Tag Archives: airports

Between Planes

The following article was published in the Travel and Indulgence section of The Australian in 2010

Is there anything worse than a long wait between planes?

You’ve come halfway round the world but you’re only half way home. You’ve zipped from day to day, night and sleep have vanished between time-zones, it’s too late for a hotel but too early for tours and anyway, you’re broke and exhausted. You’re suspended in airport purgatory and deliverance via your onward flight is an infinity of empty hours away.

Stanley Bay, Hong Kong

At 5 a.m. Hong Kong International Airport was dead. The departure lounges were deserted, the shutters were down on the shops and the corridors echoed with the creak of empty people movers. I had 19 hours before my midnight flight.

I killed the first hour in the restroom, alone but for one hovering cleaner, masked and gloved like a surgeon.

Outside, at 6 a.m the Travelex booth was ablaze with lights.  A morning-fresh face beamed from behind the counter.

“Would this be enough for a day at HKIA?” I asked, sliding my last euros across.

My words hung foolishly in a long silence.

“That depends,” said fresh-face finally “on what you want to do”

“Make friends, fall in love, build a monument, something like Tom Hanks in Terminal” I thought, gesturing vaguely down the concourse.

“Yes!” she snapped with conviction and counted out $500HK.

Behind us the shutters rattled up on the bookshop. Good! Nothing like a bookshop to fill time! An hour later with the store’s cheapest, fattest novel under my arm, I headed for the mezzanine café.

Newspapers and laptops opened around me as I sipped a slow latte with an extra shot. Below, benches filled with people, queues snaked backwards from desks, the trickle in the corridors swelled to a stream and buggies of uniforms zoomed to and fro. It was nine o’clock and the airport was wide awake.

I, however, was ready for sleep. I headed for some chaises longues I’d spotted earlier. Gone! As miffed as Baby Bear, I took in six slumbering forms. Then, like Goldilocks, I zig-zagged through the airport, trying chair after chair; first the red and yellow tubs – too low! next the leather buckets – too high!; then the blue benches – too narrow! Finally, I fell upon the loungers in the ‘resting area’. After an hour my spine was curled like question mark – Too hard!

I limped towards the distant duty free shops. I’d window-shop until I was impervious to low, high, narrow and hard – until I dropped.

The big fat book was dead weight now. An orchestra and chorus struck up in my head “On and on I walk at day break, I cannot touch the green, green grass of home” they screeched.

Ahead, on a poster, a woman smiled into a shower. “Travellers’ Lounge’ said the words below. I followed a trail of arrows to the left. Soon I was gazing through a glass wall at glowing lamps and deep armchairs where people dozed in stockinged feet. Beyond them others browsed at a buffet. With my last dollars I bought salvation – a shower and ten hours worth of unlimited buffet, internet and armchair.

At 11.am. I was that woman in the poster. At midday I was one of those browsers at the buffet. At 2pm I sank into one of those deep armchairs. It moulded itself around me. Sleep came swiftly.

It’s almost time to go now. My flight is at the top of the Departures Screen. Deliverance is at hand. And my advice to any other tortured soul trapped in that purgatory between planes, is, don’t suffer – buy your way into Travellers’ Lounge. It’s Heaven!


Heathrow Hell

I’m leaving London. I’m heading home. I’m happy, excited…. but first, there’s Heathrow.

The Tower of Big Ben
The Tower of Big Ben

I stumble from the taxi at Heathrow with the giant suitcase, the lap-top, a back-pack, a handbag and my plastic zip lock bag. I zig-zag up and down the concourse, searching for a clue to my check-in counter. It scrolls swiftly out of sight on a screen above. I stand squinting below till it rolls round again, then weave through crowds to the end of the terminal to find it. The queue’s already twenty metres out beyond a maze of channeling ropes and it’s not moving. Surely all these people can’t be on my plane! Claustrophobia sets in. “Aisle seat at the front! Aisle seat at the front!” I repeat like a Rosary.  The minutes mount into quarter hours and then to halves. Claustrophobia gives way to alarm. One hour’s gone and the queue hasn’t moved.

“This queue’s nothing to the one at Departures” bellows a know-all two turns of the ropes ahead.

Alarm gives way to panic. But at last I reach the counter. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I shriek to every question. I’m so frazzled I forget that aisle seat near the front.

I race to the Departures queue. Messages ripple the length of it, losing their meanings, like Chinese Whispers, along the way. “One drag!” spits the woman in front “Yeah, bloody big one at that!” I toss back. She shoots me an odd look but it’s lost in a missive hissed from behind “No knickers!” “No way!” I gasp in disbelief.  I crane desperately forward for the next dispatch.

“One Bag!” shouts a uniformed despot near the door “Hand in all liquids” shrills another “Ahhh”  I sigh in enlightened relief as I bin my water and stuff everything into the pack. It bulges and strains against the zips. My arms won’t fit through the straps. I cuddle it to my chest like a little fat teddy bear. Above, a screen flashes “Now boarding’ next to my flight. The queue inches forward. I’m ready to scream. But finally, I’m through. No, wait – there’s Passport Control. I rip open fat teddy and scrabble for my passport and boarding pass.  A muttering pile-up forms behind. Ahead, an official drums impatiently on his desk. I slap down the passport. With a fleetingly glance from the red bob in the photo to my scraped-back faded blonde twist, he clunks his stamp down wordlessly and I’m out.

Then it’s lap-top, shoes, belt, coat and jewellery into trays at Security. I step through the metal detector, a nervous eye on the belt inching my bulging trays out of sight. A red light flashes, an alarm sounds. Wand-waving guards surround me while my trays collide and spill.  Above, a screen flashes a final call for my flight. A distant, disembodied voice calls my name. I tear away from the wand-wavers, half scramble into the coat, cram the jewellery into the pockets, clench my passport and boarding pass between my teeth, wedge the lap-top into the now exploding fat teddy and, shoes in hand, sprint madly to my gate.

A composed, immaculately groomed girl checks my passport and boarding pass with cool indifference and wild-eyed, I charge up the gangway to the plane.

“Welcome aboard, Madame” says a smirking flight attendant “63F, turn right and straight through to the rear of the aircraft, centre seat, centre row”

Screaming inwardly I battle off down the aisle.