The novelty of air travel, like many things in life, quickly wears thin once you get to do it on an ongoing basis. The same is true for the joy of sleeping in an endless succession of hotel rooms and the stodgy joy of conference food. Last night’s overnight home from Singapore was no exception to this rule; hot face towels and friendly staff aside.
Broken down, air travel is little more than a montage of discomfort, cramping muscles, unwanted proximity to the bodily functions of one’s fellow travellers and revolting food able to happily crouch under tin-foil for hours before doing the culinary equivalent of cage fighting with your taste buds.
The flight itself was an overnight red-eye. My favourite. After having pushed my food around my tray, and having gotten up five times for Ms. Poor Bladder Control in the window seat I settled down to my sarcophagus of discomfort for a little attempted shut-eye. Sleep does not happen for me on overnight flights and I have been sorely tempted, if not for some vestige of self-pride, to try the drooling catatonia of sleeping tablets. On this flight I was lucky enough to have an aisle seat; beside me was a six year old and his mum. The poor little tyke was terribly uncomfortable in so cramped a space so he proceeded to kick me the whole night. I thought it very kind that his mother took the angelic sleepy-head end while I got Satan’s Hooves of Death.
On arrival at Melbourne airport I was presented with the usual number of games travellers get to enjoy. Those used to travel can easily slice off an hour of their journey by understanding the rules of engagement so I thought I’d outline a few for the benefit of my fellow traveller:
First up is an event that happens on the plane and whose sole aim is to see how quickly you can go from seated to standing. This limbers you up nicely for the games ahead so once the plane comes to a stop, and at the precise instant the loud-speaker pings, you have to launch yourself from the aisle seat and claim your space in the aisle itself. Extra points are awarded if you manage to lash the person sitting next to you with the seatbelt buckle or are able to bring the overhead luggage rack down on their head thus slowing them down. Strategic placement of yourself and your luggage in the aisle at this juncture will get you off to a good start in the games by keeping the competition confined to their seats while you get a rolling start.
Corridor Runner is up next and is the D.V.T. hobble-sprint from the aeroplane itself. As your muscles unknot this becomes a mad-dash all the way to customs. Participants in this game should try and use their hand-luggage or wheeled bags to trip or bash other players out of their way. Reflecting on the latest Hunger Games book or movie will help assist you to use the tools readily at hand to take down the competition. There will also be obstacles to overcome like wizened travelator conversation hogs, children riding out of control animal luggage, and the ever-pervasive group of formation flyers who fill the corridors from wall to wall oblivious to the sea of irate humanity building behind them.
The corridor empties itself into a free-form obstacle course consisting of towering stacks of duty-free alcohol and perfume. As travellers screech to a halt to assess their sleep-deprived need for a drink or all-night-in-a-tiny-space B.O. you will need to dodge and weave like Super Mario in order to avoid bringing down a showing cascade of expensive glassware. Changes to the rules of the game in the last decade have thankfully put a end to the chance of being randomly spritzed by some over-zealous sales person at this point.
The customs gate presents special challenges to those not wired into the digital economies of the world. Those who have successfully navigated the Twenty-First Century are able to beam triumphantly at the pens of grumpy travellers who are either visitors from abroad or do not possess an updated passport with a smart-chip. The smart-gates are strategically placed in front of these snaking queues so you are able to flash a triumphant smile as you hurtle through without a care in the world. It is only fair you show these back-markers the contempt they deserve.
Baggage Claim Wrestling
Next up is the baggage collection area. If you have navigated the earlier games like Katniss Everdeen then chances are this event starts off rather quietly and orderly. People will arrive and politely stand behind the yellow line and comment on the weather, or sports, or the bumpy landing. It doesn’t take long for all the strategic space to be filled with trolleys and bags and soon late-comers begin to elbow their sweaty selves into the walkway in front of the yellow no-standing line leaving everyone else around them unable to get to their bags. Placement of yourself in an area of limited access – near a corner, or in front of a column – will ensure you will have an advantage in what soon degenerates into an all out tussle of elbows and deathly hex-eyes as people climb over one another to retrieve their bulky luggage.
The Nothing-to-Declare Wastelands
They wait until you collect your baggage and feel like you’re about to be on your way home to crush your spirit. This is a game of will and tenacity after all so toughen up! A successful saving throw against flagging hope may help as baggage claimants are now forced into further snaking lines in order to hand in a little card you were given when you got on the plane but have most likely forgotten to fill out. Dexterity factors highly in this event as you attempt to write in small boxes, wrangle small children and/or heavy bags, and navigate endless roped off switch-backs. Fed-up travellers often attempt to push into this queue – arriving suddenly to one side of the queue looking vacantly about them for signs of what they should be doing. This is a ruse and etiquette dictates that collective thumb poking towards the back of the line and group heckling will quickly sort out these queue sociopaths from the rest of the morally upstanding citizens.
When you do get to the customs officer, be sure to have your forms in the correct order so he/she can take them, briefly glance at your name without checking your passport and drop them in a little glass box. I am tempted to fill out Lord Voldemort on my next card to see if anyone is really paying attention.
Something new in this game is a wildcard in the form of an Ebola screening questionnaire which makes it pretty clear that should you tick certain boxes – like Sierra Leone for example – you’re going to be experiencing extended airport hospitality; most likely from cheerful beefy types with rubber gloves, an oversized thermometer, and a gleam in their eyes.
The last game is an easy one. It’s just another queue but by now you are an adept. This game, though apparently simple, may have a climate factor that needs to be accounted for. Coming from the heat and humidity of Singapore to somewhere like Melbourne you likely find yourself standing in shorts and a light shirt in cold and rainy air. As you stamp your feet and shuffle towards your allotted car the chilly damp air has a little party with certain visitors you picked up on the plane and Strep A and B are going to keep the party going for some days to come. Regular travellers have a car waiting for them at this point for a few measly dollars more than the cleanliness lottery of the local taxi. This saves you both the queue and the climate challenge and sees you whisked away in comfort to your final destination.
If you have managed to successfully navigate all the above then you will have likely shaved at least an hour from your travel time … well done! If not, bear them in mind for the next time you disembark after a long haul flight. People are funny, and predictable. No doubt the contents of this public service announcement will stand you in good stead somewhere in the future.