Me and airports don’t really get on. I think it stems from the notion of having to be there at a certain time (my timekeeping is legendary for all the wrong reasons) and also because there is such a grey area surrounding exactly how early you need to be. Do I really need to be there 2 hours before, can I get away with 1.5 hours? Surely some people show up just 1 hour early and still make it? If I go 30 minutes early am I just going to be hanging around in the duty free shops? Will the plane actually leave on time, might I be OK if I get there 10 minutes before my flight? Is that the time it’s going to leave or the time it’s going to board? I don’t really have any complicate luggage or children or skis, can I shave off some time?
I also save time over some others as I’m of the opinion both escalators and those moving walkways (travelators?) are designed to get you somewhere faster, not to save you from exercising. So I will walk when on the travelator and go up or down the stairs when on an escalator. I consider this to be normal behaviour and get frustrated, particularly on airport travelators, when you see people just fucking standing there … with their wheeled suitcases. (I looked up the name of those moving walkways on the internet and apparently they are also known as “horizontal escalators” … interesting, does that mean a floor is just “flat stairs”?)
I’ve only ever really had trouble with my timekeeping twice at the airport, since I usually opt for the going-there-insanely-early option and thus I’ve spent an incredible amount of wasted time just hanging around at airports, usually trying to get tipsy by just staring at shelves and shelves of alcohol in the duty free shops. Those two tight scrapes have been completely outwith my control.
I was once travelling to LA for the E3 games industry trade show and had met up with a colleague at the airport. A seasoned traveller he was the one who introduced me to the secret of long-haul travel. Get shit-faced by the time you take off and you’ll sleep like a baby through the flight.
We arrived and checked in and the flight was already boarding, but he was peckish so suggested we go to one of those champagne and seafood bars that you only seem to find at airports. I was a bit anxious; usually when a man or a sign tells me it’s boarding time I go straight away. After all, I can’t miss my flight if I’m actually on the plane so getting aboard lifts a great weight off my mind. But he was the travelling expert so I trusted him we’d be fine. Took a while for us to be served and I was quite fidgety but he was very relaxed.
The waiter came and we each ordered some kind of salmon thing, and my colleague ordered a nice bottle of white wine. Yes, a bottle. It was already announcer-politely-telling-passengers-to-hurry-the-fuck-up time and we had just ordered a bottle of wine. The food and wine came and we got to chatting about the business we’d be doing in LA – business I increasingly felt was in jeopardy of taking place via Skype if we didn’t hurry up and get on the plane. It was five minutes before the plane was actually leaving. We still had half a bottle of wine left. I felt I had to say something. “Shouldn’t we just go, we’ll miss our flight!”
“Don’t be silly,” he said, “Our bags are on that flight; if we don’t show up they can’t leave with our bags, so they’d have to take everything off the plane before leaving without us.”
Is that how it works?
I took his word for it, and we calmly finished our wine and food and then set off. We were certainly the last people on the plane, in fact the airline crew treated us like lost explorers returning home when we arrived, but he was right, the plane was still there, and we had wasted no time dawdling around duty free shops or sitting eating sandwiches staring at departure boards. We got on and sat down and waited for the trolley to come to give us more booze…
The second close shave was in Croatia. I was travelling alone, having had my extra days in Dubrovnik on my own after the group holiday I was on finished. Problem is, the airport I was flying from was in a different city, half-the-country away in Split. But it had seemed fairly simple to get to – just a bus ride, which I had timed out to perfection, which ran regularly from Dubrovnik to Split. And of course, the airport would be right next door to the bus station right in the middle of town, just like usual… right?
I got on the bus and amused myself as it took me to my destination. A mere half-hour later we’d arrived at the terminus. Now, Balkan drivers are fucking lunatics, but even that was faster than I expected. The driver turned to me, and said something in Croatian. I didn’t understand as the only Croatian I’d picked up in my trip was “Yes I know it’s red wine and coke,” “Is this the way to the mausoleum,” and “No, I’m not gay, and neither should you be with a thing that small.” He was clearly telling me via body language I had to get the fuck off his bus. But what had gone wrong, I saw no planes?
This had gone wrong…
I’d been so busy with my timings and tickets I forgot one key factor unique to this particular mode of transport – which side of the road to get on the bus. I’d travelled the wrong way to the end of the line, which also happened to be the end of the country. I had no choice but to explain to the driver I was a “jebeni kreten” – a fucking moron – and wait for him to start up again, take me all the way back to Dubrovnik and then onto Split.
Arriving in Split I rushed out to get a cab to the airport, assuming this to be a 5-minute trip for no other reason than that I’m a jebeni kreten. It wasn’t, it was about half an hour, and I checked in at the airport with literally moments to spare. Unlike the LA trip I did not have the leverage of them already having my baggage. When I checked in, the nice lady at the BA desk upgraded me, the first and only time this has ever happened, and I enjoyed my flight home sat right at the front of first class 🙂
But the title of this post is actually referring to another experience I had more recently at Berlin Airport. I had spent Christmas in Germany with my flatmate’s family and we were travelling home. We were in the security line with our bags and Andrea needed to go to the loo (presumably first she had to go find another girl in the queue to go with her).
It was while standing alone with all our stuff I noticed the man behind me, who was with his wife and (presumably) their kids. I recognised him. He was the man on the right in this photo: Alex Conran.
This trio are known for a BBC series called The Real Hustle, in which Paul, Jess and Alex above catch out unsuspecting members of the public with scams, confidence tricks or thefts. Hidden cameras capture the action as Paul and Alex, magicians in real-life, explain how the con is done and how you can avoid being stung by the same scams. The punters apparently get their money/goods back after filming, but Alex was wearing a very nice watch.
This is just what I fucking needed. I am at airport security with all our stuff, and there is a professional thief right behind me in the queue. First thing I did was take out our passports and hold them in my hand. I figured that probably wasn’t enough, so I held them in my hand and stared at them. I then looked around for cameras. It seemed like he was just on a family holiday but maybe this was part of the show.
Tonight, Alex will be showing you how easy it is for 6 grams of cocaine to be stapled to the inside cover of your passport at airport security. After our victim had been held at gunpoint and rectally examined, he was given his passport back and agreed that the footage could be shown so that you can avoid falling for the same scam. Meanwhile, Jess is in the airport bar using her tits to demonstrate that she doesn’t even have to say a word to con some men out of tens of thousands of pounds.
Andrea came back, I tried subtly to explain to her the scenario. Not helped by the fact she had never heard of The Real Hustle or seen Alex Conran. Typical. As a general rule, Andrea has never seen anything that is of any practical use in any urgent situation. Alex went off to get a sandwich, offering us a reprieve for a few moments. Yeah, like he was going to fucking pay for that. Not a chance. He came back with the sandwich, and no doubt the shop assistant’s wallet and jewellery and the heat was back on as we got close to security.
If he wanted to, this guy could have had knives or false passports in the pocket of everyone in this queue. “Is this your passport Mr … Qaeda?” At least he wouldn’t have to change my first name. It was the most nerve-racking ten minutes of my life. What’s worse is I had to keep an eye on him without looking at him, because I hate looking at famous people because they’re probably thinking “he’s staring at me because he recognises me from TV … just trying to enjoy a private holiday with my family here”.
We made it through and as far as I know, nothing had been stolen, switched, coated with anthrax or filled with petrol. Thankfully. Seems he was just on holiday after all.
Still don’t think he paid for that sandwich though…