Things have changed a lot since I first thought about writing this post. Right now, I’ve pretty much forgotten what an airport looks like, but I know once life eventually resumes to some sort of ‘normal’, our travel industry is going to need us – and that means AIRPORTS and PLANES. Whilst things will be changing in our travel industry, I wonder if the all too familiar travel habits we’ve been accustomed to will find a way to be repeated.
What am I talking about?
I’m 26 going on 6 when it comes to airports – that’s if 6 year olds ADORE them and I haven’t chatted to a 6 year old recently about their experiences so can’t confirm. Anyway, I don’t know about you but I’ve always loved the whole travel experience, although nearly 2 years of the same routine, the excitement of a new airport is ever so slightly wearing off. Just give it a few months though and I’ll be right there, standing outside Heathrow grinning like a cheshire cat. Fingers crossed my next flight is at 5am, because that just makes me EVEN MORE EXCITED.
‘Where did this strange obsession with airports come from?’ – I hear nobody ask. Well, from when I was MUCH younger and I used to go on my little package holiday with my family. I didn’t care that we’d be going to a 4* hotel – Dad was quite a snooty man when we were younger, and seeing as he was going to spend a week doing nothing other than sunbathing by the pool, those sunbeds for his backside had to be 4* LUXURY.#
(Fun fact – our “4* hotel” in Spain was actually in the news for giving all its guests a massive sickness bug because there were little poos floating in the pool, but hey, at least Dad’s sunbeds were nice).
Anyway, I digress. I was 7 years old and wasn’t bothered by Spain or our hotel. I didn’t care that it was hot, or that we’d be eating nice food or dancing to the entertainment. All I cared about was getting up and going to the airport. As a kid, the routine used to go a little like this:
I’d get up at 3am which was obviously the best thing ever because everyone at 3am was still asleep and I was going on a plane. I loved packing suncream because what screams holiday more than the smell of suncream and I would watch my parents fret over the same two battered suitcases and whether they’d remembered all of our passports. We’d take a taxi to the airport and I would watch the planes flying off in pure exhilaration through the window. When we arrived at the airport, it was even better. Why? Because all the shops were OPEN at this crazy time of morning. And then we got on the flight and it all got slightly more boring.. and I’m proud to say I’ve not changed one bit in the slightest.
I’ve officially lost count of the amount of flights I’ve now taken. I’ve enjoyed getting to know all these different airports and airlines whilst failing to realise how big some of these airports actually are – which have resulted in me holding up an entire plane in India (true story). I’ve met some great people in airports and reunited with them a few days later. I’ve had interesting conversations at 3am with random women about life and relationships and I’ve also been rejected for business class a grand total of 13 times (but if you don’t ask, you don’t get). When I’m not – almost – missing flights, I’ve been taking notes of my behaviour (and others) both in airports and on planes. Now things are different – so shut your eyes and imagine COVID hasn’t happened. Then open your eyes and continue reading please because otherwise this is a waste of time. Here we go, the top 10 things I’ve realised I miss doing (that seemingly everyone DID) from departure to arrivals! Let me know if you can relate.
1) Airport Departures – Time and money is NOT a thing
That pure excitement when arriving at the airport? UNBEATABLE. The air? Electrifying, especially when it’s the summer months and everyone is ready for their holidays. Suddenly, as soon as I walk through those automatic doors, money is not a thing, it doesn’t count. Why? Because WE CAN ALL SHOP AT 3AM. Do I need any more clothes? Do I need more bikinis to add to the four pairs I’ve fitted into my suitcase? BREAKFAST? What kind? Shall I go exotic and eat Sushi? Or perhaps a cheeky Chinese? Or maybe I’ll stick with what I know…I mean, it’s now 4am, but surely it’s never too early to eat a Full English and have a strong coffee? It’s going to get light in about three hours, that means I should probably be awake for it. What KIND of coffee? Pret? Costa? Both? Shall I walk around the airport and seek out the cheapest deal? Who knew there were so many UNLIMITED OPTIONS SO EARLY IN THE MORNING?? Well, I did. And you did too.
2) Making sure your bag doesn’t weigh more than what you’ve paid
The majority of airlines allow you a certain amount of KG for your checked luggage. There are some that obviously make you pay straight out and then the airlines that DO allow your checked baggage for free but keep a strict eye that you’re in the range of kilograms permitted – and not a single gram over. There was once a time that I had to pay £100 more because my bag weighed slightly more than the amount of weight allowed – and I do not plan on doing this again. So I do what I call the ‘tip’ dance – tipping your suitcase in all directions, pushing it on, off and then back onto the little conveyor belt next to the check in lady, keeping my eagle eye on the scales and praying it’s not more than 15KG. If it just happens to be slightly over, and the check in lady is looking at me with raised eyebrows (whilst I refuse to make eye contact), I try to shove the bag more on its edge inconspicuously to take some of the extra pounds off. It’s worked so far. Not sure if it works on dogs though..
