-hungry hordes.

Then security. We KNOW the machines pick up metal, so woe betide the much-pierced ‘frequent flyers’ in the line. Belts, metal spectacle frames, shoe buckles, all have to come off and be placed in the trays; this seems to come as a surprise to some. And having passed a million signs demanding that liquids, pastes and gels be in clear plastic bags why do so many come unprepared? The queue shuffles forward like a prison exercise detail in leg irons as every other traveller encounters an unexpected, yet perfectly well advertised security requirement.

Nobody needs Duty Free. Nobody. In these days of online shopping and free-for-all customs control it’s rarely as cheap as you can find it elsewhere. But you still have to make that expedition through the dazzling lights and cloying perfume to get to the departure lounge. As sophisticated travellers we should know better but some still fall prey to the allure. “Don’t look, Doris!” But it’s too late. You’ve already squeezed as much into your hand luggage as you possibly could, yet now you want to buy something you don’t need, for more than you afford, for no reason you can think of.

Expensive coffee, massage chairs as fairground attractions, dozing adults and shrieking children; the departure lounge is anything but relaxing. With frequent announcements to keep an eye on your luggage the paranoia builds as everybody inspects everybody else for the telltale signs of the ne’er-do-well. And what is she wearing? Soon come the boarding calls and yet again we all lurch into lines to be scrutinised by hatchet-faced cabin crew on early morning duties as we eagerly anticipate taking our seats, only to be held in a stifling, sweaty queue of unfamiliar body odours and a Babel of muttered curses.

Finally, the madness of embarkation as we take our seats in the cigar tube. Where once there were four seats across, the slim cabin now seats six and, of course, nobody except you is prepared for the utter novelty of placing your hand luggage in the overhead locker. As I have dutifully used the rear doors to board (Ooh-er, missus!) it is to be expected that as I make my forward I pass others who ignored that instruction and now, like salmon, struggle against the force of the flow to find their seats at the back. Does everything in life come as such a challenge for these people?

"The plane now arriving at..."
"The plane now arriving at..."

But soon we are airborne, drifting off to sleep in the snoring, farting, flying sausage as it transports us to far-off lands, dreaming of new time zones and new, strange delights among an unfamiliar folk... just as long as they have a Starbucks and a McDonalds and WiFi and a half-decent mobile phone signal. And everybody speaks English. Oh and none of them strange foreign toilets... Ah truly, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

More holiday tales tomorrow as the journey continues...

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