Frequent traveller: Mind over matterBack to Forum
Anonymous3 Feb 2010
In which our correspondent tries to reach a higher state of consciousness at the airport, only to plumb new depths…
Given the less than festive state of the economy, it was decided that the Frequent Traveller household would give each other only token gifts for Christmas. My wife bought me a copy of Alain de Botton’s A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary – presumably she thought it would be funny to give me a book extolling the virtues of a place I spend more time in than I do my own home, especially after hearing me grumble one too many times about missed connections and delayed flights.
I wasn’t amused. But on Christmas afternoon, when the only film on TV was one I’d seen a hundred times, I picked up the slim paperback and dipped in. I must admit it zipped along, and I read it in one sitting. And so, after being inspired by the philosophical insights of Mr de Botton, and by his willingness to spend an entire week at the airport in the name of art – a prospect I would rate slightly lower than water torture – I decided to approach my first trip of the new year with a more positive attitude.
I remember my early days of globetrotting, when airports were airports, not shopping centres, and when a work trip meant enjoying the best a city had to offer with a few meetings thrown in, rather than the schmoozing and deal-clinching marathon my boss now expects of me. Back then, I used to relish the idea of travelling – new horizons broadening the mind and all that. Now I dread the sight of the check-in desk, and the narrow flatbed I’m expected to spend the night on (particularly as my girth is a bit more generous these days).
So, Heathrow was to be my newfound haven of harmony and good humour – somewhere to be appreciated as a “refuge of elegance and logic” and an “imaginitive centre of contemporary culture”, according to de Botton. I duly packed my bag and set off in search of a good dose of meditative medicine.
Problem number one – I wasn’t flying from Terminal 5, the flagship, or indeed mothership, of the future of aviation. No, Terminal 3 was to be my launchpad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s much improved, with its glitzy purple lights, but it didn’t exactly convey “a sense of continous lightness and ease, like an intelligent mind engaging effortlessly with complexity”. And the low ceilings did nothing to help my quest for a higher state of consciousness.
Nor did the queue at security help – despite my fast-track status, it took a good 20 minutes to reach the X-ray machine, by which time I had almost choked to death on the vile perfume worn by the woman in front of me, and been deafened by the screams of a small child hanging on to his mother’s leg. At the machine, I dutifully removed my belt and shoes, revealing my new tartan socks, another Christmas present of dubious value. The young whippersnapper executive behind me sniggered, and I resisted the urge to punch his smug face.
It then became apparent that there was something suspicious-looking in the depths of my bag, which meant it had to be disembowelled in front of everyone. The security guard found a miniature tube of toothpaste that had escaped from an amenity kit I’d been given on a previous flight. He scolded me like a child and I duly apologised, before questioning how exactly 10ml could blow up a paper bag, let alone a plane. This got me in more trouble (perhaps my tone was less than genial), with the jobsworth threatening to call his heavies and have me removed from the airport. This search for enlightenment wasn’t going so well.
At last, I reached the lounge. After trudging across the globe nine too many times in the past year, I tend to feel that lounge access is a right and not a privilege, but this time I decided to try to appreciate my surroundings a bit more. Supping a glass of chilled champagne and taking in the view of the runway, I felt my old love for travelling flood back (though perhaps this was down to the alcohol hitting my bloodstream, rather than nostalgia). I was so lost in my reverie that I forgot to keep an eye on the departure screen, only returning to reality in time to see “flight closing” flashing in red.
I made it on to the flight – just. But I was sweaty, irritable and more than a little red-faced, after being told by the cabin crew leader that I was holding up the flight. I even had to scrabble around in my bag for my boarding card – finding it lodged inside that bloody book.3 Feb 2010