His daughters were waiting at arrivals, excited about showing him the new lives they’d created in the big city. The arrivals board announced the plane had landed on time. Then it advised ‘baggage in the hall’. Finally, the passengers began to pass through.
They waited but couldn’t see him. Anxious after an hour, they called airport security. An hour later, their dad was found. It was the first time he’d flown and he was familiar only with bus travel. After descending the steps to the runway, he’d turned left and stood behind the aircraft waiting for the hold doors to open so he could reclaim his bag. He had been standing there for almost two hours. “Silly old fool,” the airport staff muttered.
During the golden age of air travel, food and drink and hot towels were handed out with a smile by the airline’s attentive cabin crew. All you needed was a boarding card. You sat in the lounge until your seat number, which was printed on your boarding card, was called. Then you walked to the gate where you were welcomed and shown down the gangway and then to your seat. That, of course, was before Ryanair and its ilk were born.
Austerity Airlines consider pre-allocated seating an unnecessary frill and have stopped it, as they’ve done with dispensing boarding cards at check-in. Printing a boarding card is something you do on your inkjet printer before leaving for the airport. Aeroplanes board faster as a result, but the experience of air travel has been diluted further – no one retains boarding card stubs for the memory anymore.
With the absence of a seating plan, airline passengers behave differently. Last week, I arrived at the gate 90 minutes before my flight. I ordered a coffee and a cake and sat down with a newspaper.
Within 10 minutes, there were around 70 people standing in an orderly, snakelike queue to board the flight. A further 10 people joined the back of the queue every few minutes. Each of them stood, apparently afraid to lose their place in line. There was ample seating provided around the lounge but the queue ignored it and stood. When boarding eventually started, the queue began to shuffle forward slowly, like condemned men to the gallows, kicking their carry-on bags before them.
Airlines have sucked the glamour, pleasure and civilisation out of air travel, but they don’t insist that passengers stand in a queue for up to 90 minutes. Passengers make that choice themselves, despite knowing that the plane won’t leave without them. Furthermore, everyone that’s paid for their ticket generally gets a seat.
Maybe the girls’ father, more familiar with the humble bus, saw the future on that maiden flight a few years ago?
If you have to travel Austerity Airlines, please, please, please do us all a favour. Don’t stand in line for 90 minutes. Have a seat in the lounge and wait. Otherwise, there’s a danger that Michael O’Leary’s spies are watching you. You could give them the idea of removing all on-board seating and replacing them with straps attached to the roof of the jet for all standing slights. It’s what they do on the Underground, after all.