October 4th, 2013
Last month, my son, Oliver, hosted and photographed a big fashion/ travel story shoot at his house in Forres in the north of Scotland. The main model was contracted for one day only, so every daylight hour was put to good use, but getting everyone to Inverness airport after the ‘wrap’ was a race against time. Models, art director, assistant photographer et al rushed into the airport terminal half an hour before the flight was due to leave, spirits slumping at the prospect of being turned away, and the staff just smiled, gave them a wink, and said, “Come on, we’ll make sure you get on the flight.” Imagine that happening at Heathrow or Gatwick or any major airport. You wouldn’t be allowed on the flight if you arrived at the gate half an hour before the flight, let alone the terminal building.
If there was such a thing as a Good Airports Guide, a sort of Egon Ronay’s Top Terminals, I reckon Inverness would be given 5-star rating. I hear Newquay in Cornwall would merit the same. All provincial airports, none of them transit.
So, why is it that travelling by air has become such an unenjoyable, stressful experience? Why is it that we are made to feel, as soon as we enter the terminal building of a major airport, that we are not going to be allowed to enjoy the excitement of imminent travel? The girl at the check-in desk hardly looks at you when she asks if you’ve packed your own suitcase. The chap manning the security conveyor raises his eyes and shakes his head at your stupidity at forgetting to take your belt off or removing your laptop from its case, or barks at you for not having your jacket off before you approach him. Listen, I understand that 9/11 changed the whole concept of air flight security around the world, but downright unpleasantness didn’t need to be an integral part of that change.
Maybe I’m being unfair here. I have travelled throughout Europe and have had good experiences, especially in Germany. Maybe, sadly, embarrassingly, we are talking in the main about Britain here.
I have a bit of a theory about it and it comes from a fly-on-the-wall TV documentary called Airline, which featured staff and ground crew with Easyjet in certain regional airports. It was quite an entertaining series, but what it seemed to do was put the airline staff in the right the whole time. The commentary would say, for instance, that ground crew stalwart, Janice, was having to deal with a difficult customer at a check-in desk, and what you actually saw was Janice being pretty rude to this poor guy, who, surrounded by his wife and three whingeing daughters, was trying to get some information on a delayed flight to Malaga. Camera then cuts to close-up of Janice who long-sufferingly describes what a nightmarish day she has just had, but ‘oh well, maybe tomorrow will be better.’
So, all this might make good TV watching, but what it really does is give all those who work in airports the idea that they are doing all us commuters and passengers a HUGE favour being there. Okay, so it happens to be their job and they may be paid for what they’re doing, but it’s all under sufferance. So why on earth should they walk through the terminal and smile at the woman or man who happens to catch their eye? You don’t do that to someone whom you hold in contempt, someone who is not…an airline worker!
There is a TV advert – can’t remember what it’s for – but it tells the whole story. Three female ground crew personnel suddenly become merry (you see, TV advertising is all about fuelling fantasies!) and start skipping over one of those canvas expandable bands that are used for delineating queues. They are suddenly aware that passengers around them have stopped and are gawping at them in disbelief, and the girls become aware of this and break into fits of giggles. So what the advert is saying is that this kind of frivolous behaviour is the least thing you’d expect from an airport worker, but it can be changed if you use or eat our product.
So, please, can we put out a countrywide search and find out what this product is, and make it obligatory in the staple diet of all those who man our major airports?