Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fear of flying

There's nothing quite like three weekends of flying to knacker you out completely which is why its taken me two days to haul myself before a computer again. Well, that and the small matter of work, which combined with flying, has left me feeling so tired that I might just keel over. I must admit that sitting on a darkened set today, I could feel my eyes start to drift closed.

But anyway, thanks to those lovely terrorists that are so allegedly determined to blow us infidels out of the sky, my otherwise uneventful trip to Warsaw for my cousin's wedding got thrown into complete chaos. Despite what they told us on the news, there was really no need to turn up early to check-in. In return for our punctuality and vigilant news tracking, my mother and I were forced to sit in a very windy marquee for three hours until our flight was called an hour before departure for us to check in. Outside Heathrow looked like a very strange refugee camp, with everyone sitting on suitcases, sipping lukewarm coffee and eating flapjacks, staring off into space as airline staff milled around looking almost as helpless as we felt. Although, I must say, not as helpless as the poor shmucks who sat outside the terminal for hours on end, only to then have their flights cancelled and letters thrust in their faces. I must say, the relief was palpable when our flight was finally called and we were moved into the heaving terminal where noone seemed to know where they were going.

Armed with our plastic wallets that contained no more than passports and wallets, we got to be felt up by security staff, had everything man-handled twice and I was even asked to spit out my gum for fear that it should contain poison or explosives of some sort. Surely the fact that I was chewing it and clearly still alive would've ruled it out as a potential weapon but the frowning face of the security guard and the sheer number of police milling around carrying very large guns told me that perhaps it wasn't the time to be flippant. However, the gel inserts that I wear in my shoes to realign my back got a particularly overzealous reaction, with the security man plucking them out of my shoes, carefully examining them and then re-examining them. I was anxious that they not be taken away from me, as I need them to stop various leg joints mis-aligning and dislocating and I kept a vigilant watch over them until they came out of the other end of the x-ray machine, the security guards placated that they didn't contain any suspicious circumstances and that they were in fact just Dr Scholl slip-ins.

It was very odd once you got through security to hit the duty free shops and find no queues at the tills and most of the bars half empty, especially during what is typically high-season-hell. We were however, finally allowed the pleasure of magazines and books and I promptly bought out half of WHSmith in order to have something to keep me entertained during the flight.

Oddly enough, when we were returning to London, we weren't allowed anything of the sort. Any newspapers or magazines that people bought inside the duty free area were taken off you at the gate, along with anything vaguely duty-free shaped, which led to quite a few irate passengers having their newly purchased vodka taken off them. I don't know if they got them back at the British end but judging by most of the thundery expressions, I'm guessing, probably not.

Of course, as is typical of my luck, they've reintroduced hand baggage today. However, the people I feel most sorry for are those with long haul flights and/or children. How do you keep a six year old entertained without crayons, computer games or even their favourite stuffed animal? I pity the poor people who have to do a 22 hour flight to Australia or somewhere equally far flung without so much as a book. There are only so many times that the onboard magazine can be flicked through, the duty free on the back pages stared at wistfully.

But then, all of this pales when you start to think about the implications of it all, if they had really succeeded in blowing 10 planes out of the sky, armed with fairly innocuous looking Coke bottles. One thing that I must admit that has puzzled me has been the allowance of watches. Sure, all of the obvious battery powered devices that we usually keep in our hand luggage- such as ipods, laptops and phones- are all stored safely in the hold but what about the fact that some fanatic could be carrying the trigger right there on his wrist, ready to pop out the back of his watch and blow us to kingdom come?

Apparently, this is one battery powered device that the authorities feel is ok, despite the fact that trying to pry open an ipod is a hell of a lot more tricky than opening up a watch. Surely, if the dude next to you suddenly tried to disassemble his ipod on a flight, you'd be far more concerned than if he pried open his watch for a little tinkering. Whilst I'm sure that there'll be some lobbyists who'll shout human rights infringement! and those who'll say we'll all be late for our flights but having not worn a watch for some years now and with airport displays showing the time everywhere, if you're going to take away our battery operated toys, make sure its all of them.

Anyway, I took some pictures of the chaos at Heathrow and as soon as I get round to uploading them, I'll post them up online. Then maybe someone can tell me who the actor sitting opposite me outside one of the marquees was. Its been puzzling me for the last few days and maybe someone out there will be able to identify him from the rather appalling quality sneaky photo that I took.

In the meantime, its back to the grindstone with me.


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