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Travelling by plane

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kids on the plane

There is not much to say about most aeroplane journeys. Anything remarkable must be disastrous, so you define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.
The gratitude brings such relief your mind goes blank, which is appropriate, for the aeroplane passenger is a time-traveller. He crawls into a carpeted tube that is reeking of disinfectant; he strapped in to go home, or away. Time is truncated, or in any case warped. (..) And from the moment he departs, his mind is focused on arrival.

Paul Theroux
in “The old Patagonian Express”

I thought of that quote yesterday. After spending five hours in transit at Madrid’s airport before boarding. A group of 150 seven-graders from Portugal boarded just in front of me, all excited about their one week trip to Rome. I loved their excitement and aggitation. Kids should have fun, so I put on my headset, and fell asleep the moment I got in my seat. Only to wake up half an hour later, in the midst of a school play ground. The boys and girls were running up and down, even though the “fasten seat belts” sign was on, calling the flight attendants for yet another coke or Mars bar.

I thought we were already in the air, half way to Rome, but we had not moved an inch. And we did not move an inch for three hours, unable to take off due to traffic congestion, it seemed later. Not that the captain was eager to announce anything. We just sat there. Except for the kids. They were not sleepy as I was. True, I had just flown through the night, and had been awake for 36 hours, but then again, I thought they’d been settling down after a few hours. But they did not.

It was strange to see how the other passengers reacted. The noise was that of a kids’ birthday party, and so was the agitation and the running around. Kids love kids parties. Adults not. So, most other people switched off. At best, some would get up to stretch their legs, still with a blank stare focused on the horizon. One guy started to play cards with them. Only two passengers got excited. “Che casino, questi ragazzi! Calma, per favore, calma!” shouted an Italian passenger. And it was “piu calma” for five minutes straight.

I was glad to arrive in Rome, where we got stuck for another hour waiting for the transit buses to arrive. And for the luggage to arrive. When I finally opened the door of my apartment, I sighed with relief. I can’t wait until time and space travel finally becomes reality. We just step into a tube, and “zwoop”, we arrive where we need to be. From the hotel lobby in Santo Domingo to my apartment in Rome. “Zwoop”.

Hopefully by the time we can warp into time and space, it will be immune to volcanic dust. But probably the kids would not enjoy warping that much. They enjoy the travel. I envied them.

Written by Peter

June 5th, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Stories

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Flying remains an adventure

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Updates from The Road’s Twitter:

08:30 – At Copenhagen airport… 8:30 and the sun just came up… Ready to fly back to Rome.

09:45 – “This is your captain speaking. Unfortunately, we have been hit by a ladder of the ground crew. Repairs will take an hour.”

10:30 – “This is your captain speaking… We are still looking for the spare part.” – anyone got a spare wing light for an MD82?

repairs on plane this morning

In the end, we took off with a little more than one hour delay. But the adventure was still to come. Approaching Rome’s Fiumicino airport, the clouds got thicker and thicker. It looked like we were landing for 45 minutes. Turbulence got heavier, having people “Ohhh” and “Oosh”. Plane swing up, down, left, right. Funny to see how much flex an MD82 has.

We got a direct hit by lightning (which was a bit of an anti-climax, as there was not that much of a bang, just a lot of light and a bump as if the plane hit a speed bump).

The final approach showed the strength of the wind as we were crab-crawling sideways towards the landing strip.

The applause for the pilot was well deserved…

More on The Road about travel, airports and flying.

Written by Peter

November 28th, 2008 at 10:26 am

Posted in Funny,Stories

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30 things I do not understand about airport security

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airport security

I am a frequent traveller. A very frequent traveller. With questions.

1. Why can I not go through security with a flask of aftershave, but can buy all the aftershave I want in the duty free? If duty free goods are screened in a different way, why can my check-in luggage not be screened in the same way?

2. How come I can not take any liquid on board, but I can put all the liquid I want in my check-in luggage? If check-in luggage is screened in a different way, how come carry-on can not be screened in the same way? How come I can not take a bottle of water on board, even though I could drink it to show how harmless it is?

3. How come I have to put things like a deodorant and toothpaste in a sealed zip-lock plastic bag, but no-one ever sees or asks to see the bag tucked in my carry-on?

4. If my Leatherman with a 1.5 inch blade does not get it through security, how come I buy dozens of things more dangerous at the duty free (ever seen what damage a broken bottle can do?).

5. How come some airlines serve meals with stainless steel knives and forks? Why does the restaurant in the waiting lounge serve meals with stainless steel knives and forks?

