In one of his plays, Jean Paul Sartre said that “hell is other people”. I know, as surely as I know my own little finger, that Jean Paul Sartre was musing on airports.
There is something about an airport security queue, or a long, panicked walk to the correct terminal, that seems to bring out the absolute worst in people. Pair the unique setting with a strict time schedule, wheelable luggage and a set of hugely important life documents and you’ve got a recipe for rabid dickheadedness.
As I took my return flight from Pisa to Manchester today, I decided to pass the time (and quell the fury) by creating a mental list of my most irritating airport encounters. The ones that come out of hiding every summer, and resurface in front of me like monsters in a maze, ready to ruin my already delicate mood. I decided to write my collection down, so that other people can identify these criminals and take appropriate measures to avoid them at all costs. I also hope it may give some individuals a chance to reflect on their behaviour, so that they may have the opportunity to become aware of their own inconsideration and nip it in the bud before I stab them.
- The ‘Oops, I Forgot I Had A Bottle Of Supersize John Freida Shampoo In My Handbag’ Guy
I’m going to do this chronologically. This one is probably the least annoying, not because the crime is any less heinous, but because it occurs early on in the journey when you usually still have the capacity to offer a weak smile and mumble ‘take your time’ without sounding too sarcastic. This person can also be seen disguised as the ‘Oh, Did I Leave My 300-Watt Lithium Battery In The Most Inconvenient Section Of My Rucksack?’ Guy, and the ‘I Didn’t Know We Needed A Clear Plastic Bag’ Guy. Everyone knows it is basic etiquette to relieve your carry-on of all potentially lethal moisturisers whilst standing not-quite-still in the queue, gripping your passport between your teeth and your Kindle under your chin. It is important, too, that when you see these people, you lean to the side so that everyone else will notice that they are the individuals holding up the queue and ruining everybody’s holiday, and that it certainly isn’t you, taking twelve minutes to undo the wrap-around sandals you bought to look chic on the plane.
2. The ‘Oh My God, The Gate’s Just Opened, Everyone Must Move So I Can Pursue My Queueing Hobby A Little More’ Guy
By this point the excitement has worn off a little, and the realisation that you are essentially just locked in a gigantic warehouse with a million strangers has dawned. The six perfumes you tried on in duty free are clagging in your nostrils, and the Starbucks that cost the same as a nice dinner out in your final destination is sitting sadly in your stomach. You’re keeping half an eye on the departures board, but there’s a handful of keenos clustered around it, avidly inspecting it with their magnifying glasses. Your gate is called. The stampede begins. A man wearing socks with sandals stands proudly at the front of the queue, flapping his passport at the woman behind the desk, who could not give two shits as the gate isn’t actually open yet. He is smug in his position. You hate him. You remain seated with an air of superiority, wondering when other people will realise that seats are pre-assigned, the flight won’t leave without you and sitting on a stationary airplane for twenty minutes longer isn’t actually any fun at all. And then three more people join the queue and you panic and rush to the back, swiping a small child with your suitcase in your haste.
3. The ‘I Ordered A Hot Breakfast And Two Armrests’ Guy
Not to be confused with the ‘I Drank Eight Pints And Made The Pilot Turn Around’ Guy, who is an annoying flying companion but is also, thankfully, rare, this guy is a quieter, more insidious enemy, most commonly found in the middle seat. The moment the wheels of the plane leave the tarmac, this guy is punching the call button like he’s having a moment and needs medical attention. What he’s actually doing is wrenching the cabin crew away from their duties and demanding his foil-wrapped Full English, which he will proceed to eat noisily and stinkily beside you. Once he has finished his feast and belched several times in your direction, he will tackle the next item on his agenda: wrestling the armrests from the passengers either side of him. It will begin with a slight nudge, which he knows the weaker will succumb to. If this fails, he will begin jostling in his seat, as if trying to get comfy, as a cover-up for the moment his elbow jerks aggressively to the left, and knocks your arm clean off its support. Once he has conquered both sides, he will fall asleep with his mouth open, and you will try not to look at the piece of bacon wedged in his tooth as you order your egg and cress sandwich.
4. The ‘Doors Are Open, We Didn’t Die, I Must Now Be The First To Arrive At Passport Control’ Guy
By this point, you’ve reached the very pit of your patience resources. You’ve been sat outside the airport for thirty minutes while a set of steps is sourced, and are fully willing to jump from the window and take any negative outcomes on the chin. The doors finally open. Someone (usually socks-and-sandals guy, more likely his wife) undoes their seatbelt with such ferocity that the people in your departure destination probably hear it. They wrench their bag from the overhead locker, almost disfiguring the face of a girl offering to help, and hurtle up the aisle with reckless abandon. They stride across the tarmac as if their firstborn is trapped in a box in the arrivals lounge. You are behind them. Approximately three minutes into the march, their pace slows. Their legs can’t continue at such a rate, but their determination is fierce. You overtake them. They cannot allow this to happen. At a set of double doors, they take the lead again, destroying your achilles with their military-grade wheely trolley and letting the door swing back in your face. They’re on the travelator, storming ahead like vampires from Twilight. They arrive at passport control ahead of you, and take their well-earned place at the back of a 400-person line of passengers who have just landed from Beijing. An airport staff member opens a new queue as you arrive, and you stride straight up to the tiny line at the passport scanner. You did it. You got there first.
5. The ‘I Don’t Understand What Face-Down Means’ Guy
OK. This is usually an old woman, or someone without a good grasp of the English language. But you are tired. Humanity is shit, everyone smells, and there are picture diagrams, for Christ’s sake. Stand on the footprints, open the passport, place it on the scanner, wait for the doors to open. It’s simple. And yet, apparently it is not. There are six of these machines, and somehow you have ended up behind someone who is trying to ram their hand into the scanning slot. Have they provided their fingerprints before? Probably not. What is their logic? There does not appear to be any. You can see the light through the doorway beyond the machines, beckoning you. The woman glances to her left and notices other people inserting their passports. She does the same, face-up. You want to scream. The people in the queues either side of you filter past. The assistant is busy with another passenger. The woman flips her passport and puts it face-down, the wrong page in first. She is so close. You want to step forward and show her how to do it, but you do not want to be shot/detained for interfering. She tries again, face-up. You snap and give an incredibly audible tut. The assistant hears. He helps her, and she makes it through. Your body sags. There is now nothing standing in your way. You stand on the footprints, open your passport, place it on the scanner… and are rejected. The assistant sends you to the back of the Beijing queue, where socks-and-sandals and his wife are waiting to welcome you back.
So there you have it. Unfortunately, annoying people and their selfish behaviour at airports is a cross we all must bear if we wish to explore the world. While you and I know that we are always the least well-slept, and that our needs are certainly the most urgent, other people rudely do not take this into consideration. It may be tempting to consider other transport options but, living on an island, we must unfortunately cross the sea, and do not even get me started on ferry wankers. That’s a whole other kettle of fish.