Airport misery

Humankind has employed its cognitive power to achieve extraordinary feats. We have developed cures to otherwise mortal diseases, illuminated high rise cities with population densities and infrastructure unimaginable to our ancestors and traversed oceans first with the help of buoyancy and then by aerodynamics. Journeys which took weeks can now be made in a matter of hours and with prototypes of a hypersonic London-Sydney jet sloshing around the media, the age of instant access to the world appears to be dangling seductively at our fingertips.

Predictably, though, we have become bedazzled by the khutzpah and furore of the tech industry. Yes, we may be tantalisingly close to compressing an around-the-world flight into a period shorter than a week’s supply of Coronation Street, but we seem to have ignored the bleak reality that awaits us before and after boarding the plane – naturally, I speak of the joy that is the airport.

It’s a pleasure with which I reacquainted myself yesterday when travelling from Budapest to London, where, upon arriving at the airport and handing the taxi driver several thousand monies in a currency I still fail to understand, the plane was delayed. No matter, some might protest at my impatience, offering lunch instead as a means to pass the time. 

Not so fast though, because you first have to have your clothes and iPads x-rayed and intimate areas fondled by an angry man with an electric table tennis paddle and stroll through duty free, wasting even more incomprehensible currency on Lego sets, stuffed toys and fragrance to make your beard smell horrible. By this time, the flight is even more delayed and not even a generous dosing of unicum is enough to obscure the reality that the lunch selection is terrible Italian, terrible sushi or terrible sandwich, all gobbling up thousands more of the reserve of confusing cash. 

And is the experience improved upon boarding the heavily delayed flight? Well, no, not really. Anyone blessed with legs has nowhere to put them, your suitcase invariably gets chucked in the hold, the food is inedible, and, for me, worsened further when my recently purchased gin and tonic was pelted into my lap as the victim of a brief skirmish between my neighbour and his ghastly MacBook - at least I could pay for my ill-fated drink in a currency which made some sense.

Even when back in Britain, all is far from cosy. You spend an eternity negotiating a similar set of chicanes and queuing at the e-border which, of course, refuses to let you into the country – I can only assume in my case my hair had been completely obliterated by the same security people who stole my hair things a few days early and, because I don’t know the Hungarian word for L’Oreal texturing wax-paste, had morphed into an unidentifiable hologram projected into modernity from the 1980s.

To most of you reading this, none of what I describe will be unfamiliar. We all know the tedium of air travel and blindly accept it as part and parcel of the journey – a necessary inconvenience to reach a place where the sun is shining, and daily life can be shoved to the bottom of the mind’s to-do list. But why? Why are we so excited about the prospect of slashing transatlantic flights in half when the bore of the airport looms around the corner, ready to pounce the moment we finally manage to squeeze a whole Debenhams store into a child’s rucksack? 

Surely it would make more sense to streamline the kerfuffle of airport life first – the check in, the public stimulation, the endless wait for EasyJet to put explosive liquids inside an Airbus and so on – and only then think of how to shave a few hours off the flight time.

George Wright (Political Officer, Ex-Secretary, Former Deputy Returning Officer, Ex-Treasurer, Ex-Whip, Ex-Committee Member, St John’s College) is an undergraduate in his second year of studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.