6. How come the metal strings on my guitar are not considered as dangerous goods? Ever seen what damage my thin “high E”-string can do when strapped around a person’s neck?

7. How come a sharpened pencil is not considered a dangerous good? Ever seen the damage a pencil does when pushed through someone’s nose?

8. How come my glasses are not considered a dangerous good? They showed how to use it as a weapon in The Godfather III, didn’t they?

9. How come needles and syringes are not seen as dangerous goods? How come nobody ever checks what the liquid is in the ampules I carry on? How dangerous could the combination of syringes with liquid morphine ampules be? Or the combination of a lighter, syringe and a combustible fluid in an ampule?

10. How come airport security screening never catches the three metal bottles of compressed air of our self-inflating sailing life jackets when we check it in with our luggage, but there is no way in hell we would get it on board as carry-on?

11. How come security confiscated the horse-shoe my daughter wanted to carry-on?

12. How come some airports confiscate lighters and others don’t? Why do some confiscate matches and others don’t? Why do some only allow one single box of matches? Why do some confiscate Zippo-lighters and others don’t? What is more dangerous: a single Zippo lighter or five throw-away plastic lighters with lighter fluid in them?

13. How come in some airports, I just show a piece of paper, allegedly representing a printout of my Internet check-in, and they let me into the departure hall, and through security without scanning the barcode to see if I did not fake the print-out?

14. How come I could get on a flight even though the boarding pass was not in my name?

15. How come no-one at the gate ever checks if my plastified ID card is real? How come I can board a flight even though the lady at the gate said “I have never seen an ID-card like this!”.

16. As it has been proven some lithium-ion laptop batteries are a fire hazard, can explode generating heat up to 1000 degrees, how come they don’t have to be removed from laptops? How come some airlines offer adapters to charge laptops inflight?

17. How come in some airports I need to go through a security screening when entering the airport, one when entering the departure area, and one just before entering the boarding area? Just to make sure?

18. How come I could walk from the arrivals hall, back into the luggage-belt area and nobody stopped me?

19. How come the lady at the check-in counter laughs when I answer the question “Did you pack your bags yourself”, with “No, my wife did.”

20. How come everyone lies when asked the question “Was the luggage with you at all times?”, like it was never held in the hotel luggage room by the bellboy, never stowed in the trunk of the airport shuttle, or left alone in the hotel room.

21. How come I can pick up someone else’s luggage from the belt, and walk out of the airport without being checked?

22. How come, with all the security cameras around, people have their handluggage stolen at the check-in counter?

23. How come I can put my two mobile phones in the tray next to the metal detector and pick them up at the other side without them being screened?

24. How come some airport metal detectors go bazurk when I forget to take off my watch, and others don’t?

25. How come I always fear for my harddisk when I see the way the security staff handles the tray in which I put my computer? Why can I not complain without being arrested for contempt?

26. How come the shuttle bus from the departure gate to the plane can drop us off at the wrong plane?

27. How come, allegedly for security reasons, I can not board with a computer bag and a small trolley, but it is OK if I put the bag in the trolley? How come it is OK to have two carry-ons when flying business class then?

28. How come I can ask a friend to hold my excess carry-on out of sight of the check-in counter, deny having any carry-on when checking in, and pick up the carry-on again before going through security?

29. How come, allegedly for security reasons, I am only allowed one bag with certain maximum weight and dimensions as carry-on, but can buy 15 bags of duty free stuff?

30. How come airlines do not award passengers when they can prove the security staff did not check thoroughly? Why am I regarded as a moron when I show what I managed to get through security this time? Why am I regarded as a nuisance when I tell the security staff they are not paying attention when I walked through the metal detector?

31. How come nobody asks these questions aloud?

More posts on The Road about flying, airports and travel.

Cartoon courtesy U.S. News & World Report

Written by Peter

October 11th, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Posted in Funny,Ranting

Tagged with ,

Ten random things I hate about travelling.

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In many posts on The Road, you will see I am an addicted traveller. I love travelling, even for the sake of travelling. But there are things I hate about travelling. Last night’s flight (leaving 01:00 AM) from Rome to Addis on Ethiopian Airlines reminded me of them.

Ten things I hate about travelling:

1. Have to check in two hours before departure, only to have to wait and wait.

2. Red-eye flights: leave tired, arrive tired.

3. Flight attendants who wake you up each time they pass by with (make your choice) a hot tower (which stinks anyway), the menu, drinks, food, newspapers, a hot towel (again), immigration leaflet, a headset.