3) Security – don’t look like a criminal (avoid looking guilty AF)
I’ve got pretty good at the whole security thing. I pre-pack all my liquids into a little plastic bag way in advance so I don’t do what I used to – hold everyone up trying to find all my mascaras, nail varnishes and hand sanitisers at the bottom of my rucksack. Despite how clearly organised I am, I walk through security a little nervously. Why? Well, do you ever have that SLIGHT fear when your bag gets pushed down the conveyor belt of items needing to be checked? For me, my imagination starts to wildly go into overdrive as I think of all the possible things I’ve seen in films that I most definitely haven’t packed but could somehow have walked their way into my hand luggage. There was one time that I was venturing through security in Peru and suddenly this strict South American guard with his two security dogs started barking at me (yes him AND the dogs were barking at me, that’s what it all sounded like). He didn’t speak a word of English, my Spanish was TERRIBLE and all I was thinking was oh god, someone’s put a ton of Cocaine in my bag – I’m going to prison. Well, turns out, sometimes I like to daydream, and I was told off for carrying a banana in my backpack. You can’t take fruit through to other countries in South America, who knew? That’s a genuine mistake I made but it always surprises me when people waltz through security and actually DO have ridiculous items in their hand luggage that they think they can get away with. Like, full on, genuinely ARGUING with security over their massive bottles of liquid. There was once a man who almost started a fight when he couldn’t take his insanely huge bottle of Nivea moisturiser through. This thing was like a litre, so I have no idea what he was needing to moisturise with a bottle that big, but this guy was not happy – it Was VERY fun to watch.
4) Don’t forget to catch your flight
We’re there to fly. That’s the point of getting to the airport, and that’s the point of arriving two or three hours before – or 40 minutes if you’re that crazy. There seems to be some kind of loose wiring (perhaps not with you, oh so organised reader, other than my Mum who will be able to relate on so many levels) when it comes to timings and I… I just CANNOT get it right. I literally get to airports the night before so I can drink all the coffees from every open shop, look at clothes and leave enough time to get to my flight – and I still can’t manage it. It’s something to do with the fact I forget that boarding closes half an hour before the time my flight leaves and I don’t have up until that moment. I also don’t realise how big airports are and I get worried I won’t enjoy my gluten free food on board so eating before is priority, even if that means missing the flight I’m eating for – get it? No, me neither. I was in Delhi airport, and it had taken me AGES to get through security. I had pinned my hopes of using my Business Class lounge pass in Delhi and whilst looking at my watch, I realised I had a lovely 30 minutes in which to relax and fill myself up on free food. I had a very nice, comfortable, individual chair and I looked totally out of place amongst all the businessmen and women but that amused me whilst a waiter approached me to serve drinks. It was all great and I had timed it PERFECTLY. The only thing this lounge was missing was a screen showing me the flight statuses but that was fine because I have a BRAIN – so I thought. A final call kept being read out which interrupted my peaceful remaining 20 minutes until I was able to actually look again at my boarding pass and then remembered that small detail of BOARDING CLOSES 30 MINUTES BEFORE TAKE OFF. Oh. my. dear. lord. Realising my flight would now be leaving Delhi in precisely 15 minutes, I force all the food down me (don’t want to be hungry now do I) and start to epically panic. I’ve never wished a plane to be delayed as much in my entire life, and also start to realise I have no idea where the gate is. Getting stuck in Delhi and having to rebook another flight to South East Asia is NOT what I wanted and so I started to run. A useful piece of information – Delhi airport is huge. Delhi airport is actually bigger than huge. Delhi airport is one of the worst airports to ever try and sprint through with two big rucksacks,and with chickpea salad only partially digested. It took me 15 minutes to try to keep running without throwing up, heaving and heaving with no breath and realising that every numerical gate was spaced ENORMOUSLY far away from each other and I was gate 106. I was sweating in all my clothes that I had worn trying to cover up and screaming/panting at large Indian families to get out of my way. Finally, the gate appears and I wave/collapse from halfway across the hall to try and catch their attention. Eventually, feeling my legs give way, I realise the staff had obviously been waiting for me and I’ve honestly never been so embarrassed. There’s nothing worse than being THAT person who can’t make their flight on time, who everyone is watching like “you moron, can’t you read your boarding pass” and who – when it’s very obvious airline staff are tapping their feet, waiting for you before they close the door – has to actually catch your breath and stop running because your legs can’t take anymore. At this point, I have to stop, still a good minute’s walk from the desk. When I arrive, I breathlessly apologise, red in the face, and smelling quite horrific. I manage to give them my pass and they wordlessly let me through, a little smile appearing at the corner of their mouths. Had I listened clearly to the intercom, I would have realised I was being named and shamed as they’d tried to find me, relaxing in my businessperson seat, eating my very tasty chickpea salad. My point to my story – we’ve all been there, so get to the gate on time. With these types of airports you’re not used to, it is extremely likely your gate is situated in Narnia and it’ll take you ages to get there unless you are Usain Bolt.
