The holiday season is coming and soon most of us will enjoy the pleasures of air travel. Here are my observations, none of them are meant to be serious.
First of all, I go to the airport well ahead of time. There is nothing for me at home or in the office that I can do in the last hour or so that I cannot do in the airport. Personally I noticed that if I have little time to spare, traffic lights tend to be red, irritating slow people and tractors are to be found in abundance ahead of me, there are traffic jams where there should not be and it is difficult to find a parking space. Conversely, if I leave with plenty of time to spare, the opposite of all these phenomena tend to be true.
Hand luggage or no? I personally take an absolute minimum into the cockpit. Not only because there is no space, as all other passengers seem to carry all their vital belongings as if the Russians are coming, but also because you have to carry all this junk throughout the airport. Which can be a long haul, as all visitors of the Brussels airport know. When on vacation, the extra time to wait for your luggage is not important – it is a good opportunity to remember you are on holiday. In airports such as Vienna or Amsterdam your luggage is anyhow likely to arrive at the moment or shortly after you reach this area. Of course there are exceptions. We once waited in Rome longer than the entire duration of the flight to get there in the first place. Brussels is also bad, and they have very active unions which as many other unions love to strike.
In the airport, let us not complain about security controls. Of course this is the most irritating of all things in an airport, but it is a necessary evil. Let us rather observe that current fashion is that the only way to get to the gates is THROUGH the shops. Also observe where the toilets are: as far away from your itinerary and/or halfway escalators. Notice how the temperature inside is optimised for the thousands of people who work there and do not wear coats, and not for the millions of people who are only customers and do wear a coat if the weather makes them to. Finally, look for a battery charger. Yes, I know, there aren’t any, and the ones that are there are located in the utmost inconvenient place, maximising for instance the chance that another passenger will step on your brand-new MacBook Air.
Once you are inside the airplane, most people do it wrong. They place their belongings in the overhead compartment ABOVE their heads. This is not smart. First, if you put your stuff above your head, yes, it is as close as it can possibly be to you, physically. But no, you cannot see what is happening to it. If any valuables are in there, they can get stolen, especially on long haul flights and you take a nap. Secondly, the people fleeing from the Russians are likely to put heavy bags on top of the chocolates you just bought. Thirdly, when you get out of your seat upon arrival, you will notice that your nose is pointing towards the opposite side. This is because your entire body is poised that way. It is poised just right to pick anything from the opposite side, whereas in order to collect something from your own side you will have to turn around. Which may or may not be so easy because now you are squeezed by 200 people just as anxious as you to get out, and they have a thousand bags, bobs, coats and other paraphernalia in their hands and on their shoulders.
Never ever, of course, make the mistake of putting anything up (further inside the plane) from where you’re seated. I have done this once. The second the plane comes to a stop, the aforementioned 200 people with their stuff block all routes inside the plane. You’ll have to wait until every single one of them is out to get your stuff.
Air travel is irritating in many ways. I sometimes think airports and airlines do their utmost to piss the hell out of you. Of course it all starts with the check in, which you have to do yourself. Twice, once at some machine where you have to enter your ticket number. This number is printed as small as they can get away with. A few thousand years ago somebody invented the brilliant idea of leaving spaces, dots or commas every three digits when the number is long. So you can read it. This novelty has not reached the air industry yet so now you have to decipher an endless and meaningless number and punch it into an unresponsive touch panel, where the digit appears just as you pressed it a second time as you were beginning to think it did not register the first time.
Once you have overcome this hurdle, there is a woman stopping you to see if you have done what you have just done. She will then let you pass to queue a third time, where with luck there will be a human being to take your luggage. If not, there is a machine to do this. Next time you travel with SN Brussels just count how many of their employees stand there talking with each other, apparently doing nothing, whilst long queues of unfortunate SN Brussels passengers struggle through the various steps I just described.
Inside the plane, a woman is telling you in four languages – all of which you understand – that the plane is going to the city you’re going to. Which is redundant information. It would be more interesting if she would say something like: “their passengers, you may be thinking we are going to Rome (for instance) but this is absolutely not the case. The pilot has opted for Barcelona today.”
Then the pilot comes on and explains something loud and clear and long in a language you do not understand. Then he switches to English and whispers something short you cannot quite catch. After all this, you can sit back and relax, and remember you’re on holiday.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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