Airports: The Boarding Gate to Hell?
Over the last six years I have grown to hate airports. It is not that I have any particular fear of flying, although the rush of terror with every turbulent bump has never gone away. It is the perennial expat problem of visiting relatives in a former home country that has driven me to hate airports and aeroplanes with a passion that is bordering on obsession. Of course this is not a real problem, like many of my all encompassing aversions, it is one of my own design, one that I can quietly foster and enjoy at my leisure while waiting at various boarding gates.
As I mentioned earlier, my dislike of airports is a relatively recent thing, up until I moved to Germany, I really quite enjoyed them as a novel part of dating someone who lived in another country. By 2008, I had only travelled by plane once when I was 21. Despite my age I was terrified because I was flying for the first time, but more so because I was about to embark on the ritual self flagellation that is a “lads holiday”. I remember very little of the actual flight, only that occasionally we would hit pockets of turbulence and I would silently pray to any and all deities with impossible to fulfil promises to build churches, temples and shrines in their honour if I arrived safely. The next time I stepped onto a plane I was 24 and on my first trip to meet my girlfriend in Munich. Having completed my first year at university, I unwisely decided to go on an all day and all night drinking session and arrived for a six hour layover at London Stanstead, this time praying for a quiet end to what seemed an incurable hangover.
When I moved to Germany, I began commuting to and from the UK on a regular basis and after the first few times, the ritual of flight quickly lost its appeal. Now I consider the process a necessary evil, part of the deal I made when I decided to live in a different country from my family. It is essentially penance for having the temerity to live aboard. What was once exciting has become as mundane as taking a bus, with the only real difference being that buses cost significantly less and if you want to get off, you can.
The tedium has even crept into those areas of air travel that used to contain some kind of excitement, like going through security checks. Even though I would not be dumb enough to take on any contraband, I used to feel at least a moment of fear when a bag in my possession was pulled aside for an extra check. The minimal excitement I can expect now is from clearing the security area as quickly as possible or avoiding the queue of people who still inexplicably bring litre bottles of water with them and loudly complain when the security staff take it away. If I was to make any changes to the process of airport security, I would demand that all staff give a rousing standing ovation to any passenger who manages to walk through the metal detector without setting it off, a feat I have only accomplished two or three times. It’s like the holy grail of airport travel. No matter how hard I try, I still end up standing in an x-ray booth, arms raised, only to discover it has detected something about my person which requires a full pat down.
My traversing of airports is not helped by the fact I often travel the same route. Aside from a disappointing change at Charles de Gaulle, I always find myself wandering around Amsterdam Schipol, on a quest with many others for an outlet to charge my phone. Thankfully, of all the airports to be stuck in, Amsterdam is one of the better ones, given that the city centre can be easily reached on a 15 minute train. However, if you find yourself with only a few hours to spare, I recommend visiting one of the on-site Irish pubs, which is the closest anyone can come to the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars. Once in its gloomy depths, all manner of people can be found whiling away their time drinking €5 pints of Heinekin. Perhaps because of a shared sense of airport despair, it is surprisingly easy to strike up a conversation with fellow drinkers and share tales of unsatisfactory airport food and how best to navigate the self service passport machines.
Airports are made all the more arduous due to the different cultural norms that passengers bring with them, whether that be invasion of personal space or curious attempts at queuing. The latter aspect can be somewhat infuriating, especially for the British who have a rigid sense of how best to queue. While the British form an orderly line, everyone else just surges forward, leaving the British with no resort but to tut loudly and murmur incoherent oaths about the manners of “Johnny Foreigner”. Once through the gate, my hopes of boarding the plane directly are frequently dashed by the realisation that my plane happens to be located on the other side of the airport, which means taking a bus. I firmly believe that airports intentionally hire reformed joy riders to drive these buses, with more than one short trip requiring me to peel my face off the window due to the driver taking every corner at warp speed.
You would be mistaken in thinking that once on the plane, my troubles would be over, except that airlines seem to be conducting crude experiments on the pain thresholds of tall passengers. I may be mistaken, but I am sure the space between plane seats has been reduced by three or four inches over the last six years. At this point I am practically wearing the in-flight magazine, that is usually found in the seat pocket, as a rudimentary hat. This makes it difficult to observe the hypnotic hand gestures used by air stewards during the pre-flight safety briefing.
Despite all the petty annoyances, commuting by plane is a luxury problem and in comparison to driving or taking the train, I have it relatively easy. Familiarity, as they say breeds contempt and I certainly view airports with a healthy level of that particular emotion. Then again, it is a means to an end and it is a small price to pay in order to go back to the UK or home to Germany. If all I suffer is being felt up by security staff, disorderly queuing and cramped seating, I know I have a much better deal than most. However, if I do not complain about minor annoyances, what kind of British person would I be? A happier one for sure, but with an empty hole where all my passive aggression should be.