Don’t you just love airports? They’re all the same, they just live in different countries.
The cabbie, limousine driver, minibus, bus or relative drops you off at Departures, a long thin strip of concrete where inevitably there are a hundred other vehicles vying for space available for only 20, which sometimes leaves toy to walk quite a distance to where you want to be.
Which inevitably is always a mile in the other direction of the Departures board location for your flight. And there are 5,000 other passengers, and trolleys, all in a hurry to get to their airline counter to check in, moving at various speeds, and you always get stuck behind the slow one, or the family stretched wide with four trolleys and 13 children.
Only to find when you get to the airline check-in counter 700 people have beaten you to it and the line is a mile long. Yes, you guessed it, the flight is overbooked and someone is going to get bumped.
Or it just seems that way.
Alas, you’ve only been in the airport for 5 minutes and already you’ve got a stress headache and high blood pressure, and there’s still 3 hours before the plane leaves, and anything and everything can go wrong a dozen times before them.
Oh, did I just hear someone say the left the passports at home, think the other had brought them.
We manage to arrive early at the airport. Rather than wait three hours for our flight we decide to try and get on an earlier departure. This will depend on our ticket type and whether there are seats available, preferably together.
We line up in the service queue, which by its very description means you have a long wait as service is mostly between difficult to impossible depending on the request. We wait for twenty minutes. There’s a long queue behind us. Our request is taken care of quickly and efficiently making it almost seamless, certainly painless. I’m sure our request was one of the very few easy ones the staff will get.
Today it seems it is our lucky day. The transfer to an earlier flight is free and there are two seats available together. All we have to do is alert the pickup driver at our destination we are going to be an hour earlier. Done.
Checking in bags is usually the bane of the travelers’ existence. No matter which airport in whatever country you are departing from the only difference is the length of the queue; from incredibly long with a half hour wait to the head of the line to up to an hour. Our queue is 15 to 20 minutes.
One assumes this is why intending passengers are asked to go to the airport two hours ahead of their fight. There are times of the day where the queues are horrendous, and that not only applies to Heathrow.
And if you are late, just panic.
And if your bags are overweight be prepared to have your credit card hammered. Especially if you’re flying Air France from Venice to Paris.
Now it’s time to relax. There is an hour before we have to be at the gate so just enough time to get coffee and a donut.
And be horrified at what shops charge for simple items like sandwiches. I think $10 is very expensive. But if you’re hungry and forgot to eat before getting to the airport then be prepared to pay more than you usually would for the same fare.
It’s also time to observe our fellow passengers, and there is always one who has a last minute dash for a plane that is just about to leave, passengers with panic-stricken looks. We all know what happens if you miss the flight even as you’re downing that last cocktail in the airline lounge while thinking, yes they’ll hold the flight for me!
Apparently not, these days, because airlines want to keep their ‘on time’ record.
Even so, there’s still three more calls for the missing passengers and then nothing. If they missed the plane then their problems are just beginning. It’s the same feeling you have when your name is called out before the flight starts loading. Only once have we been called up and given an upgrade, and once in the US to be told we could take another flight because our flight was overbooked. Business class was greatly appreciated and was worth the extra hour we had to wait.
The next bottleneck is the scanners and sometimes the queue here is very long and moving slowly because the scanners are set to pick up belts and shoes so people are scattered everywhere getting redressed and putting shoes on. But that’s not the only hazard at this point, there is always someone picked to be scanned for explosives, and we must have a sign on us that says ‘pick me’.
But that not all, my wife has an artificial knee and that adds to the delays and confusion while she is independently scanned.
That being navigated, there’s the little matter of finding the departure gate, and that sometimes can be a long, long, long, long way from the scanning center, and the airline lounges.
In Heathrow, London, there are signs to say how long it will take, and some are up to 30 minutes.
In Hong Kong there are so many gates, you could almost take a taxi to get to the gate, and I know I’ve walked a long way.
In Singapore, you know you are in the last available gate and the end of the building by the number of travellators you have to take, ofter somewhere between 10 and 20. There, sometimes it’s not worth venturing too far from the plane because it can take 20 minutes to get to the terminal proper, and 20 minutes back, a little short of the time available before re-boarding.
Today it’s not so bad.
We have half an hour, the walk is only a short distance, and I’m looking forward to watching thew furtive passengers who want to get on the plane first, and who assiduously igno=re the gate instructions of end rows first.
I don’t think airlines will ever stamp that out.