It was all going swimmingly: luggage within weight limit, ESTA approved, breezed through security without a hitch, arrived at the departure gate, queued, boarded, and then…
“Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. I’m sorry to announce that we are being held at the gate by air traffic control due to weather conditions. There is a storm in our departure path and we may be held up to 90 minutes. That’s an hour and a half. We apologise for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and co-operation.”
A couple of observations: firstly, how all customer announcements include a final comment where-in one’s “patience and co-operation” are a forgone conclusion; secondly, the need to clarify that 90 minutes equals an hour and a half, and that while the mention of the former incurs a low grumble from a small portion of the passengers, the latter is the one that carries the rest into realisation.
About 15 minutes later:
“Blah blah this is your captain blah blah. Just to update you, err… so… we still haven’t heard anything else back from control, so, err… we know as much as you do, so, err… Sorry folks, we’ll keep you posted.”
This is as close to verbatim as I can manage and I assure you I am not exaggerating on the number of “so err’s” that were heard over the tannoy. Hardly a reassuring sound, particularly when coupled with a Southern drawl that really drags out the vowels. So, 90 minutes to waste. What to do… My mp3 – yes, I still use an mp3 – has crapped out on me and the Kindle is without sufficient reading material. Technology has failed me, back to the basics: pen and paper. Time to write a blog!
This is my first solo journey outside of the UK. Well, I say solo, but I’m staying with my uncle in New York. Well, I say uncle, but he’s really an oversized man-child with a bank account. Anyway, essentially my first solo trip and the first time I’ve had to actually organize myself and there is really a lot of administration involved in this holiday business. Firstly, book the flights, scour discount websites, debate seating options etc. Then acquire an ESTA so I can legally enter the country. Then there’s travel insurance, gadget insurance, travel-gadget insurance. Flight itinerary, e-receipt, passport, insurance policy – I need a lever-arch just for my travel documents!
And packing is a palaver too. Only 100ml bottles and only 850ml in total. No aerosols, exotic fruits or fireworks – bit excessive really. Make sure all your electrical devices are charged so they can check they aren’t bomb timers or porn hubs. And what counts as a sharp object these days? Will the plug on my laptop charger upset the x-ray scanners? My notebook has a metal ring binder that could potentially be fashioned into a weapon. Security restrictions suddenly make me paranoid about every item with the slightest hint of mental in my luggage and on my person. It turns out that, of course, I was worrying for no reason and came through security unscathed and unfondled. This may have something to do with being white, female, English and distinctly middle class. But then perhaps I’m being cynical.
Beyond security, however, lies a magical land. A glittering sign greets me as I enter departures: World Duty Free. The fluorescents sparkle just a little brighter here and the air is filled with the scent of discount eau de toilette. From my experience, there are two items you will find in abundance in any duty free zone: perfume and Toblerone. Why? I have no idea. Maybe because the mark-up on these items is the most ridiculous. After all, how much can it really cost to produce aromatic water and prism shaped chocolate? International and tax-free, I am nowhere and everywhere, just on the cusp of adventure. (I may be romanticising the situation slightly.)
It is also at this stage of your journey that you enter the hyper alert phase: checking for your passport every 15 seconds and the departure screens every 20, and you are just close enough to your holiday that excitement provides you with boundless energy – energy that retrospectively mocks you when jetlag kicks in the following day. People-watching is also an entertaining activity in airports. Quietly scuttling Asian families, the overweight American businessman talking loudly into his Bluetooth headset, the always anachronistic Hasidic Jew, the hippie backpacker… The cultural cross-section is only proving to confirm stereotypes unfortunately.
The plane is beginning its ascent now, so I shall end it here, but for those who are interested, a brief summing up of the 8 hour journey to New York: ear popping, foot cramping, two generic complimentary meals, one unpleasant bathroom trip, three crappy films, more ear popping, queuing, a short car drive and, from the top of my uncle’s apartment building, this view…