5) Passengers on board
You make it on board and try to find your seat. I particularly like when I say “hello” to the airline stewards, and they point me to my Economy seat, through the different gold-plated classes I could never afford. I mean, I can’t help but sigh when I know I’m on a 15 hour flight and look at First class, then onto Business class, getting watched by a clearly very wealthy 7 year old child who will have a much better sleep than I will on my Economy chair. Once your seat has been found, then comes your passenger analysis. Who’s sitting next to me? Who will be my neighbour for the following hours? Any potential people who will interrupt my sleep pattern, next to or surrounding me? You’ve obviously got the three types to look out for – the babies, the sniffers and the snorers. Now I love babies, I was a part-time nanny and cannot get enough of them. I have experienced looking after kids in their best and their worst moments, so whenever I see a family with children, I feel very sympathetic for the parents. You just know the person sitting next to them is probably groaning inside about what the next few hours could mean for their sleep. Don’t forget, we all want to try and have at least a LITTLE kip on these flights, but especially if you’re a business person who’s got a meeting the following day. I used to be one of those people when children were screaming on board who would share eye glances with my fellow plane friends and grimace, but then I realised that actually I am the pied piper of babies and they all love me and I can STOP them crying. This has happened a few times now. One particularly memorable incident was on the same flight I’d nearly missed, with a two year old little girl who just wanted to continue to run up and down the aisle. She was not happy that turbulence was ruining her aisle dreams, and therefore continued to scream the place down when the air hostess tried – for the fifth time – to get the father to buckle her up. So I started playing Peek-A-Boo for 20 minutes – this made her laugh. When she was allowed to run up and down, I created a space for her next to me on the seat and continued to play Peek-A-Boo every time she cried – which was basically the entire flight – but it worked, much to the delight of fellow passengers. When the flight actually ended, and I drearily thought of all the Leo DiCaprio films I could have watched instead of playing the baby game for 15 hours, whilst the parents and three other people grinned at me and thanked me for my help. No worries, you’re welcome. Unfortunately, I can vouch that the Peek-A-Boo game does not work on snorers or sniffers – two of my absolute worst aeroplane companions. I cannot detail enough how much these people should be banned and I’ve had to stop myself from a) banging into someone’s head to wake them up and b) offering someone a tissue. JUST DON’T DO IT.
6) An endless aeroplane food conveyor
I believe there are two types of food eaters on aeroplanes, those that LOVE aeroplane food and those that detest it. I am one of the proud aeroplane food lovers. You can probably tell by this post that I’m someone who gets excited by a lot of quite basic things, and aeroplane food is one of them. With my dietary requirements, I have to opt for a gluten free meal – and hope that there isn’t any dairy in it. It means I get served FIRST and everyone has to wait (shame). Twice it has occured that the airline didn’t get the note I was gluten free and all I could eat were crisps but that’s an experience I would like to forget. There’s the excitement of what could be on the menu – sometimes they try and match the food to the country we’re flying to, which I never receive because I’m gluten free and the most exotic food they can serve me is cardboard. But that’s not the point. The point is that I’m excited for the REST of you passengers – oh the food I will eat vicariously through you. When I’ve finished my not-so-exotic, gluten free meal, I am full, happy and I cannot rave about it more. I find it quite funny though, because I completely lose sense of all time onboard and I just feel like I’m constantly eating. It’s like a constant conveyor of food, to the point where I feel like I’m fed more on a plane than I am at home. I’ll have my dinner, probably pay for extra snacks and then BOOM it’s breakfast again – but at lunch time. It’s a wonder that plane could still fly when I roll out of it upon landing.
7) The mandatory 20 minute pre-touchdown bathroom queue
This is pretty self explanatory, but it’s easy to say I can predict your bladder movements whilst travelling on an aeroplane, whether you’ve nearly completed a 15 hour flight or a 1 hour flight. It goes a little something like, chill, chill chill, maybe use the toilet a few times like a normal human and then 20 minutes before landing MOST DEFINITELY USE THE TOILET because for 20 whole minutes you won’t have that ability and thus all hell could break loose. You could have been on that plane and quite happily doing nothing, but as soon as that announcement comes – and you know it’s coming – you must get up and use the bathroom. Even if you don’t need it, the entire plane is going, so you might as well join the conga line. It’s like being told you won’t be able to pee for a day, let alone 20 minutes – everyone feels the same and jumps up to be the first one there.
