Any Airport, Anywhere

Musical Accompaniment: If I Had a Gun by Noel Gallagher

Even though I love travel, I fucking hate airports. And I mean I really fucking hate airports. In no other place do you have to weave through so many layers of security theatre, spend more money on basic amenities or deal with more disgusting people. Here is my take on the typical scene that everyone already knows.

First of all, there is no scenario possible in which you can show up at an appropriate time. Arrive early and the airport is a ghost town and you’re at your gate in ten minutes. You then have the pleasure of spending half your paycheck on a coffee and a muffin because you skipped breakfast to arrive early. You sit down and check your phone in hopes of finding something that will help kill the next two hours (which always turns into three or four as the flight attendant starts announcing one delay after another). This is the only time in your life that you won’t have any important work e-mails to answer, texts from friends or family or even any interesting Facebook posts to read (usually because it’s six in the morning and none of your friends are on their computers yet). You keep refreshing your feed until you’re phone dies (always exponentially faster than in any other environment). You search your bag for the charger only to realize it’s in your checked luggage or you forgot it at home. So now you’re off to the electronic store to spend the second half of your paycheck.

If, on the other hand, you arrive  at the airport a few minutes later than desired then suddenly everyone in the world is trying to fly that day. It also means that for no reason whatsoever security is at threat level YELLOW.  Every person in front of you is overweight, over dressed and has over packed. It takes a monumental and sweaty effort for them to get their jacket and shoes off and they always forget to remove their computers and sun screen (oh, the dreaded sun screen). By the time this is done they’ve all taken up at least ten bins.

Now it’s your turn. You quickly lay out your shit in a mere two bins and brace yourself for the poking and prodding that is inevitable because if 9/11 taught the world anything, it was to treat everyone in the world like a drug smuggling psychopath.

“You’ve been randomly selected for a swab test.” says the proud agent.

“Oh ya? What’s that?” You respond sarcastically.

“It’s a random test we do.”

“Hmm. Well, what for.”

“It’s for various chemicals.”

“Oh I see. Because lots of people come to the airport right after rolling around in a pile of cocaine and anthrax?”

“Sir, please cooperate.”

“I’m just asking. So why have I been chosen?”

“It’s just a random selection sir.”

“I see. So I’ve given you no cause for suspicion but you’re still gonna pull me aside? Does that seem fair to you?”

“I don’t make the rules sir.”

“Right, but you enforce them. Do you catch many bad guys doing this?”

The agent ignores your question.

“I’m serious. You must have good efficacy to put this test in place right? Lots of extra salaries fancy equipment; that’s a lot of tax dollars.”

“Sir, if you’d like to step aside I can call my supervisor and you can deal with her.”

“Alright fine,” you say as you hold out your hands for the swabbing, “keep fighting the good fight.”

Next you walk through the metal detector. You’ve removed your belt so your pants hang halfway down your ass and you’ve also removed your shoes so you slide awkwardly across the polished floor. Even still, the iron in your blood is slightly too high so the machine sounds it’s alarm. Another agent walks over and says that you’re required to submit to further screening. You get the option of a pat down or the full body scan. You’re a freedom fighter so you continue your stubborn ways. You point to the female agent and say “Can she be the one to pat me down?”

“The pat down has to be done by a person of the same sex” responds the agent.

“What if I’m gay?” You fire back

“Sir, you look like a man to me so I will have to be the one to pat you down.”

“I said gay…”

“Sir, if you came through here clean shaven with a dress on then maybe we could have a conversation but you have a beard and are wearing jeans so it will have to be a male agent.”

“I said gay! Do you not know the difference between gay and cross-dresser?”

He looks at you stoically.

“Ok fine, I’m a woman. I had surgery last year and take hormone supplements in order to grow facial hair.”

You realize this agent too is about to signal his supervisor and so you finally submit to the body scan. You raise your hands over your head like a criminal and hold your breath as the scanners spin around. Uh oh, you had a small piece of lint in your back pocket and now are required to be pat down anyway. “Oh yeah, that feels good right there” you say as the agent rubs his hand up the back of your leg.”

Now it’s time to retrieve your bag. This too has been pulled aside by an agent for further inspection. After a bit of rummaging she pulls out a small tube of toothpaste. “Sir, the maximum limit for gels and liquids is 100mL” says the agent.

“And…?” You inquire curiously because you were sure to buy the travel size tube at the grocery store.

“This bottle is 110mL.”

“You’re kidding me. So what?”

“We have to confiscate this sir.”

“That’s bullshit. I just bought that.”

“I’m sorry sir but you’re over the limit.”

“So just squeeze a little bit of it out.”

“We’re not permitted to do that sir. If you like you can go back out into the main lobby and empty it in that trash bin.”

“And then go through security again? Fuck that.”

“Sir, don’t use profanity.”

“Why not? It’s a free country. Isn’t it?”

“We do not tolerate verbal attacks on our agents.”

“I said ‘fuck that’ not ‘fuck you’.”

“Sir, please calm down.”

“Ok… So tell me, what is the problem with bringing a little extra toothpaste on a plane?”

“What do you think the problem could be?”

“Uhh, I guess you probably think it’s a bomb or something.”

“Sir! Did you just say bomb?”

“Ya… You set it up. What’s wrong with saying bomb? Come on.”

“Sir, if you want to fly today then you need to stop saying that right now.”

As she says this she throws your toothpaste in the garbage bin.

“Ok so let me get this straight. You think that’s a B-word, right? So now you’re going to throw it in the trash with all those other potential B-words that you’ve confiscated today? Isn’t that like the worst spot you could put it? How many thousands of people are going to come through here today?”

