Bad Air Day

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I hate airports. Airports are nature’s armpits. Yet it feels like I spend half of my life in them. In fact I probably do. For most of my adult life, I’ve travelled extensively for work, interspersed with pleasure. As such, I’ve seen a lot of airports, in a lot of countries. For the most part, they’re dreadful places, but there’s no reason that they should be. Yet sadly there’s precious little we can do about it.

Partly we pay for airports with fees hidden in our ticket prices. As such, we are essentially captive customers. We can’t take our business elsewhere without it being awfully, awfully inconvenient and/or inefficient. The Siberian Railway, Zeppelins and Shetland Ponies will only get you so far, nowadays.

Can we protest the charges hidden in our airfares? No.

Can we negotiate a better deal? Of course not.

Airlines aren’t going to help us either. They want to pay the airport as little as possible to use it themselves, so they’re happy for passengers to be endlessly swindled by rampant profiteering. “That’ll be $100 for parking, $15 for that limp sandwich and $10 for your teensy, tiny beer, etc. etc.”

So what are my* biggest gripes? Here are twenty to get you started:

 

1)     Wi-Fi:

All airports should have free Wi-Fi. We’re forced into turning up hours before departure to make things smoother for both the airport and the airlines. The least they can do is pony up for free and good Wi-Fi. Relax, we’ll still buy your overpriced, tepid coffee. Just please allow us to get some business done. Or at the very least distract ourselves from all the other unpleasantness, and heaven forbid, interactions with humans.

 

2)     Security:

Stop the over-scrutinising security. More than 12 years on from 9/11 and airport security remains a theatre of the absurd. Bin Laden must be laughing (gurgling?) in his grave.

It started with the confiscation of all things pointy. No more mid-flight self-administered mani-pedis for Uncle Gaz. Sigh. Now I’m embarrassed to show my toes in meetings.

Next came the mandatory shoe and belt removal, accompanied by increasingly bored pat downs. Seriously if you’re going to touch me up, at least show some interest. Indeed Security don’t actually need you to remove your belt and shoes. These sadists get their kicks from watching you try to waddle off while juggling all of your shit (laptop, keys, wallet, phone, sunglasses, bag, belt and shoes) with one hand, while holding your pants up with the other. There’s a word for them, and it doesn’t not rhyme with bunts.

The latest was the prohibition of liquids and gels. The liquid thing always makes me laugh. At every security checkpoint you’ll see a bin brimming with “contraband” containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad – they are simply thrown away. They seem to be saying they know these things are harmless, but they’re going to confiscate them anyway, and either you accept it or you don’t fly. Point in question – renowned (and outspoken) atheist Richard Dawkins reacts to having a small pot of honey confiscated. I hear you, Mr Dawkins. http://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/scientist-and-atheist-activist-richard-dawkins-loses-it-after-airport-security-confiscates-his-honey/story-e6frfq80-1226753217875

 

3)     Layout:

Airport design boffins – please design airports more functionally. Seriously, you should have anticipated that there would be queues. So at least design the place so that the inevitable queues don’t cross the thoroughfares. Should be simple enough, surely. I hate queues at the best of times, but having to cross a queue to get to another queue, is not only impractical, but downright infuriating (see Point #7 for more information). Furthermore, many airports strive to be too architectural, when it is wholly unnecessary. All we really desire is banal and competent. We’re not going there for any reason other than to get from A to B. It is not a destination we seek out in our downtime. In an airport, I’ll take function over style any day (at least for the essential part of the experience, arrival and departure – not in the First Class Lounge where I expect, nay demand, opulence). Pour me another Dodo Skull of Unicorn Tears, there’s a good fellow!

 

4)     Baggage Claim:

Too often, we are faced with an impenetrable human blockade when attempting to salvage our luggage from the conveyor. It’s like a war zone, only slightly less congenial. The only time people become more territorial over real estate that they don’t actually own, is in shopping mall car parks. Common sense at the baggage carousel should be this:

 

You stand back in an orderly manner.

