Dennis Potter’s famous quote sums it up perfectly:
“I did not fully understand the dread term “terminal illness” until I saw Heathrow for myself.”
Another trip is looming and with it, the love-hate feelings that come with beginning that trip at an airport. A necessary evil, of course, if you’re intending to go long haul and back without taking a six-month sabbatical or trading in a regular job for work on a cruise ship. This time it’s Gatwick. I’m not thrilled about the place, though I don’t feel the same loathing for it as I do for Heathrow.
The immigration hall at Heathrow is the worldly embodiment of hell. But at least I don’t have to face it for a while. I’m OK with Gatwick. Baggage reclaim there is a whole other matter but I must stay strong and limit myself to carry on.
But to return, I first have to leave.
If only I could time it right so I could sweep through the airport and onto the plane in one elegant motion, like cabin crew or Kim Kardashian or something. The reality, alas, is more like the Tom Hanks film The Terminal, where instead I feel like I’ve moved in. My stress level rockets unless I’m at the airport at least three hours before my flight leaves. I usually end up pacing up and down the concourse wandering aimlessly in and out of various retail outlets browsing at things I have no need for and certainly no intention of buying. At least Gatwick has normal shops. I like the kind of shops that can help me out with the essentials I’ve just realised I’ve forgotten to pack: toothpaste and hair bands and excessively large chocolate bars, not stuff like caviar and silk ties and other crap that only rich tourists will be impressed with.
If I’m not de-stocking Boots, I’m buying expensive coffee to ensure I need the bathroom just as the monitor flashes up my flight’s final call. Is there ever a stage between wait in lounge and final call? Even as I tell myself it can’t possibly be a final call as my flight isn’t scheduled to leave for another hour I feel a deep seated panic and race off to the gate to find no boarding is happening whatsoever. With all the travelling I do, I should know better. I really should.
Perhaps the call goes out early so there’s plenty of time to get lost. Douglas Adams, in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, wryly observed that airport planners seek:
“wherever possible to expose the plumbing on the grounds that it is functional, and conceal the location of the departure gates, presumably on the grounds that they are not.”
But at least our British airports don’t conceal the check in desks behind a plain white wall, as the Russians did in Ulan Ude when I visited it. Now that really was a challenge. It takes a really special kind of planner to design an airport like that. I can only assume the sign writer charged such exorbitant prices that the budget wouldn’t stretch that far. For once I was glad I’d rocked up three hours early. It took almost all of that time to find out where to drop my bag.