Can you think of anything more ghastly than air travel? Long gone are the days when you would look forward to an uneventful check in, a gentle meander through security and passport control and an hour and a half in a well appointed departure lounge full of tempting shops and restaurants. Flying used to be a big adventure. These days it’s a complete nightmare and that’s when things are running smoothly. Add a belching Icelandic volcano and a week of delays and I would rather be cast into Dante’s purgatory.
It’s hard to imagine what a six day delay at an airport must be like, particularly if you have children in tow, but the faces of frustrated passengers on BBC and Sky TV were probably a good indication. I was once delayed 24 hours on a flight from London and the airline just kept lying. The first announcement was that the flight was delayed for two hours at which point you groan but make plans to pass an extra two hours. Then, two hours later, the flight was delayed another hour and this went on throughout the night by which time the airport was empty of all passengers apart from those on my fated flight. Finally, at 3.00 am (eight hours after the flight was scheduled to take off) we were all rounded up, put on busses and shoved in a hotel. The flight would apparently leave the next morning. Just as I had gratefully fallen into a deep sleep at about 4.30am there was a knock at the hotel door and someone opened it to ask if we had anything from the mini bar. A Hi-Tec hiking boot was flung across the room towards the door and an expletive suggesting that the person concerned might wish to go off and reproduce was shouted.
Those stuck at European airports last week weren’t so lucky. There were no hotel arrangements for most of them and, in keeping with airline tradition, there was no useful information. For example, saying that British airspace would be closed until 1pm the following day implies that the authorities know what they are talking about. They have assessed the situation with the volcanic ash, added a couple of hours to be on the safe side and raised passenger’s expectations that they will be on their way to their final destinations within the next 24 hours. As we now know, that was cobblers. Why didn’t the authorities come clean and say that it was rather difficult to know when the Volcano would stop erupting so don’t bother to hang around at the airport. Because that would spoil the fun wouldn’t it? Just as it would spoil the fun if you stopped people from having to take their belts and shoes off and put all their toiletries in a clear plastic bag.
These days air travel means that you are treated like a criminal and a refugee but never like a fare paying customer. Your blanket is swiped an hour before you land because some bureaucrat has decided that you might be assembling a bomb under it. You’re not even allowed to use the toilet on some long haul flights an hour before the flight lands which is, in my experience, exactly when every passenger decides on a final comfort visit. So when the pilot announces that you are stacking over Heathrow and it will be an extra 30 minutes before you land you’ve got real bladder challenges.
I’m booked to fly to Morocco on holiday later this year and am praying that someone will invent a time machine around July. Failing that I’m going to have to learn how to insert a catheter without the woman in the next seat knowing what I’m up to. That’s when the blanket would really come in handy.