Saturday, 21 March 2015

Airport traumas parts 1-6

I wrote this post almost six months ago but for some reason didn’t get around to posting it.  Next week I am flying back into the airport where traumas five and six occurred. So it now seems like a good time to post this and hope I have a less stressful journey – there and back.    

I travelled quite a lot in the past 12 months. I hate the travelling but love being in new places. But airports bring out a special kind of trauma. Brian Eno recorded an album called ‘Music for Airports’ It’s one of my favourites of his:  very tinkly and relaxing– but I think the true soundtrack for airports should have been made by Genesis P. Orridge, Skiddo 23 or Lou Reed in his Metal Machine Music days. Just thinking about airports brings me out in a rash. Does anyone have any worse stories?  

1        Belgrade – August 2013- I bought a bottle of honey vodka from a local shop on the way to the airport and put it in the wrong bag – my carry on instead of the one going in the hold.  Not such much a trauma as an inconvenience -as I watched it go into the dustbin.  

2.  Bangkok – November 2013 - severely jet lagged on Saturday morning, I find that none of my debit cards work.    It hadn’t occurred to me to tell my banks that I was going to Asia in order for them to work there - after all they worked in Serbia a few months ago - and that’s outside the EU. It was Saturday morning and customer services at neither bank were open until Monday.  Still I had  my hotel was already paid for and I had 80 Euros in cash in my pocket, and a friend was due to arrive at the hotel the next day.  But still, it was a close call – almost stuck in a strange city alone with no currency. Lesson #1: always keep 100 Euros / dollars liquid to tide you through emergencies. 
3.      Brussels -May 2014 - stupidity tax. I went to the wrong ****ing airport!  All the cheap fights to Portugal I had been looking at left from Charleroi. The one I booked – which was still cheap - left from Brussels International - the airport whose flights wake me up at 0600 every day.  I don’t know how long it took for me to register that the absence of a flight to Lisbon on the departures board at Charleroi meant that there was something wrong. Very wrong. And it was my mistake.  Nor can I recall how long it took me to do the calculations about time and energy, loss of face with my flatmate (‘Yu’re back’ ‘Yes - um I went to the wrong airport’) and booking a flight tomorrow when I already have a pre-paid hotel room in Lisbon and - worst of all - having to make own way to the middle of the Portuguese countryside.  Only one thing for it. ‘Taxi! How much to Zaventem?’’ “**** I think, that’s more than the cost of the flight”.  Several deep breaths.  “Any room for negotiation here?” Absolutely not – he has me over a barrel.  We made it (just) through the rush hour traffic on Brussels’ outer ring road. Three minutes or so to spare before they closed boarding. “Any reason you’re so late sir?” asked the check in clerk. ‘Yes I went to the wrong ****ing airport’.  This story deserves a few expletives.  I don’t know whether the smile he gave me back was one of sympathy or superciliousness.  But I made that flight. And the fish, potatoes, beans and vinho verde that I consumed that evening tasted that much sweeter for it. And I had one of the best trips of my life.
4.      Oslo – June 2014 - a double whammy: I had a 45 minute transfer at Oslo on my way to Trondheim.  It turned out to be too short since I had to reclaim my baggage, go through customs and immigration and check my baggage back in - something the online booking agency had clearly not taken into account - you can’t do that in 45 minutes.  So I was bumped onto the next flight. Fortunately there was a next flight – the last one out of Oslo that night. I got the airline to try to call the hotel to let them know I would arrive late (like very late- after 1 am) but their answer phone was permanently on.   I was assured that, yes, there would be a bus running at that late hour and went to find a cash machine - which wouldn’t give me any money. Bangkok revisited?  This time I didn’t have any liquid cash as I didn’t anticipate logistical problems in Scandinavia - which has a reputation for efficiency.  I was sweating like a pig with the stress of it all.  Fortunately the cash machine in Trondheim was kinder and - yes - there was a bus and my mobile roaming was working so I could disturb the concierge at almost 2am to finally check into my room (although it took him twenty minutes to find the keys, while I was standing in a biting cold wind wondering if will ever get dark - it didn’t).  The next morning I was not bright and early at my conference.  

5.      Toulouse – September 2014.  The worst yet? I had a 6.40 flight from Toulouse to Copenhagen to attend a workshop. That meant being at the airport by 5.40 which in turn (according to travel planning sites and my Tom-Tom) meant leaving Gruissan at 0400. Let’s say 0330 to be safe.  I woke at 0300 - got my still very groggy head and ass into my car by 0320 and headed off.  Somehow a one and three quarter hour journey morphed into a two and a quarter hour one.  I got to the airport at five to six thinking I can still make it! But then it took me ten minutes to find the parking lot – fifteen minutes for the bus transfer to the terminal and then another ten minutes to find the check in (and I thought Toulouse would be a small provincial airport) – which was closed.  Damn. What to do?   Two choices: go home and forget about Copenhagen and my workshop or try for another flight.  I did some mental sums and an emotional weather check.  I checked out all the likely flights and found one for €330 Euro.  (Taking off the fact I could reclaim the airport taxes on the original flight and would lose my first night’s hotel charge and that translated to about €170 net loss painful - but not as financially painful the taxi ride to Zaventem four months earlier). Ah well bite the bullet and regard it as a another dose of stupidity tax.  I had two and a half hours to appreciate the ambiance of Toulouse airport and was soon on my way to my destination, arriving somewhat tired after having got up at 0300!   

6.      Toulouse again- on my way back from Copenhagen I got to the parking lot at almost midnight. The machine didn’t accept my (foreign) bank card – nor did it accept cash. Nor was there was a ‘help number’. ‘Here we go again’ I thought.   Fortunately another car was making its way out of the parking lot and I knocked on the window – feeling that I might appear like a crazy fool.  They appeared very reluctant to wind down the window and I had a real fear that they were just going to drive away into the night. But they just wanted to get through the barrier and then pulled over.  They believed my story and that I could pay them cash if they used their card to my pay my bill.  So all ended well, thanks to some good Samaritans.  But I was almost out of cash on the way home and barely had enough to pay the motorway tolls between Toulouse and Narbonne.   In compensation I did see the citadel of Carcassonne from the motorway –some 5km away and sitting so splendidly and so hugely on its rocky foundations. Yes I need to go back there.  

Does any else find travelling so stressful?

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