Your luggage spins into view.

You casually stroll forwards to the carousel to collect your item(s).

You head merrily on your way.

For the Neanderthals who don’t get it, there could also be a line, 2 metres from the carousel, labelled “Stand This Side of the Fucking Line, You Fucking Fuck”, or something equally ambiguous. This should be coupled in conjunction with a looping, educational video, displayed on an array of screens, providing advice on proper baggage collection etiquette in line with the above.

Failing that, they should eliminate the rotating carousel, and simply have a conveyor, 10 feet off the ground, that dumps all the bags off the end in a huge pile. It will work just as effectively.

What I do love, is the backroom baggage handler who always places a single piece of lost luggage on the conveyor 15 minutes before the real luggage arrives, just to fuck with people. I dig that guy.

 

5)     False Advertising:

You should only be able to name an airport after a city, if it is actually located within the municipal bounds of that particular city. Paris Beauvais Airport, I’m talking to you. “Paris” Beauvais Airport is located in the town of Beauvais – 85 kilometres outside of fucking Paris. I once missed a flight to Prague, after jumping in a cab and asking to go to Paris Beauvais Airport. 120 Euro later, I arrive 5 minutes too late to check-in. “Paris” Beauvais Airport – you just made the list. It is deception of the highest order. So no Christmas card for you this year, fuckers.

One of my favourite deceptions is Frankfurt Hahn, a Ryanair special that’s around an hour and a half from Frankfurt. Congratulations Ryanair. You take the cake (right out of the baby’s mouth).

 

6)     Smokers:

Airports. Please. Fix this. You must have designated, well-ventilated smoking areas – away from all the entrances. Non-smokers shouldn’t have to smoke half a pack of second hand smoke just to get to a taxi, or to get inside the terminal. I hate the smell of cigarettes, and I hate smelling like them. As a non-smoker, this shits me to tears. Fix this.

 

7)     People:

Airports are full of hordes and hordes of people. You’ve met people, surely. So you know what I mean.

Tourists are the worst. How many times have you heard interchanges like this? “Oh, you’re going to Laos? I’ve been to Laos. It’s a nightmare, actually. It’s all tourists and you can’t get a decent Latté anywhere. I actually feel sorry for the people that live there.”

I fucking hate people. Not you, dear reader. Just the other people.

 

8)     Neck Pillows:

People who wear inflatable neck pillows in arrival or departure lounges need to have a dignity biopsy.

 

9)     Clocks:

More of them, please. And the bigger the better. I appreciate that every arrival and departure screen has the time in the corner, but the display is so small that you have to virtually be standing underneath the screen to see it. Incidentally, there is never a Departure Screen in any restaurant, bar or café…

Make it easy on us, airports of the world. We’re always conscious of the time, so please put some big motherfucking clocks up, all over the motherfucking place, for all the motherfuckers to see. Common sense says it would benefit everyone, even the non-motherfuckers.

 

10)  Children:

As many of you likely know, children are essentially small people. Please see Point #7 for more information. Please keep control of your small people, or I will suddenly become “Mr Trivia” on air crash statistics. That should make for some fun family travel for the next 8 hours (and indeed for future travel). This is a public service announcement, parents of small people. You have been warned.

 

11)  Signage:

They’ve announced your flight is boarding just in time for you to discover that Gate 82B is, surprisingly, not right next to Gate 82A, but in a completely different terminal building. Now, I run for no man. Some ladies, yes. But no man. And I don’t want to be a ball of sweat just before boarding a plane for the next 8 hours, and nor does the person sitting next to me. So I choose to walk. I’m checked in, so they have to give me some sort of grace period. But it is an inconvenience all the same.

Besides, just after you get there, you just know they’re going to switch your designated boarding gate to Gate 82A.

