Posts Tagged ‘planes vs. trains’

Planes vs. trains

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The check in, the first hint of doubt

Do you enjoy flying? I find the whole business of flying between the UK and Poland incredibly wearying. Already at check in, a hint of existential doubt creeps in. Is my floppy bag containing all my belongings going to be passed as ‘hand luggage’? “Do you have any sharp objects in your hand luggage?” Gulp! Does my safety razor count? “Could anyone have packed anything in your luggage?” Well, I did leave my baggage unattended to go to the loo, and I’ve always had my suspicions about my flatmate since he admitted reading Postman Patel’s blog. Having survived check in, the next step is security control. I present my transparent bag containing my Sensodyne toothpaste. Are people who have neglected their teeth seen as a greater security risk? Off come my shoes, belt, jacket… “No, Sir it won’t be necessary for Sir to remove his trousers.” But there’s a metal rivet in my jeans, won’t it set off the alarm? At last, like the seasoned traveller that I am, I pass through without being challenged. I collect my mobile, wallet, dirty paper handkerchiefs from the plastic tray thoughtfully provided and march through to the “duty free”. Well, its duty free no longer, but the airport supposedly pays the tax. All the food here is incredibly expensive. It’s over an hour and a half to the departure of my flight. I buy a small bottle of water for £1-25. That’s 5 zloty! I get myself a book and sit down within eyeshot of a monitor. But I can’t relax. There are large signs informing me that all gates are at least 12 minutes walk away. If that’s 12 minutes for people who regularly jog, how much longer will it take for people who regularly blog? But before, I can enjoy my own joke an announcement comes over the tannoy. “Check in for flight 2269 to Barcelona is now closing!” So if anyone is still in the main departures hall, unless they are an Olympic runner, by the time they get to their gate it will be closed. Better proceed to my gate then. It is a long and surprisingly tiring walk. Have you noticed how most airport walkways smell of rats? This one is no exception.

It seems that 150 fellow travellers have also come to the conclusion that it’s safer to proceed to the gateway than to wait in the main departure hall to be called. I sit near an adjacent gate in an area which is reasonably empty. At least I am only 2 minutes away from my target rather than 15. I drink my water and contemplate going to the loo. What I really need for my flight is a bottle of beer on board the plane, but that’s apparently the favourite weapon of terrorists so, unless I invest 15 euro on the plane, I have to drink my beer now. I buy a bottle of beer for £3-00 and return to my calculations as to when would the be best time to go to the loo. My reverie is broken as a large lady complete with larger daughter and frail mother decides to sit at my table. Our departure time comes and goes, but nothing happens. I make regular little forays to my gate to check that the plane has not flown without me. But there’s no plane and no information. An hour passes, then another half an hour. At last there is an announcement. Passengers who have bought priority boarding and passengers with small children will board first. I’m happy to keep out of the scrum and be one of the last to board. I comment in Polish on the quality of the airline’s customer care to one of the passengers who has a similar boarding philosophy to my own. He answers in perfect Polish, but there is just a touch of accent. Within the next 5 minutes I inform him that he was born in England, brought up in Ealing Broadway, attended Polish school and was awarded a Polish passport because of his father’s military service during WW II. He is duly impressed and we are destined to chat away merrily during the flight.

The steward barks the safety announcement at the passengers. “You will all be quiet!” he orders. He clearly loathes everyone of us. Is he working for Ryanair or someone else? We wait on the tarmac for an inordinately long period of time. What is happening? Have they rerun the film of my hand luggage and found my safety razor? Are the engines being repaired? If anyone knows they’re not telling. At last the engines are revved and we taxi to the main runway. I remind myself that take-off and landing are the most dangerous parts of a flight. I say a silent prayer and agonizingly slowly the plane begins to lift off the ground. I immerse myself in my book, emerging occasionally to answer my companion’s questions.

The two hours pass quite quickly, the seat belt signs are turned on and the plane looses hight rapidly. The landscape become suburban then urban. We zip above the roofs of a block of flats and narrowly miss the chimney of a combined power station and district heating plant. The pilot has missed the airport! Is he going to crash the plane into the new shopping centre? The plane executes a sharp-banked jet-fighter turn. Are we going fast enough? Will we stall? We fly back towards Britain for 5 minutes, make a more leisurely turn, and this time manage to hit the runway. Another long walk, an unsmiling welcome from a lady at Polish border control and I’m back in Poland. I’m tired, dirty and stressed out. Why did I go by plane? Because it was only £20. Would I have gone by train if a ticket was available for the same price? You betcha!