LIKE millions of people around the world, my progress through an airport is accompanied by a growing feeling of trepidation and no little dread.
The tension grows, the anxiety rises and the fear of what may be lying ahead clouds my thoughts.
Nothing to do with a fear of flying – that’s never bothered me unduly – but the merest hint of an airport causes my faith in humanity to evaporate as my fellow passengers take it in turns to engage their ‘incapable of thinking for themselves or of others’ travelling brain and carry out a sequence of actions guaranteed to raise my blood pressure.
There’s those who appear to think they are the only ones in the entire airport with a plane to catch, those who believe the rules on liquids on board don’t apply to them, those who have decided to wear every item of clothing or jewellery containing metals and have made no steps to speed up their passage through security, those who stand side by side chatting on the moving walkways and those who seem to think that rushing up to the gate as soon as boarding is announced will somehow make the plane leave earlier.
And, above all those irritants, are those who interpret carry-on bags as bigger than the one which will carry my gear around Africa for 10 months, can only be steered through the airport on wheels and will end in them struggling to force them into the overhead lockers as they remove or relocate any more suitable bags which may dare to get in their way.
On entering the plane the frustrations come close to boiling over (especially on the return flight, when the annoyances cannot be smoothed over by the anticipation of the destination).
Despite evidence to the contrary, finding your seat is not difficult. Your boarding pass has a number and a letter which the airline has been kind enough to mark just above the seats all the way down the plane.
Find that seat, put your bag in the luggage rack (having taken anything you want out beforehand), sit in that seat, stay there, don’t recline your seat without checking the tall person behind you does not already have their knees pressed against the rest of your chair, don’t lean on the person next to you and, for the good of the people around you, get off your phone before told to do so and don’t have a conversation with a friend several rows away.
And try to think of those people close to you – very close on some flights – for the hours you share in a confined space.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Not on my flight back to the UK from the USA a couple of weeks ago.
Frustrations were already rising after the free-for-all boarding process as all five lanes were dealt with in no specific order by the sole agent at the gate and kept on doing so after sitting down in my aisle seat – next to a woman and her young son, probably aged about five or six.
Technically, it was just next to her, but he was climbing over from his window seat onto her and was beginning to make inroads into my space.
Opting to be resolutely British and stare straight ahead, my attention was caught by a backlog caused by a small, elderly lady needing help to lift her huge bag into the overhead compartment and then out again as she opened it to take out several items before settling down into the seat in front of mine.
Proficient in English to ask for help with her bag, she denied all knowledge when asked not to recline her seat, which made getting out of mine even more difficult when the woman next to me and child wanted out for a chat with a guy who had just wandered down the aisle with a baby in his arms.
They remained gone for a while as we sat waiting to push back and the prospects of a squashed night constantly getting up to allow them out was looming large.
And then came a tap on my shoulder.
“Excuse me, sir. Are you the gentleman who is moving to allow the gentleman to sit with his family?”
Not that I knew, but hey, this could be my escape and with the eyes of those crammed in cattle class on me, my bag was grabbed from up above and off we went in search of the seat vacated by the father.
The father who had opted to cram himself into economy, having shelled out for a seat in Business.
Surely some mistake – but not one which they had chance to dwell on as my shattered, suddenly less than pristine looking form, settled into the wider seat, kicked my shoes into the supplied alcove, rested my feet onto the shelf beneath the much larger screen and ordered the ribeye beef, thank you very much.
Instead of little plastic trays, foil-covered shades of grey masquerading as food and trying to sleep sat upright, it was proper cutlery, a mini table cloth draped over your tray, a succession of courses delivered at your own pace and a night sprawled reclined full length, head resting on a proper pillow.
And nobody not knowing how to behave on a plane (bar me when one of my fellow passengers pointed out that the exit was actually behind me and turning round might stop the elite front section having to wait).
One impact of this stroke of fortune was that my iPod remained in my pocket and progress through the A-Z has been pretty slow as we edged along from Soundtrack Of Our Lives to Placebo, who took over top spot in the longest track yet at 22.39, even if most of it was silence, followed by what sounds like a reception class banging away at a roomful of instruments.
We had a group of Buddy songs (via The Lemonheads, De La Soul and Weezer), a Buck (Feeder), a Buffalo (Stump), Brothers from Mark Kozelek and Desertshore, which is a hugely depressing but strangely absorbing track, and almost the perfect subject matter for a country song in Bulldozers and Dirt by Drive-By Truckers.
Veronica Falls supplied Broken Toy – which falls into the must investigate further category – while Jesse Malin took us to Brooklyn and Arcade Fire to a Building Downtown.
Probably pick of this section was Bullet Proof… by Radiohead (remember folks, The Bends is better than OK Computer) while Rage Against The Machine’s Bullet In The Head blasted out pulling out of work on Sunday evening, to some strange looks from the congregation gathering at the church opposite.
And their parking is almost as frustrating as the behaviour of your average airport dweller.