8) Rushing to get up for no reason
You know the one. We arrive at our destination, the aeroplane has just touched down and comes to a halt, and as SOON as the seatbelt sign turns off? EVERYBODY GOES NUTS. It’s not about women and children first here – it’s survival of the fittest. We all throw our seatbelts off hurriedly, rush to get up before our neighbour, sometimes even shoving our aisle friend out of the way because hell, THEY ONLY SLOW US DOWN. We push people to get OUR suitcases down and raise our eyes when some extremely selfish person is taking their time getting their bag from the overhead compartment. HURRY UP EVERYBODY. And we rush, and we push, and we scramble to get to the grand finale offfff – standing in line waiting. Because we can’t DO anything. Our flurry to get our bags and be standing in the aisle does absolutely jack sh*t, ESPECIALLY when you’re situated in the middle of the plane because we cannot move until the door opens, and even then you need to wait. And slowly walk out in an orderly fashion. So please, everybody – why, WHY do we rush to be the first off the plane when even if the doors were open the second we landed, or even BEFORE we landed, we would STILL need to queue and remain standing for absolutely ages. But we all do it, I do it, you do it and we will continue to do it when we can start to fly again without COVID regulations preventing us otherwise.
9) Immigration – is smiling a crime?
It’s very possible that smiling at the grimacing immigration official is a crime. I mean if it’s illegal to smile on your passport and/or driving license photo (I think? That’s what my Mum told me at least) then it’s definitely frowned upon to do this in Immigration, but I can’t help it! I genuinely don’t know where to look! Someone, anyone – WHERE DO YOU LOOK? You’ve just rushed to not get off the plane, then slowly depart the plane, and then run to immigration/passport control ahead of the crowds. And I just don’t know what to do. I’m an overthinker, I overthink these things. If you smile, then that shows you’re trying to hide something for sure, because they could ask ‘why are you smiling at me’ and I don’t think they’d believe the ‘oh I’m just a smiley person, nothing else I swear’ response. But then if I DON’T smile and meet his eyes with the same frown and air of scrutiny, then he’s going to be like ‘Why are you giving me attitude?’ Then there’s the ol’ ‘look in another direction’ pose, but then he could think ‘Why aren’t you looking at me? What are you hiding?’ and that could bring all sorts of trouble. Anyway, I don’t feel like I’m alone on this – where do YOU look?
10) Items to declare? Undecided
Post-Immigration interrogation, and non blinking standoff, you walk to get your suitcases from baggage claim. The all too familiar, ‘everyone standing as close to the carousel as possible to receive their baggage first’ process begins, despite the fact all our bags are coming out at the SAME time and this does not guarantee faster dispensal. I will be thoroughly interested as to how this is going to be regulated when we’re allowed to fly PROPERLY again because honestly, people wait like cattle for their luggage. Upon struggling past a gazillion people all selfishly standing in front of you to grab your bag, the final point of our travel journey is here. ANYTHING TO DECLARE? Now, I always find it strange that there are usually no people working in this part, and yet there are still two options leading to the same point unmanned. Things to declare? Or nothing to declare.
Sometimes, you get that exciting situation where someone is having their bags searched and you walk past, pretending not to look at the items they’ve most definitely NOT declared in their bags, perhaps secretly hoping they’ve been caught with the biggest stash of illegal pineapples and you’re being filmed for a documentary…. but sometimes my imagination just runs away with me.
I’ve honestly never had anything to declare but I’ve seen the programmes and I overthink a LOT. What if the way I walk is just too suspicious and I get taken to the side by someone who’s just decided to work that day? What if I’ve taken through 1000 coconuts by accident? What if I was a secret drugs mule in my sleep and someone hid 10000000 bags of drugs within my pants? Am I going to be reported as the modern day Bridget Jones and get thrown into a Thai jail where I’ll make friends with Thai ladies and talk about boobs all day? WILL I? I mean, by the time I stop thinking about which bra I’d be wearing whilst singing Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ with my fellow Thai jail lady friends, I’ve waltzed through Customs and arrived at Arrivals in one piece, no arrests, no coconuts and an empty bladder – thanks to the 20 minute warning on board.
The journey has ended for me, and I look forward to what awaits in this country – unless it’s London, my home city, and therefore I’d just be looking forward to a bath. (If you’re NOT from London, I can assure you there is a lot more to offer than just good bath salts – I know some of the cheapest yet finest afternoon teas, and going to the theatre in Central London should be on everyone’s bucket list.).
Either way, once our travel industry eventually returns to a new normal, the routine will continuously be played out with every next flight I have – from start to finish – albeit perhaps with the introduction of PPE, masks and social distancing.
If you’ve got this far, then well done! Let me know if you can relate or whether you think i’ve missed anything out? What did you YOU love most about travelling to and from the airport before COVID hit? Did you have any airport habits? Let me know!