I travel. A lot. And after racking up over 3 million miles in the past decade, I now loathe airports as much as flying...
It wasn't always this way. There was a time when being at an airport felt exciting. The promise of exotic travel to destinations unseen was always alluring, and being at the airport was part of the enjoyment. Add to that the appeal of Duty Free, with its heady aroma of mixed perfumes, the twinkling and beeping of assorted gadgets, and the calm caress of the business class lounge--they all made the experience something to savor.
But over the years, the charm of an airport hasn't just diminished, it has completely evaporated. I now think about going to the airport with the same sense of foreboding that I get when I'm going to the dentist for root canal work.
There is much to despise about the airport experience, but I have carefully considered the aspects which I hate the most and compiled a little list of my top 11 pet peeves:
1. Statues on the moving walkways: Travelators are a real bonus in big airports, as they can obviously help you get to where you need to be much faster. That is, until you come across those challenged individuals who evidently don't realize that there is an etiquette when using them. By all means, if you want the moving walkway to trundle you along at its own pace, then please feel free to stand to one side while you enjoy the ride. But for crying out loud, don't stand right in the middle with your trolley bag by your side, blocking those people who simply want to get to their gate on time. If you want to get your kicks on a mundane ride, go to an under-5's fun fair instead.
2. 100ml means 100ml: How many years has the liquids ban been in effect? Eleven years as of September 26th, to be precise. So why is it that people still don't seem to understand the regulations? How many times has the queue been held up because some guy is arguing that he should be able to take through his 125ml bottle of Paco Rabanne because he has "used more than half of it"? Truth is, you might not like it, but rules are rules and they are there to keep us all safe.
3. Is this yours, sir?: Beyond the liquid transgressors mentioned in the previous point, the security check is always a place which never ceases to both surprise and irk me in almost equal measure. Some of the things I have seen people trying to get through in their hand luggage almost beggar belief. Among the items I've seen over the years are bullets (with the guy saying he thought it was OK to take bullets because he hadn't brought a gun), a dead turtle (the wife explaining that it had died while they were on holiday and they were taking it home to bury it--why did they bring it in the first place?), a mini-samurai sword (a gift for his children apparently), and a box of fireworks (because you can't get decent ones back home). Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
4. Stop and stare: Why do some people gape at the flight departure board as intently as they watch an episode of Game of Thrones? I don't get it. I look at the board, locate my flight, check the gate, and swiftly move on. So why is it, when I check the board around half an hour later, they are still there gawping at the screen? I'm convinced that it's the same people who have been transfixed for years and stand there, moaning gently, like the shopping mall zombies in George Romero's Dawn of the Dead.
5. Cattle crush: This is a game, a little like Candy Crush, which is played when the boarding announcement has just been made. Then, irrespective of which class you are in or the airlines' often pathetic attempts at segregation, everyone rushes for the door, thus creating the inevitable bottle neck. It always reminds me of the free-for-all when they open the breakfast buffet at a cheap hotel. On the rare occasions that the staff do step in to sort out the melee, I must admit that I give an internal fist pump when the interlopers are vanquished and sent to the back of the queue.
6. Weakling Wi-Fi: I have a theory that airports purposely put in the worst possible free Wi-Fi they can find (the kind that makes dial-up seem positively rapid) so that you simply have to upgrade to their exorbitant premium service--which, incidentally, still packs about as much punch as an asthmatic mouse.
7. Are we there yet?: That sinking feeling when you realize that not only are you going to have to get to another terminal via the airport underground system, but you then have to take a coach to your plane. Crammed in like sheep on a sweaty bus with wheezy air conditioning to drive another 20 minutes to finally get to your aircraft. The only enjoyment is watching that one cocky passenger (and there is always at least one) who thinks he or she is too cool to hang on to support and then plants his or her face firmly into another passenger's backpack when the bus lurches to a halt.
8. Why do I need to show my boarding pass to buy anything?: Look, I understand that the airports and their retailers want to build up a profile of their users, and the boarding pass is a useful mechanic to help them do that. I'm sure the likes of Chanel, Paul Smith, and Burberry glean a lot from it. But do I really have to show my boarding pass to buy a bottle of water and a packet of Peanut M&M's?
9. Cry baby: Is it just me, or is there a toddler throwing the mother of all tantrums pretty much everywhere you look at an airport? I was at Frankfurt Airport last week and counted 17 different kids losing the plot whilst en route to my boarding gate. That's a lot of tears. And snot. As a father of three, I know what it's like. Kids get sensory overload with all the new sights and sounds at airports, and it's pretty much a guarantee that at some stage they are going to implode.
10. Bagging a bargain?: You might think you are getting a great deal when purchasing a product in Duty Free. Sadly, the truth is, you probably aren't. The retailers know you are a captive audience with time on your hands, plus there is the prevailing myth that Duty Free shops are cheaper than the High Street. However, the latest research on pricing discovered that across a wide range of products, from perfume to watches and clothing to wine, you could be paying up to 99 percent more than in a supermarket or online. My simple tip? Always Google the price of what you are about to buy in Duty Free to check whether you can get it for less elsewhere. I wish I hadn't purchased that foot long Toblerone now.
11. Breakfast boozers: It doesn't matter which airport you are in--anywhere in the world, at whatever time of day, you will see the breakfast barflies throwing back their tipple of choice. Whether they are going on holiday or on a business trip, the urge to imbibe copious amounts of alcohol before they board their flight seems almost universal. And it's becoming a real problem, with the occurrence of booze fueled air rage incidents on the rise. Certain airlines are recommending that passengers should be limited to a maximum two drink rule before they board an aircraft. From what I can see, the breakfast boozers would simply get around that by ordering two pints of vodka.
So, are you annoyed by airports as much as I am, or do you still enjoy the experience? If you do hate them as much as I, which other facets of airports do you abhor? And as you contemplate those questions, I'm at Heathrow airport today, and as I am about to hit the publish button on this article I have already witnessed more than half of these annoyances. Just saying....