It doesn’t matter how many times I go through an airport, whether it’s for business or pleasure, or how many corners of the world I visit. Every time I pick my way through the crowds of people all intent on making their flight, not forgetting their belongings or children and selecting last-minute overpriced ‘genuine craftwork’ paraphernalia to take home for friends and relatives, a childish wonder and excitement wells up in me at the exotic destinations announced over the intercom and the fascinating lands they suggest. This time was no different and travelling at night added to the sense of embarking on an adventure.
I had to negotiate my way through a couple of Chinese tour groups waiting for a flight home; their trolleys linked into one long snake, and a family destined for a flight to Abu Dhabi who had lost their boarding passes. Then there was the very nervous gentleman who had insisted on wrapping every last suitcase, bag and box in luminescent white plastic – preventing not only a would-be dodgy baggage handler but I fear also himself from ever gaining access to the contents again.
Seamlessly through my photo shoot at passport control, the ladies and gentlemen wafting the explosive-detector wands slowed me and the rest of Terminal 4 down on our quest to reach the blissful no-man’s land of the departure lounge. I spent half an hour loitering for my bag, during a security scan so heightened that every man, woman, child – by this stage already barefoot, holding up their trousers with clenched fists and having emptied their pockets of any small change and remaining dignity – got patted down and every bag, belt, boot and plastic container of toiletries rummaged through manually after having already been zapped by the xray machine. It may have delayed my progress through airport bureaucracy but it did afford an unexpected opportunity to peer into my fellow passengers’ belongings and therefore their lives, as they were unceremoniously laid out by latex gloves like evidence in a murder trial. And there’s nothing more amusing than that aloof and ill-mannered superior woman who’s brushed past you in the queue, to whom the rules clearly do not apply being stopped in her tracks by an unflappable security operator. An obsequiously delivered “madam, is this a bottle of perfume?…then. It. Must. Go. In. The. Separate. Plastic. Bag.……And is this an IPad? Then. It. Must. Also. Go. In. A. Separate. Tray….” And pedantically, patiently on, item by item, as her ladyness’ face makes its way progressively from the expensively rouge’d-at-the-cheeks look, to a rather less desirable dark puce of hopelessness, humiliation and barely contained rage.
Having just about managed to contain my guffaw at the now-deflated superior one still nodding her way through each painstaking question and item presented, I had ample time to find all sorts of lotions and potions that I absolutely HAD to have (well, it is very difficult not to when the packaging is so shiny and anyway everyone knows money spent in airport no-man’s land doesn’t count). Ample time in part because I’m very particular about being punctual – you can take the girl out of the military and all that – but mostly because on checking in, I found out our Kenya Airways flight was delayed by at least two hours due to a technical fault. No complaints from me as they compensated us with a meal voucher and I can think of worse airports than Heathrow to have a few hours to kill. So I settled on a stool at the seafood bar on the main concourse and sipped a chilled glass of Chablis while people-watching over the top of my newspaper.
I had my boarding pass, I’d made it through to airport no-man’s land. I was on my way to my next adventure.