Personally, I am not a great fan of international travel. It all starts with that seemingly interminable set of procedures that are the prelude to the main event. The pre-leaving home moments of ‘do I have my passport, ticket, etc?’; the hectic journey to the airport watching the clock; checking the passport and ticket details; the hassles of ‘trolley boys’; the ‘bouncers’ at the door to the departures area; the stress of leaving your home to visit somebody else’s.
Why is the queue for your airline longer than all the others. You stand in the queue - worrying… Will my bag be overweight? Will they let me take my laptop? Where did I put my passport? Such concerns are punctuated by observations: ‘Wow, does he really think that they will let him on with THAT amount of hand luggage?’; ‘What is SHE wearing for travelling?’; ‘Do they know how cold it will be at our destination?’; ‘What did SHE do to her hair?’ and ‘Awww, that poor child, he is so tired already, let him sleep.’
Before you realise, the ‘passport checker’ is asking you questions. ‘When will you return?’ to which the answer is ‘on the date my ticket says’, however, you cannot say that, since you are expected to remember everything. ‘Where will you stay?’ is demanded in the flattest of tones. The response to which is generally ‘none of your business!’, but you oblige with the details of a hotel. In the back of your mind you are thinking ‘what if I don’t like the hotel, or when I get there it is overbooked?’ Of course, most of our thoughts are prevented from reaching our mouths. Sadly, not all of them! Our occasional attempts at comedy fall onto the stony ground of the ‘passport checkers’ ears, who appear to be selected for their inherent lack of humour.
Finally, your are at the check in counter.
At last you find a smile. A pleasant discussion about your seat and then the precious ensemble is loaded onto an oversized supermarket conveyor belt. Silently benedictions to your beloved belongings are offered, as they clank and crash along the suitcase-highway towards the plane. You wonder quietly, ‘will I ever see you again?’
Immigration is waiting for you, and so you proceed to the next queue, hunting for a pen to fill out the card with even more details, wondering ‘why do I have to fill out my name and passport details when they are going to scan it all anyway? Where is the point in filling in flight details when it is already in the computer and they can see my boarding card?’ Many of the procedures we are subjected to appear to lack logic, and yet we all comply, unaware of why the man in immigration wants to know whether we are going for ‘business’ or ‘medical’ or ‘family’ or ‘conference’. You look at the form and wonder if you should tick just one or several, realising that your trip is a combination. Should you tick them all, just in case? Then you choose one, hoping that it might win some lottery, knowing that it won’t!
The immigration officer asks you for a picture with a ‘please look at the camera’ and he takes the first of your holiday snaps.
The checklist of things to do seems interminable. As you hear the announcement of your aircraft ‘boarding’, you wish that the queue for security checks were shorter. The lady in front of you looks you straight in the face and addresses you with ‘Alitalia?’, you want to respond with ‘No, my parents had more forethought than to name me after an airline’ but you respond instead with ‘Lufthansa’, assuming that this is some sort of ‘passenger game’ called ‘name your favourite airline’. She looks worried and starts scanning the hall for another security line. Finally, you realise that she is worried that she may be in the wrong queue, and you reassure her that ‘all airlines passengers go through security here’. Her lack of understanding makes you wish you had not said anything, but you smile, and use hand gestures to indicate ‘remain-in-queue’.
As you get closer to the ‘search and scan team’ you realise that you have to take off your shoes, remove your belt, get your computer out of its bag, take your coins out of your pockets and also remove your glasses. The queue that had been moving so slowly speeds up as you prepare. You pull your belt off so quickly that you whip the arm of the person next to you, and as you bend down to take off your shoes you hope to contain the sudden desire to pass wind. Your glasses fall to the floor, but before you can pick them up, ‘you are next’. You load the trays, tying not to forget anything before going through the scanner. BEEEEEEP… you forgot the coins in your pocket. Embarrassed, you return and drop a few coins in a tray and try again. Silence. Smiling, you step forward, only to be patted down by the next man without a smile. As he taps your chest, you wonder if he is trained not to smile, or if it comes naturally. He touches a spot that tickles and you must not flinch, you try not to allow your humour out, for you know that humour is not appropriate. You do not always succeed, and your quip gets you in trouble… again.
As they call the flights ‘final call’, you struggle to get your shoes on, and realise your trousers are falling down. You try to rethread your belt, but it is not in a complying mood. As you try to take a step forwards you realise that your foot is trapped. You cannot move! The realisation of ‘I need to tie my shoelaces and not to stand on them’ hits you, and you bend down, too quickly. That gaseous tummy has found its moment of relief and trumpets its release.
Time is running and you must catch that plane. The very thought of ‘catching the plane’ seems silly, for you cannot put it in a net or a cage – the plane is not able to be ‘caught’ in a trap – in fact, you are about to be ‘caught inside the plane’!
Pulling your hand baggage along, you double and triple check you have your documents, and wonder if you put that computer back in the bag. You did, didn’t you?
Finally, the bus ride across the apron, and the long climb up the stairs in the night heat. The seeking of the seat, the packing of the overhead lockers, the tightening of the seatbelt, and then…
‘I am too worn out BEFORE I start this trip. Why do I travel?’ It seems that the wonder and magnificence of international travel has lost its attraction and glamour, it has become a ‘battle’, one that seems to take more and more energy every time we head out to that place called the Airport.
Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org )