Some travel kvetching

I’ve been travelling a lot lately, primarily for business. This last week has been a challenge though, even for me. Lots of flights, different airports, pressured timescales and a lack of sleep made for one frazzled MacPsych. Four airports in a single day was a challenge, even for me.

I also had a lot of reflection time while on board and saw just how awful the travel industry can be at times. You may want to look away now if you are averse to rant-filled blog posts. This has been quite cathartic to write. It’s been a tough week.

I think there are three main factors:

The Airports

Airport operators seem to want to do only one thing these days – make money off passengers as they weave through the terminal on their way to their flight. I’ve used airports all across Europe, Canada, the US and Japan and they all have one thing in common – they don’t seem to be designed with human beings in mind.

Airports also operate so inconsistently, that you have to constantly remain on alert in terms of navigating security, passport control and the other hurdles placed between you and your flight. Prime real estate is dominated by shops, not places to sit and wait for your delayed flight.

Everything that’s bought then has to fit onto the plane, leaving less room for legitimate luggage and passengers.

Airport security is the bane of my life – I don’t for one minute want to suggest it should be done away with. Rather I’d prefer if there could be even national, never mind international standards for how they operate. Shoes on or off? Laptop covers on or off? Belts? Money? The list goes on.

Each time I go through, it’s like a magical bad-luck generator and I seem to be chosen for their ‘random’ extra-special security checks for too often for my liking. What about my profile is so attractive?

I’ve had to make formal complaints about over-zealous security staff in the past, the most memorable being the sudden ‘hands down the front of my trousers’ incident at City Airport. Security staff are there to make passengers’ experiences more secure, not more humiliating. Wish they’d remember that.

The Airlines

I could quite simply complain about airlines all day and all night, such is the backlog of annoyances I’ve experienced at their hands over the last 10 years. But most recently, it’s the inconsistencies in how they handle things that thoroughly pisses me off. Check-in rules differ, boarding rules differ, while carry-on baggage rules are seemingly ignored in favour of getting people on board quickly.

Which has precisely the opposite effect as people sped far too ing trig to get massively over-stuffed bags into the overhead bins, while fellow passengers queue in the aisle like impatient lost souls.

Last week, I had the displeasure to travel on both Easyjet and Norwegian. Neither is something I’d like to repeat, but unfortunately I’m doing just that on Monday as I once again climb aboard an Easyjet flight for business.

Recently, a number of airlines have made the eminently sensible decision to allow passengers to use their electronic devices during take-off and landing, as long as they’re not connected to a network. This isn’t life-changing for passengers, but does reduce the amount of shrill, doom-aden warning from cabin crew as they prepare for take-off.

However, they’ve not all agreed this, as I found to my cost on the Norwegian flight on Wednesday night. While idly flicking through the calendar on my phone while we taxied away from the terminal at Stockholm, I was bellowed at by one of the cabin crew as if I had unleashed a chainsaw and was beginning to cut through the seat in front of me.

If it’s safe on BA flights between Sweden and London, why isn’t it safe on Norwegian flights making the same run?

Two weeks before, we’d checked in early online for our trip to Amsterdam, securing seats near the front of the plane so we could get off quickly – we had carry-on bags only. At the gate, we were moved 23 rows back. One member of staff told us it was because the business class section had been moved back (we were due to be sitting one row behind business) while the other said it was because the plane itself had been changed.

The point wasn’t the very minor inconvenience of moving back the length of the plane – it’s a 40min flight after all – it was the “I couldn’t give a fuck” attitude from the staff that grated. If we’d checked in one hour in advance and didn’t have silver card status with the airline, we would have secured better seats.

Where is the logic in that?

Iberia have a lovely habit of randomly rescheduling and/or cancelling flights we book with them, making it impossible to make connecting flights. Their response is typically a disinterested shrug, but the really annoying thing is that we only find out when we check things are still going according to plan. Then we have to jump through hoops to rebook flights to make connections.

The airline makes it difficult and time consuming, yet they are the root cause of the disruption.

The Passengers

I can’t lay all of the blame for shocking travel experiences at the feet of the airlines or airports. Fellow passengers contribute in their own way to making air travel challenging. Getting pissed in the airport bar and turning up late for flights, for example.

Trying to drag enormous bags onto the plane and fit them into overhead bins patently far too small for them. Being unable to find their individually-numbered seat in a brightly lit and empty plane. The list goes on…

Passenger stupidity x airport complexity + airline intransigence = chaos.

At least in my experience.

So what’s to be done?

In my experience, it’s helpful to avoid checking-in any luggage. This is only possible for short trips, but means you can avoid check-in hell. Online check-in and printing out your own boarding card saves oodles of time. Using an airline app is even better.

(Unless it’s with Norwegian. Earlier this week I dutifully checked in online and downloaded my boarding card. Upon presenting it at security at Stockholm Arlanda airport, I was told that Norwegian electronic boarding cards aren’t accepted and I needed to get a paper one. Cue me walking the length of Arlanda to find someone from Norwegian who could help me. Predictably, I got better and faster service from one of their kiosks.)

I use Kayak.com  which notifies me of flight delays and disruptions long before the airlines bother. Set up a free account, forward them the email with your booking confirmation in it and it’ll notify you of any changes. It has saved my bacon quite a few times and I’ve even brought delays to the attention of airline staff with it. Sometimes, they’re as out of the loop as passengers…

I try to fly with the same few airlines, to build up status and get access to their lounges. These are a lifesaver during significant delays, where you can get food and drink, somewhere to sit and access to wifi to let others know you’re (once again) delayed. But as I pointed out above, sometimes status doesn’t mean a thing.

My main tip? Mindfulness meditation to reduce the impact of travel on your mental health. I use Headspace (available on both iOS and Android) and it’s superb.

Close your eyes, focus on your breathing and let it all pass by…

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