4. Non-reclining seats. (Where the hell was the time where Ethiopian Airlines were the best in Africa? This plane sucked. Dirty floor cover, dirty seats, most of the seat covers half dismantled…)

5. Seats which have little or no legspace.

6. “I am sorry, we have run out of headsets”

7. Having to sit around an airport after midnight with all shops, restaurants and pubs closed. And to top it off, with the wireless Internet connection failing after you only used 10 minutes of your 120 minutes subscription you just paid online.

8. Stepping onto a plane, stopping over, with passengers picked up from the previous airport. Getting in the air smelling of 300 people stuck in a confined area for three hours.

9. Sitting by the plane’s emergency exit, which is that cold and draft-y, you think your hair is going to freeze against the wall as your head leans over while falling asleep.

10. Being happy you get through customs and immigration in a whizz (only handluggage, yuuuhuuu!), but then having to wait for 90 minutes for your airport pick-up. Only to find out that a. your hotel courtesy van claims to have been there all the time, b. the office driver thought it was tomorrow, c. another office driver had left one minute before you arrived.

11. Ok, here is an 11th: Checking into the hotel to freshen up after an overnight flight. Just as you are getting undress, the office calls and the reception guy knocks on your door stating “we will move you to another room, as we realized the toilet in this one is not flushing”.
They move you from a 15 m2 room with huge windows and a wonderful view, into a 5 m2 room with a 0.2m2 window, with mold on the walls. And while moving you, the porter did not notice your bag was already unzipped (no matter how many times you say: “don’t worry, I will take care of that”), and spreads your underwear, electronic gadgets, toiletry all over the corridor.

Dah. I guess it all starts with a 01:00 AM flight. It just puts me in a bad mood.

Written by Peter

September 23rd, 2008 at 5:42 am

Posted in Funny,Ranting

Tagged with ,

Brussels Airport: “Kiss and Drive!” and a bad luck logo…

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I am at Brussels airport, waiting for my flight back to Rome. After six weeks with the family, we are off on our own again. The kids go off to sports camp, Tine starts working in Belgium and I am off to Italy, back to saving the hungry in the world.

kiss and drive-1

Hey, they have new roadsigns at the airport, saying “Kiss and Drive”, meant to guide people to a passenger drop off zone.
I am not sure if the combination of kissing and driving is really safe, but I am all for it. However, maybe “Park and Kiss” would have been more appropriate!

So far for the smileys.

At check-in it seems they have changed the system for self check-in: you will need your reservation number. You can’t check in via your name, passport scan (as in Rome), or credit card swipe. No, you need your reservation number. Damned if I would take out my computer, boot it up, and check my email for it. Damned if I would print it out on paper before I come. Thought eTicketing was all about paperless and effortless booking and checking in? Not so with Brussels Airlines, it seems. Nope you need your reservation number, sir!.

Ok, so I try to check in at the “Express check-in”, thinking “I only have hand luggage, so I guess this is ‘express check-in’ “? Not so. A young man stopped me asking for my boarding pass. I told him “No, I am checking in, and am following the signs.” He said: “No checking in here, you need to follow that line”, and pointed to another row of check-in counters.
I told him this was confusing. He just shrugged his shoulders and looked the other way, ignoring my comments. He told a colleague who approached me to explain and said: “Ignore him, difficult customer!”
He then turned to someone else, who wanted to do the same thing as I: check in through the express check-in. And another, and another.. Soon enough we were standing with 4-5 people complaining about the confusing signs. I just stood by and smiled. Ah the sweet taste of a little revenge! Life can be so sweet…

So, I am checking in. They ask to weigh my hand luggage, which is a compact trolley with my computer bag in it. In the bag some small chargers, my laptop and a book: 9.6 kg.
“Sorry sir, you are only allowed 5 kg handluggage, you will have to check it in”, she said.
Dah. Checking in a computer bag? To Rome? Rrrrright. *If* it would arrive, i’d have to wait for 90 minutes at the luggage belt.
“Nope”, I said, “I can show you one kilo of handluggage and then shop and buy 50 kgs of duty free goods, and you would not even know. So…”
She let me go… I *am” a difficult customer!

Anyways, last thought of the day: Did you know the Brussels Airlines logo originally had 13 balls on it. People said it would bring bad luck, so they added a 14th ball at the last minute. Some planes were already painted with 13 balls, so the 14th came with some expense. You don’t believe me? It is true, as it was in the papers!“! ;-)

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Written by Peter

August 17th, 2008 at 7:44 am

Posted in Funny,Ranting

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