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Posts tagged ‘heathrow’

More adventures in the field of aviation

At Heathrow, I was pulled aside at the baggage check. For some reason – possibly because he had an extremely flat head – the security guard appeared to have taken offence to my hair straightener.

“We’d like to do a body scan,” he said.

“You mean . . .” I mimed pulling on a rubber glove (in case you are interested, to really make this work, you have to shout “SNAP!” at the end. So I suppose it’s not technically a mime; more a smash hit mini-drama/musical).

“No! No. You stand in a room and a machine takes an image of your body. It’s entirely . . .”

“Non-invasive,” I clarified with relief. “Is it like- like an x-ray?”

“No, it works on heat. Takes an image of your body temperature. It’s new technology. First machine of its type in the world. Here at Heathrow.” He seemed very proud of this fact. It was heart-warming to meet a man with such an extremely flat head who took such evident pride in his work.

“So will it be able to tell if I’m smuggling 600g of cocaine up my anus?” I asked.

“ARE you smuggling 600g of cocaine up your anus?” he said sharply.

“Absolutely not.”

I swear, Airport Security has to be one of the most humour-challenged professions in existence. OH COME ON! IT’S NOT AS IF I SUGGESTED I WAS SMUGGLING A BOMB UP MY ANUS.

I had to wait a couple of minutes while another suspicious passenger was being scanned. For new technology, that’s a long time to complete a body scan.

I’m just saying.

I was admitted into a small room, bare but for a computer monitor, a circle printed on the floor, and two security staff.

“Stand in the circle and slowly rotate 360°,” said one of the attendants.

“Clockwise or anticlockwise?”

“Clockwise.” I did a smart right-turn.

“. . . or anticlockwise.”

I panicked, and started immediately to my left. I must have got stuck in a repeating loop, because the operator said, “Just go in one direction or the other, please.”

I decided to go clockwise.

“Slower, please,” said airport security. I turned slower.

“Faster, please.”

“Ok, why don’t you just tell me the optimal time for a full rotation?”

“Thirty seconds. Please remove hands from hips. Arms straight out at shoulder level.”

“Fine.”

Turns out I wasn’t smuggling anything up my anus.

Which was a relief.

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Technically in Cork

Recent events have prompted me to muse with delicate frown and pursed lips on my history with transportation. The origins of this tempestuous, codependent relationship can be traced back to:-

  • 1984: Twelve years old, and for reasons that will remain forever obscured by the mists of time, I was required to catch a bus from Dublin to be reunited with the bosom of my family in Limerick. After a long journey, the bus shuddered to a stop. I sat there long after the remaining passengers disembarked, kicking my legs and reading a ‘Bunty’ magazine by streetlight.Half an hour later I was getting cold, so alighted and, keeping an eye on the coach in case it took off unexpectedly, I backed up to the only human life-form present and enquired when the bus would be leaving for Limerick. Which is when I found out the bus was not going to Limerick.

    Also, I was technically in Cork.

    I must be able to blame this on some family friend or relative – I mean WHO’S RESPONSIBLE FOR A TWELVE YEAR OLD CATCHING A BUS?

    I was gasping for a wee, so I decided my first priority was locating the bathroom. Then disaster struck: I had no money, and access to the toilet cubicles required a 2p piece. (If you think I sound pathetic, really it was WAY worse.)

    Luckily, there was a 20cm gap between the foot of the door and the floor. I stuffed my bag in, thereby committing myself, then wriggled under the door after the bag. It was a tense widdle; I was terrified someone with 2p might creep in and burst into my cubicle and accuse me of weeing for free.

    Afterwards I went outside, sat on my bag in the deserted carpark, and considered my predicament. Luckily, my parents had equipped me to deal with adversity. Back then, what that meant was that I knew how to make reverse charge phone calls, rather than identify perverts. Indeed I wouldn’t have recognized a pervert had he asked me to sit on his knee and waved a flesh-coloured stick at me, but man could I place a reverse charges phone call.

    I rang my mum, who was good enough to accept the call.

    “I’m in CORK!” I sobbed, suddenly struck by the tragedy of being abandoned in a strange land.

    The next bus to Limerick was the following morning, so my parents arranged for me to stay with some people they chose at random from the telephone directory.

  • Circa 1993: On my first business trip, I missed not one but two flights AND lost my passport and ticket along the way. I finally arrived in Switzerland 24 hours late. Thought I’d blogged about the incident, but it seems not, so can’t provide a link. If anyone wants the grisly details I’ll see what I can do.
  • 2000: Job interview in Bahrain. The Interviewer arranged a ticket for collection at Dubai Airport. Even though I arrived a full half hour before the flight, the Emirates representative claimed the check-in was closed and refused to hand over my ticket.“All right,” said Husband during an emergency debrief. “Call The Interviewer, and tell him there was a problem with your passport. No- your residency visa. An issue with your residency visa, and you’re sorting it out, and will get the next flight in two hours.”

    “Ok. Problem with residency visa. Next flight. Check.”

    I dialed The Interviewer: “I MISSED THE FLIGHT!”

    He hired me.

    Can’t explain it.

  • 2000: Fast-forward three weeks to a business trip to Bahrain to meet The Company’s biggest client. My phone rang at 06:00. It was The Floridian, formerly The Interviewer.“I’m at the check-in counter. Where are you?”

    “I’M IN BED.”

    However, not only did I catch the 07:00 flight – triumphantly arriving at the airport 10 minutes later – I even had time to demolish the buffet breakfast in the Emirates lounge.

