Arrivals & Departures By Ursula

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‘I was trampled to death by a man who believed his luggage would be the first piece off. If he were an experienced traveler, he would know that the first piece of luggage belongs to no one. It’s just a dummy suitcase to give everyone hope’.
~ Erma Bombeck

Airports, a kind of frantic Supermarket Sweep challenge whose objective is to fill a cabin sized suitcase with as much alcohol and discounted perfumes as possible, while digesting a half pound of rubber breakfast sausages, washed down with a gin or two…just to steady the nerves. Extra points given for eating half of that gigantic Toblerone to make it fit better in the front zipped compartment of your already over-stuffed bag.

The objective of the game is to complete all of this 5 minutes before your gate closes, so you and your bag, with the ridiculously small wheels, can sprint to the finish line and then sit in the boarding lounge for a further 40 minutes, while white-knuckle clutching your passport and ticket with sweaty palms. This waiting time must be spent actively increasing your state of agitation by way of excessive clock watching, calculating the time and effort required to use the distant public toilet and by eyeing the other travellers to spot who will be first to break rank and form a queue.

People who say ‘time’s a healer’ have obviously never waited at an airport boarding gate.

So how does this all happen? All this running just to stand still? Do we get this aggravated when travelling by bus or rail? Well, no. The fear of flying (aviophobia), the fear of heights (acrophobia) and maybe even the fear of being sealed into an enclosed space (cleithrophobia) are all factors here, mixed with having to trust pilots, who you can’t see, with the control of the aircraft…after all, you’ve seen the movie ‘Airplane’ and even though you know that an auto-pilot is not an inflatable doll, you are still secretly suspicious.

You may also dislike being so close to all those ripe-scented strangers (possible cause – ablutophobia – fear of washing) who may contribute to your airsickness (aeronausiphobia).

So, if you make a cocktail of multiple fears, stir in a generous amount of time pressure and confusion with a hearty splash of intense fluorescent lighting and high impact, product selling, trickery. Shake it vigorously and serve in a busy, confined space to agitated people…et voilà…a Mass Mania Mocktail. ‘A cherry with that Madame?’

It begins and ends with fear and inadvertently, fear breeds anxiety. While some psychologists describe FEAR as an acronym of False Evidence Appearing Real, it doesn’t lessen the fact that seemingly innocuous fears can be profoundly disturbing for many people.

But what if fear wasn’t an issue? Can you imagine what an airport would be like without all that anxiety? Would we still buy the rubber sausage breakfast or find the miniature collection of naff perfumes intriguing? Would we still believe that 5 kilos of triangular shaped chocolate is a necessary piece of travel equipment? Maybe.

However, I’m still not sure there’s anything that can cure the desire for all the people who to try exit the plane in one contorted, bulk movement. In an effort to create space, they make the cabin even more claustrophobic…yeah, I think that will always be one the universe’s strangest mysteries.


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