Airports. They are the gateway to the far reaches the world. But they can also be a portal directly to hell while you wait for that gateway to open. Full of over excited or perpetually busy people who maintain a complete lack of manners, either by accident or by choice, they are a necessary evil.
On holiday recently, over a period of 3 weeks, I took 8 different flights, visiting 8 different airports in 4 different countries. The experience managed to completely restore my faith in all other modes of transport.
As I sat in a quiet corner of Saigon Airport in Vietnam, a woman and her entire family encroached on my space and, quite literally, farted in my face. And not a little accidental slip of the bowel either. This was fully-fledged flatulence, directed straight at me at. I glanced up, making eye contact with her. She stared straight back, like this was something I should have expected, as if it were a privilege to have methane blasted at me from close range. I am certain chemical warfare has been illegal for some time, but someone forgot to pass the memo on to this special individual. Then she did it again, like some kind of warning designed to keep me at a safe distance. True story.
This situation stemmed from arriving early for my flight. I was penalised, it seems, for being too punctual, a trait I thought would be commended. Instead I was informed that I was too early. “I’m sorry Mr. Besley, you are too punctual so we can’t check you in, please take your bag and wait for the next three hours in our pleasantly sparse terminal… Oh yes, I realise there’s nothing to do here… I agree, there are no seats to sit on, but that’s because people are sleeping on them… No I will not wake them up… Thank you, our tiles are really well buffed… Please stop doing Risky Business impersonations… Mr. Besley? Mr. Besley!”
Every traveller already knows not to leave belongings unattended. The last thing you need is to leave your bag on its lonesome so you can be gang tackled by a security team, itching to do anything, as you walk away. So having the same announcement rattled out over the PA every ten minutes, driving the message home in Vietnamese, Chinese and English- “Please do not leave your bags unattended.” – is borderline torture. Yes, public service announcements are integral to an effectively run airport, but having the same pre-recorded message, droned out in such a monotonous tone is hard to take. I think the aim is to bore people into submission, whilst making it impossible to sleep at the same time.
For all my gripes, I cannot fault airport security. When I had a full beard, I was ‘randomly’ selected for searches at every checkpoint I passed through. Not that this was ever a problem, but says a lot about the randomness of people selected for bomb checks. Actually, during my period of immense beard wealth, I was even patted down going into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch a game of football. However, this says more about my presentation not their security protocols. I clearly looked like someone up to no good or, at the very least, a prison escapee. Nepalese Airports do security screening best, frisking every person entering their terminals. Perhaps this equal opportunity security screening aims to make targets like me feel more at ease.
Not all airport experiences are like this. Some airports are clearly more superior than others. That being said, superiority is no guarantee for comfort. Take Singapore airport for example. It’s more shopping complex than airport. And like a shopping complex, you tire of it fairly quickly when you realise there are only so many bottles of perfume or distilled spirits that you can’t afford to buy. Being stuck here overnight is no picnic either. The air conditioning blasts all night, making it impossible to sleep past 4 a.m. You will wake up, after using your bag as a pillow, freezing cold and extremely stiff as you climb up off the floor, feeling more like you have been assaulted rather than rested. The airport does have services designed to make your ‘stay’ more comfortable such as an airport hotel and ‘rest areas’. There is more chance of winning the lotto than getting a coveted place in either of these areas though. Hats off to the management for attempting to find a solution, mind you. I’m just not sure that 15 banana lounges tucked away in a dark corner is going to cut it for the thousands of passengers who pass though the terminals.
Most airports provide ‘free’ Wi-Fi. Brilliant! Unless you are unfortunate like me that is. In that case, your phone will no longer be in your hand. Instead it will have made its way into the pocket of a taxi driver in Hanoi named Tran after it fell out of your bag on a trip to the train station. This makes registering for a Wi-Fi code somewhat challenging as it will generally be sent to your mobile. But fear not, you can use the ‘free’ internet facilities littered around the larger airports, so graciously provided for convenience. The internet at these free kiosks is fantastic, especially if you are comfortable with the browsing speed of a 1995 dial up connection. This is exceptionally frustrating when all you want to do is check Facebook and find out sporting results. A job that should last five minutes will last the better part of half an hour. At least it kills some time, I suppose.
Nothing is more exciting than getting to the airport. But being able to amuse yourself for the duration of your stay can be more of a mission. Rude people, poor facilities and limited options can leave you contemplating bashing your head against the window as a form of entertainment. You should realise, though, that all other travellers are in the same situation as you. Airports are a universal pain in the a** but are an unlucky necessity when jetting off to see the world.
Wayward Tip: Entertainment and a quiet corner are your friends. Nothing kills time like being able to watch a movie or play a game. If you like your space, be a bit boisterous and you will be left alone. Travellers hate boisterous people at the airport.