  • Probably 2005: Róisín underestimated timing from Paddington to Heathrow (so entirely her fault; I have a signed confession). Emirates Airlines – at this stage totally accustomed to me – rescheduled me on a later flight. At the baggage check, I realized I had left my mobile phone in Róisín’s handbag (don’t ask. Just . . . don’t). Located a pay phone and called Róis, who returned to Heathrow to give up the phone.
  • Possibly 2008: Husband and I arrive at Dubai Airport, totally overexcited about our first ever skiing holiday: two weeks in Austria. We had booked a hire car, arranged accommodation; we were sharing the chalet with friends who were en-route.Passports: CHECK! Tickets: CHECK! Luggage: TRIPLE CHECK!

    Bags sorted, we proceeded to passport control. I went to the e-gate, already planning where I should wait for Andrew, who was at the manual passport control. When I scanned my fingerprint, a buzzer sounded and a big, red X blinked on the gate.

    The man on the passport desk beckoned me over.

    “My finger’s not working,” I giggled, wiggling the digit at him.

    I forgot how ineffective charm is on airport security.

    “Your rrresidency visa,” said the administrator. “It is expire.”

    “Oh. Well. No problem. I’ll renew it when I get back. I’m going skiing!”

    Never have I been more mistaken.

    Never has Husband come closer to divorcing me.

    In a vain attempt to conquer the moral high ground I told Andrew to go without me, but he opted to stay. For a while it looked like he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the airport, since he was fully checked onto the flight. He sulked for roughly a year. He still wins arguments on the strength of that ONE LITTLE INCIDENT.

  • Near miss: Once, I got to the boarding gate for an Emirates flight before realizing I had left my passport and ticket in a tray at the baggage check.

Learning from past mistakes

Previously, my average public transport success rate was inching up to around 80%, but it took a bit of a knock on the Irish trip. Of course, there was the disaster at Stansted when I missed my flight to Ireland after standing in the wrong queue for an hour.  

Then I caught the wrong train to Dublin, where I was admittedly over-confident. After all, trains are much easier than airplanes. There’s less mucking about: no check-in, no baggage check, no cavity search. Often, you don’t even need a passport, which considerably reduces my potential margin for error.

 

And of course, I had LEARNED from past mistakes.  

 

Unfortunately, not enough . . . because we come to my return flight to Dubai. Again – and I appreciate that you might find this hard to believe given the incidents above – there was a surfeit of confidence happening. After all, I was equipped with a library of Hard Lessons, including:-

(1) Make sure you double-check the flight date/time, preferably prior to the flight;

(2) A driving licence is not accepted as a substitute for a passport;

(3) Get to the airport before the flight;

(4) Stand in the right queue; and/or

(5) Read the ticket;

(6) Bring the ticket;

(7) And don’t leave it in a phone booth;

(8) Or anywhere else (I haven’t actually LEARNED this; it falls more under the category ‘Near Misses’)

(9) Make sure your residency visa hasn’t expired

In fact, I figured the only lesson left is to ensure I have a visa for countries requiring one, and there’s plenty of time for that one.

That morning, I was up at 06:45hrs, packed some final bits and pieces and bade farewell to Róisín’s boyfriend, whose flat we were staying in. It was around about then that I checked my bag for passport presence and . . . it wasn’t there. You might say the presence was poor to non-existent.

Hard Lesson #10: relative proximity of passport. (Ok, so I actually learned that on a business trip, but it was over 10 years ago so it was about time for a refresher course.)

We guessed that the most likely location of the passport was Róisín’s flat, at which point I spent five minutes running around in circles screaming, which gave Róisín an opportunity to waterproof her new Ugg Boots. Seriously. I was wearing a hole in Tim’s welcome mat, going: ‘We might be able to make it to the airport via your house in time if we leave now, I mean NOW in the immediate sense of the word,’ while Róisín sprayed her Ugg Boots: ‘Just a second, I need to do the heel’.

Then we exited the door at a gallop. Róisín’s sense of time is rather Irish; she was confident we’d make the trip from Clapham South to Walthamstow Central in twenty minutes, including a stop-off for coffee.

An hour and 3 litres of cold sweat later, we arrived at Walthamstow Central and charged a taxi.

“You forgot your passport?” said our driver, slapping the steering wheel. “That’s a joke. Ha ha! Very funny.”

“You know, firstly,” I said, chillingly, “I’m not finding it all that funny, joke-wise. Secondly, I think it’s technically more a cliché than a joke.”

“Why didn’t you check your bag before you left the house?” enquired our driver.

“Good question,” said Róisín. “Niamh?”

“You should always check your bag before leaving the house,” advised our driver.

“Thanks for the tip,” I said. “<mutter: Don’t count on getting one yourself>”

“Once I picked up a woman. She was all excited. Going on holiday, you know? I brought her all the way to Heathrow. Then remembered she left her passport at home. I had to drive her back.”

“And?” said Róisín, ever idealistically yearning for the happy ending.

“She missed her flight.”

My passport was on Róisín’s living room sofa underneath a duvet.

On our way back to Walthamstow Central, Róisín rang Tim, who had checked the Emirates flights from London and established that there were seats free on the 14:15 flight. I am strongly encouraging Róisín to marry the man. One second after it opened, I rang the Emirates Service Desk and booked myself onto the afternoon flight.

Róisín didn’t slag me off once. Either the woman can’t recognise an opportunity, or she’s a saint.

The following text exchange with Andrew reminds me why I am blessed to be with him:- 

Me: Missed flight 😦

 

Andrew: Bugger. What happened? 

 

Me: Which would you believe? (a) The flight was cancelled (b) A flock of rogue sheep took over Heathrow (c) The wing fell off the airplane (d) I forgot my passport 

 

Andrew: Those dam sheep 🙂

I like to think Husband was so thrilled to see me he didn’t mind my arriving at 01:00hrs

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