Thursday, 24 April 2008

Travel Trauma - Flying (Part One)

I love travelling.

Actually that’s not quite true. I love arriving in a different country, ready to sample the cultural delights and immerse myself in the richness and diversity of the place. The problem is that I detest the journey.

I have been very fortunate in my life to visit many and varied countries through work and on holiday. Imagine my excitement when my company asked me to travel to South Africa for just under two weeks. I have never set foot on the African continent and only once ventured past the equator to visit Australia. I was delighted and slightly nervous but overall looking forward to the trip; until I remembered that I had a ten and a half hour long haul flight following a short hop from Manchester to Heathrow.

Airports frustrate any enthusiasm out of me and this trip was no different. When I woke up on the morning of my trip last week, I was dreading it.

Let’s forget the initial anxiety about turning up in Johannesburg with no luggage; that’s a risk I’m used to. I always take steps to combat that particular threat by carrying extra clothing in the hand luggage, particularly in the underwear department. Of course it does mean that your hand luggage is heavier, which in turn means that you end up arriving at your destination smelling like a sumo wrestler’s jockstrap but that’s acceptable. The chance of you ever again having to meet the poor bugger who has to endure your slowly festering travel attire is pretty slim.

Checking in can be traumatic. These days, what choice do you have? You can either stand in a massive queue of other equally stressed travellers or you can use the instant check-in machines. What a choice. If you choose the queue, the chances are that you will end up shuffling along for an hour, constantly looking at your watch, terrified that you are going to spend so much time there that you may miss your flight. The closer you get to the end of the queue the slower it seems to move. In front of you there is invariably a family of first time travellers who don’t know what to do, or the world’s most anxious or idiotic traveller who is so ill prepared that they can’t find their ticket or passport when their turn arrives. And as you crawl towards the front of the queue, numerous fellow passengers find the automated check-in machines working in fine form. If you choose that option, you end up getting the one machine that refuses to acknowledge that you exist. The exchange between man and machine goes something like this:

Machine: “Please scan your passport or show me a credit card so that I know who you are”

Me: Puts credit card in slot

Machine: “Can’t read that card, mate. Got another one?”

Me: Digs around looking for another card. Puts new card in slot.

Machine: “Can’t read that card, mate. Got another one?”

Me: Rifles through all remaining cards trying them one at a time.

Machine: (In response to each) “Can’t read that card, mate. Got another one?”

Me: Presses screen at point where it says “Try passport”.

Machine: Sits there waiting. Does not respond.

Me: Pokes screen repeatedly fifty times, increasing the pressure and becoming angrier with each prod.

Machine: “Please scan passport”

Me: Puts passport in slot

Machine: “Where’s the passport”?

Me: Spends twenty minutes trying to position passport in right place

Machine: “Hello Mr Plastic Mancunian. Scanning for flight.”

Me: Waits another ten minutes.

Machine: Sorry Mr Plastic Mancunian. I can’t find you. Goodbye”


Helpful Airline Employee: “Sir, let me try”

Me: Hands over passport trying to hold back tears.

Helpful Airline Employee: Presses “Passport” and puts passport in slot. Works first time.

Machine: “Hello Mr Plastic Mancunian. Scanning for flight.” Ten seconds pass. “Flight found”

Me: “AAAARRGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!! That didn’t work for me.”
Helpful Airline Employee: “You should be fine now”. Leaves

Machine: Waits for helpful employee to leave vicinity. “There are no more seats available on this flight. Terminating”

Me: “AAAAAARRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!”. Looks at queue for check-in which now has nearly three hundred people in it.

And the worst thing is that this is just the first part of the trauma of flying.

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