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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Plane speaking

My love of travel is exceeded only by my hatred of airports and airplanes

I don't know about you but I have stopped taking flights while wearing boots, no matter how cold the climate. I have learnt the hard way that boots and airport security does not go well together. After being humiliated time and again in the security queue -- struggling to take off my boots while impatient passengers tut-tut behind me and then struggling to put them on after they have journeyed through the X-ray machine -- I shifted to ballet flats while navigating airports. So, I would sail through smugly while other people wobbled from one foot to another to take off their shoes.

But, as the saying goes, pride comes before a fall. And this time, transiting through Heathrow, I got my comeuppance. No, I wasn't asked to put my shoes through the X-ray machine. But as I went past the security scanner, the lady at the other end indicated that I should place my feet on a small stool so that she could swab my shoes. She then took the swab and ran it through a curious contraption placed on the side. I looked closer and was horrified to read the words "Explosives scanner" written on it.

Never have a few seconds passed so slowly. I gazed anxiously at the machine, willing it to hurry up. And finally, there it was: a negative test result.


I don't what it is about security queues at airports but you can't help feeling a bit guilty even if you haven't done anything wrong.

But the authorities weren't done with me as yet. As I walked up to collect my cabin baggage, I realized that it had been pulled aside as well. The gentlemen at security asked if I could open it. I dutifully did so, he rummaged though it. I thought I had passed and went to pick it up. But no, wait, he needed a run an "Explosives check" on my bag as well.

By now I was probably looking as guilty as I felt -- these damn security queues will do that to me every single time -- but this test came up "Negative" as well.

So, I calmed my beating heart, collected my stuff and scuttled off wondering what exactly had triggered this completely 'random' check. Was it the colour of my skin? Was it my Middle-Eastern eyebrows? Was it the long black overcoat that could pass off as an abaya? Or was it just 'random' bad luck?

I don't really know what it was this particular time but I have lost count of the number of body searches I have been subjected to at airports across the world. Some of them are so thorough that they could pass off as full body Swedish massages (in fact, I am often sorely tempted to tip the security agent a few dollars for doing such a good job). And some have been so 'intimate' that they have to be conducted in tiny airless rooms on the side, far away from prying eyes to preserve my modesty.

Is it any wonder then that I am becoming increasingly disenchanted by this whole business of flying? Quite honestly, if I could indulge my love for travel in any other way I would give up on airports and airplanes altogether.

Because the torture doesn't end the moment you board your flight, does it? On the contrary, it starts all over again, and this time it can last for anything from two to 12 hours.

I know this is the moment when you expect me to start moaning about all those incessantly crying children, the toddlers running up and down the aisles, and the kids who spend their entire timekicking the back of your seat.

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint but those are not the (or at least, not the only) things that get my goat. It's the behavior of the adults -- who really should know better -- that gets me all worked up. Here's just a random sampling of grown-up bad behavior that I have gritted my teeth through on some recent flights.

There was the lady seated in front of me who inclined her seat all the way down even before we took off and refused to straighten it during the meal service making it impossible for me to eat lunch. When the stewardess explained the situation to her, she grudgingly took her seat up, but the moment the tray was served, down went the seat again, sending my glass of water flying. Charming.

There was the couple who conducted a long, loud, convoluted marital argument at the top of their voices on a night flight, completely oblivious of the fact that the rest of us were trying to catch some shut-eye. When some passengers remonstrated, they were met with implacable rudeness. And when the cabin in-charge tried to intervene, a full-blown row erupted, waking up everyone who had managed to fall asleep despite the noise.

But the ones I hate the most are those who spring up from their seats even before the plane has come to a complete standstill and rush to get their bags out of the overhead bins, invariably dropping them on the heads of the passengers seated below. Every time I see one of these people in action I hope and pray that they get picked out for a 'random' check at security at the next airport they transit through.

If anyone deserves a full-on body massage, they do.