This suggestion will almost certainly get you arrested and so you quickly cut your losses and move on. “Keep fighting the good fight,” you say again as you grab your bag and head towards the kiosk to buy more toothpaste. You’ll probably have to take out a loan for this.

Once you’ve calmed down from this outrageous violation of personal liberty you become aware of the rest of your surroundings – most notable is the fact that everyone in the airport is sick. The perpetual sniffle sounds emanate from all around like crickets in the night.  You cautiously proceed to your gate while constantly dodging open mouth coughs. Once there, you take a seat in between the businessman, who will not hang up his phone until the plane is taking off, and the old man who will find a new and interesting way to gross you out every five seconds. The angle of the backrest is never quite right so you shift around restlessly as you listen to commentary on quarterly projections. And what’s this now? The old man has decided to start clipping his finger nails right there in his seat. You gawk in disbelief as shards of keratin fly out over the carpet and onto his pant legs. You turn around as if to ask the other row, “Is anyone else seeing this?” but are only hit by another open mouth cough upon doing so. You can already feel the pre-cold scratchy throat settling in and you mourn the inevitable loss of vitality for the first week of your trip.

You board the plane and are seated in the back row because you didn’t bother to pre-select your seat. A chair that doesn’t recline makes for a long trip, regardless of duration. The one benefit of being here is you get to chat up the flight attendants. You share your security woes and attempt to gain sympathy. “Well you know, I have to get finger printed every time I come to work” one of them says in rebuttal.

“Really? But that’s unscientific.”

“What do you mean. Everyone has a unique fingerprint.”

“That’s never been proven to be true. And there’s such a huge margin of error when they’re analyzed too.”

“Well, it makes me feel safe anyway.”

“And isn’t that the whole point right there?”

She smiles. “I suppose so. Now turn off your phone, we’re about to take off.”

“Umm, just out of curiosity, why do I have to turn my phone off?”

“Because you’re not allowed to have your phone on during the flight.”

“I know, but why?”

“Because it can interfere with the plane’s instruments.”

“Wow, that sounds dangerous.”

“Yes, it is.”

“So why don’t you confiscate our phones?”

“…What? We can’t do that.”

“So you just trust everyone not to indulge in this incredibly risky yet addicting behaviour?”

“But that’s your personal property; we can’t just take it.”

“I agree, but it seems like you probably should if a few mischievous texters can send us into a tailspin. Cell phones have been around for decades now. I feel like they would have figured this out by now.”

“No, it’s still a problem.”

“Then why do some higher end planes have onboard wi-fi. They encourage people to use their phones as an added selling feature.”

“But that’s wi-fi. There’s no interference with wi-fi.”

“And what if some sweet old lady doesn’t know how to turn off her network?”

“Well, everyone would have to put their phones on airplane mode.”

“Uh huh. And you would go through the whole plane checking everyone’s phones to make sure it is? Or would you just make an announcement to do that.” She hesitates. And you continue triumphantly. “You would totally just make an announcement, haha.”

“Ok, but this is an old plane. Maybe it hasn’t received those upgrades yet.”

“Uh huh. Or maybe this is all just made up.”

“It’s not made up.”

“Ok. It is made up though.”

“How would you even use your phone up here though?”

“What do you mean? You can get signal pretty much anywhere now.”

“But we’re thousands of feet in the air!”

“Right, so we’re closer to the satellites.”

She sighs. “Well, can’t people just go a few hours without checking facebook or talking on the phone?”

“I understand. So just say that.”

“Huh?”

“It’s a private company. You can make whatever rules you want. Just say that people are jackasses and will be super annoying if you allow phones. So no phones.”

You begin to get nasty looks from the surrounding passengers so you finally drop the subject and attempt to find some sort of contorted position that will allow you to sleep. Head titled back? Nope; the angle is too sharp. Head rested on the tray table? Nope; you’re too tall for that. Turned on your side? Nope; your feet either hang out into the isle or you have to awkwardly face the person beside you. By the time the plane reaches its cruising altitude you are stuck looking around enviously at the other passengers who are sleeping like babies. That term becomes inappropriate though because the only other conscious beings in the plane are the screaming toddlers. Why any parents feel that a trip to China is beneficial at the age of six months is beyond me. An hour from now all the flight attendants will rush to one particular seat with paper towels because one of the babies exploded from anywhere between one to four orifices.  Five people then sneeze all around you. Somehow they’re still sleeping while they do this… which means no vampire arm cover.

Later that year the captain finally announces that the plane will begin it’s decent. Moments later the friendly flight attendant taps you on the shoulder and says, “Sir, you have to take your headphones out while we prepare to land.

“Really? I thought the big honkers weren’t allowed but the ear buds were fine?”

“Not on this flight. We don’t have an in-flight entertainment system.”

“So?”

“So that means you can’t have any headphones in on this flight until we say so.”

She smiles and anticipates your next question. “Do you want to know why?”

You grin wider than ever. “Yes I do.”

“Ok…” You can see her perk up in preparation for an answer that she is finally confident in. “Because what if there is an emergency and we need you to pay attention?”

“Don’t you think that if the plane starts going down that I would know about it?”

“Well, wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?”

“No, I’d rather die listening to some tunes. It’ll keep me calm.” You decide sooner this time that you’re not going to win this battle either.

The plane lands and you start the two hour countdown between the time the seatbelt sign goes off and when the cabin door finally opens. An hour after that the queue finally moves enough to where you can start walking forward. As you progress along the isle you’ll cut in front of at least three people who are still in their seats – you’ll look away shamefully. You reach the exit and disembark stiff, dehydrated and ready to start your trip. Right after customs…

 

 

 

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