Short haul hell

The bloke sat opposite me has the look of a slash/gore episode in a low budget movie. He’s covered from head to toe in a thick, blood-red viscous liquid with horror and confusion alternately chasing across his stunned features.

He has just been assaulted by the drinks trolley on a SwissAir flight back from Zürich. From his lack of animation in that curiously please “don’t fuss/musn’t grumble” English way, he’s clearly trying to shrug off the aftermath of a messy ground zero tomato juice event clustered around his seat.

Other nationalities stereotype their traits as well; the Germans have set up a working committee, provisionally titled – with appropriate brevity –
uber-strubel-trolley-improvement-sub-group-with-focus-on-locking-mechanisms while the Swiss are checking their watches and investigating who can be charged for such an event.

I’m reduced to removing melting ice nestling uncomfortably in the testicle area and wondering out loud if the thrill and glamour of short haul flying has paled somewhat in the last few years.

Firstly there is the unseemly scrum to get onto the plane at Heathrow. It seems ludicrous that the airport can provide such a grotty, overcrowded and just downright unpleasant service and still attract ever more passengers. We’re herded through a maze of zig zags with our toiletries, clothes and dignity being stripped away by bombastic security staff who are clearly selling everything they snatch from your person.

The security scan adds yet more stress while removing the remainder of your clothing, and it seems ever more odd that this is a service in which you’re the paying customer. Only the sight of Arsne Wenger – the Arsenal Manager – being frisked with commendable vigour distracted me from the belief I’d entered some reality show based on Dante’s nine levels of hell. The Gooner legend gazed stoically into the middle distance while the grumpy frisker ensured the big man wasn’t carrying any extra balls into Europe.

The whole thing puts me in mind of being prepared for transportation on a slave ship. And yet when compared to the experience of Zürich, I’m not sure whether it needs to be – even in these times of heightened security. Zürich’s – a bit like its Swiss host – is clean, airy, superbly organised and calm. Heathrow may be up against some unique challenges but it certainly doesn’t seem to be rising to them. Arriving back last night around 9:30 in the evening, the queue for passport – sorry Border – control stretched back to the gates. I leaned wearily against a sign proclaiming “we’re making Heathrow an airport London can be proud of” and thought they must have some pretty low expectations.

Flying is dull at the best of times and short haul is about the worst. You leave an extra hour early to as the entire South East is generally a traffic blackspot, you spend about the same amount of time in mazey misery, cocooned with thousands of other poor souls, occasionally discarding prized belongings in response to barked commands, you wait on the runway while “19 other planes are queued ahead of us” until, finally, the scream of the engines marks the time you’re screwing with the planet.

I know this blog has a job to amuse if only sporadically. But sometimes, there’s a serious point to be made. There has to be a better way than short haul – video conferencing, trains, email, hologram, not bothering, and you can’t help thinking that maybe if the terror organisations aren’t winning, they’re certainly holding there own. You would have to sanguine to the point of medicated or desperate to do business via airlines and yet – bizarrely – more of us are doing it.

Still at the speed that we’re concreting the country, at least there will soon be many alternate runways available. Next time I’m going by goat.

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