 

12)  Inefficiencies:

I know Health and Safety has gone mad, but seriously, walking onto the tarmac, squeezing into a shuttle bus, and then being ferried 30 metres to the plane is just plain ridiculous. Homophone… nice…

 

13)  Duty Free:

What a rort. Airports now direct disembarking passengers through Duty Free shops as part of the departure process. Yet everything in Duty Free is more expensive than High Street shops. And the oversized Toblerones are so large they come with 50% off vouchers for diabetes treatment. Buy your family a gift BEFORE you get to the airport. Or give them an i-Tunes voucher. Or fuck ‘em. Just don’t buy anything Duty Free.

 

14)  Customs/Immigration:

Where do they find Customs Officers? What is it about their demeanour that causes you to look guilty when they question you and to laugh nervously? And why is it sniffer dogs are infatuated with one’s crotch? Why are we always so relieved once we get the all clear, like we got away with something? Is it them, or is it simply the human psyche? I blame them. It’s easier.

 

15)  Hire Cars:

They never, ever, give you the car that matches the picture when you booked online.  I’m sorry, but a Hyundai Getz does not resemble an Audi R8, not even in dappled light.

 

16)  Currency:

You have no local currency, so you go to the only ATM at the terminal. It swallows your card. Cab drivers only take cash. You start busking. The only song you remember the words to is “The Old Grey Mare”. It is going to be a long night, regardless of how much energy you put into the choreography.

It is time for a world currency. Bitcoins it is! And here I previously thought they would only be useful for getting and/or hiring a hit.

 

17)  Carry-on Nazis:

I’m not referring to one of those bawdy, British films. I’m talking about the stickling carry-on luggage weighers. You know the ones. They make you weigh your carry-on, and it’s always a kilogram over. Your carry-on could be empty and you’ll still be a kilo over, so there’s no point planning in advance. What you’ll end up doing is carrying a book in one hand, your camera in another, and your laptop around your neck as “oversized bling”.  They will then wave you through, even though the net weight is precisely the same. Perplexing system, that one, but irksome nonetheless.

 

18)  Air Conditioning:

Airport climate never matches the climate outside the terminal. It never matches the climate of your intended destination. It never matches the climate on board the plane. It is therefore impossible to turn up at the airport, suitably attired, because airports have their own, fetid ecosystem. You will be shivering, or sweltering. Despite this, airports always seem to produce the perfect living conditions for germs, and germ mutation… This feeds onto my next point.

 

19)  Hygiene:

Airports are cultural melting pots. People from all over this exotic ball of dirt and gas congregate in airports, each one a unique thread that weaves to form the rich tapestry that is our glorious planet, Alderaan. I mean Earth.   However, they also bring together a mix of social habits that allows a little piece of their culture to transfer over to my being, usually causing me to curl up in the foetal position on the toilet floor of my luxury poolside villa for at least the first 3 days of my vacation.

They sneeze without covering their mouths. They toilet without washing their hands. They spit without… well, the fact that they spit at all, says it all.

I don’t know what we can do to fix this, but I’d rather risk illness, than wear a surgical mask throughout my travels. I’m one thing, but I’m no Michael Jackson.

 

20)  Travelator:

Nothing gets my goat (aside from goat poachers) more than people who stand stock still on travelators, blocking the way. Move aside. You’re not fucking Gandalf!

It’s also not a magic carpet ride. It is designed to hasten ambulatory rapidity, not to act as a substitute for walking. Maybe I’m being harsh, and some people really do wish to take in all of the sights that Murmansk Airport has to offer (ooh, Salt Mine Tours!). If that is the case, then by all means run two parallel travelators. A walky one. And a standy one. But until that day, get the fuck out of my way! Sprinting on travelators is the only time the words “Fun” and “Run” should go together. Travelators make me feel like I’m Usain Bolt. Until the jarring deceleration at the end brings me back to the realisation that I’m more like Hurley from Lost.

So there you go Airports. The ball is in your court. If you could fix only one, I’d say you weren’t trying…

(*Disclaimer: I travel First/Business class and have a PA, so some of these gripes may or may not apply to my actual travel experience now, but even I did fly economy once upon a time!)

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