I’m going to give away my age when I tell you that I remember a time when your Dad took you out to the airport on a Sunday afternoon so you could watch the planes taking off and landing. No, really. You’d get an ice cream and stand at the window that overlooked the runway, watching planes for hours. And when your Grandma left to fly home, you could see her waving her white handkerchief from the plane window.
Now you go to the airport only if you have to catch a plane or meet someone coming in. While OR Tambo International is a fabulous airport – and now has the Gautrain service to make getting there and back an absolute pleasure – it’s not the fun it used to be.
Thanks to the shenanigans (read, “wars”) happening all over the globe, travel has become a schlep. On a recent visit to Mexico via the USA on an American airline, I went through what felt like seventeen security checks before arriving in Cancun. Serioussss . . . there’s the “did you pack your bag yourself” check. “I tried to get my brother to pack it but the bugger wouldn’t. But I did dress myself . . . you like?”
Once that’s done, you get the real check. The “haul your laptop out of its carry case; produce your sealed plastic bags with two teaspoons of shampoo in mini bottles; hide your hairbrush in case its bristles could be turned into a weapon of mass destruction” check. Shoes off (your Mother always told you not to wear holey socks), stand up straight (she told you that, too), walk through the . . . . BEEEEEEEEEEEEP. Take your belt off. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. Rings and bracelets too. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. Earrings . . .
Naked, you get through the check and nobody notices, so busy are they trying to find their second shoe and grab the right laptop.
Seated comfortably in the lounge, you only have another two hours to wait before the plane is boarded. You play on Facebook. Phone some friends. Tell everyone you love them in case someone is carrying more than two teaspoons of face cream and the plane drops out of the sky . . . Then . . . random security check. You schlep all your goods – including your newly purchased impulse buys from duty free – across the lounge to where you’ve been told to stand in a line, men one side, women another. In the interests of safety – and not getting turfed out of the airport – you smile as you stand there.
One person – there’s always one – gets into the wrong queue and causes more drama than our Caster Semenya had to put up with. “You can’t stand here, lady.” “Vy not?” (She’s a German tourist, wearing the obligatory I Went On Safari khaki outfit and carrying a large wooden giraffe). “Because this is the men’s queue.” “Ja. But it is shorter.” “It is, but I am not allowed to pat you down or you’ll shout ‘molestation at OR Tambo’ and sue me,” is what the guy’s eyes are saying, but he merely tries to explain nicely. She doesn’t budge and the giraffe itself starts looking like a weapon of mass destruction. Eventually her husband explains, in German – which I studied for three years and can now happily say Merry Christmas – that we’re in a third world country here and they can be sexist in their security queues if they like, Mein Schatz.
Eventually, everyone’s pretty certain nobody has any crackers in their knickers, and we board the plane. Some sixteen hours – and one screaming child – later, we disembark in Atlanta. Immediately, panic sets in . . . people run like someone really DID have extra shampoo or face cream, or didn’t put their seat in the upright position on landing . . . and we all end up, out of breath and panting, standing next to the baggage carousel.
I’m old enough to remember, too, when you handed in your self-packed bag over at OR Tambo and picked it up when it got to Mexico. Except for that one time when I went to Toronto and my bag went to Calgary, but I digress. Now, you have to collect your bag – which, we’ve already established – has nothing in it except a few pairs of crackerless knickers and a t-shirt, and lug it over to another carousel to be put onto the next plane. WHY?? Surely that’s exactly where some disgruntled frequent flyer is going to try to slip something weird into his bag? No security check, just a tiresome lugging of your goods . . .
The same people who ran to the carousel now run – unconcerned for the welfare of their six foot wooden giraffe – towards the next security check. If you’re smart, you start undressing while you’re standing in the queue and shuffle your clothing, hand luggage and undressed laptop to the checkpoint. You show your passport, boarding pass, old lunch ticket, Mother’s driver’s license, used tissue and bare feet to the security people. They glare at you, determined that if they stare hard enough you’ll own up that you didn’t pack your own bag or are carrying extra shampoo. All the time, you have some dingbat so close behind you that you’re about to tell him he’ll need to marry you if he gets any closer. Somehow, there’s always one who thinks you’ll get through security faster if he breathes on the back of your neck.
You get to the next plane with seconds to spare. Then – US airlines absolutely require all airline companies to behave this way – they’ve overbooked. They begin asking everyone if anyone will give up their seat and fly tomorrow. And go through your security checks again?? Sorry, darlin’, I’d rather stick hot needles in my own eyes. If needles and heat weren’t banned on your aircraft.
You fly to Mexico, where you go through the whole rigmarole again. So far, three different airports have my picture (they don’t even let you choose a good one), every fingerprint I have, me smiling, me getting chastised for smiling, me asking the man behind me to back off, me dropping my passport and bending over to collect it then bending over again to pick up my laptop, then my glasses . . .
By the time you get to the gorgeous resort you’ve been dying to see since the holiday was booked, you’re flat out exhausted and need three days to recuperate. Every time you walk in to a restaurant and they ask your name, you automatically take out your passport and offer your hand for fingerprinting.
Ten days later, relaxed, tanned, full of the laid-back joys of Mexico, you head for the airport . . . and it starts all over again. It takes a while for the airport memories to be replaced only with happy holiday ones, but eventually they get replaced. And then you get invited to Canada . . .
I’m going naked, with no luggage at all.