Shoeless, almost trouserless and helpless

Shoeless, almost trouserless and helpless

A couple of months ago I was in the departure area of Suvarnabhumi airport on my way to the UK. It was 2am and I was standing in my socks, with my shoes off, belt off and trousers falling down.

I forlornly watched my valuables in a plastic tray disappearing for inspection at the security check, hoping all the bits and pieces would somehow re-emerge on the other side.

Matters were not helped by hundreds of noisy tourists from that large country to the north. It was near pandemonium and for a moment I was wondering whether the trip was really worth it.

At least my socks didn’t have any holes in them.

Similar security checks took place later on the journey, minus the noisy tourists, at Dubai airport and again on the return trip at Heathrow. You put up with it because for security reasons you know it has to be done. And it applies to everyone … or does it?

After reading the somewhat confusing tale of the former top Thai policeman who may or may not have passed through Suvarnabhumi security with a gun, you start wondering just how many VIP passengers actually agree to take their shoes and belts off and experience the body scan like the hoi polloi. It’s probably best not to answer that.

Slap heard around the world

As you may have gathered, the romance of air travel expired for me long ago. The actual flying is OK, but the airport experience is becoming increasingly wearisome, especially when you think self-
appointed “luminaries” might circumvent such indignities.

You may recall an incident at Suvarnabhumi three years ago when a security guard had his ears slapped by a high-ranking gentleman who objected to being scanned. The unfortunate guard later admitted it was not uncommon for VIPs to refuse being subjected to a body scan and there was no choice but to let them through.

Alas, it seems the “don’t you know who I am?” culture is still quite prevalent.

Boredom or terror

I admit that my main concern when getting on an aircraft is that I get off again at the other end, preferably in one piece. As American film director Orson Welles once commented: “There are two emotions on a plane: boredom or terror.”

In the old days, airlines tried to make things less boring with ads which were not exactly PC. National Airlines came up with a slinky lady with the slogan: “I’m Going To Fly You Like You’ve Never Been Flown Before,” which didn’t leave much to the imagination. After some debate they adapted it to “I’m Margie, Fly Me”, which of course upset all the Margies. In a similar vein, in the mid-70s Continental Airlines hostesses threatened to sue when their airline came out with: “We Really Move Our Tails For You.”

My favourite, however, was a BA poster proclaiming “Breakfast in London, Lunch in New York”, to which someone had added “Baggage in Bermuda”.

Around and around

It was American journalist Erma Bombeck who once observed: “Did you ever notice that the first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone?”

And she was right. For anyone who has waited in vain for their baggage to appear, the carousel experience is not a pleasant one.

It has happened to me a couple of times in Bangkok and it is quite deflating when you realise your baggage is more likely in Brunei or Bangalore.

It is painful to witness other passengers happily picking up their bags and departing one by one, until you are left by yourself, glumly staring at the almost empty carousel.

There are usually a couple of other irritating unclaimed bags on the carousel and you wonder whatever happened to their owners. The only comfort is knowing that at least someone else has lost their baggage too.

Nothing to declare

In the mid-80s I was stopped by Customs at Gatwick airport. When the officer asked where I had flown from I was stuffed. “Bangkok,” I said, unsuccessfully trying to make it sound like Bethlehem or the
Vatican City.

I had to stand in the corridor while he publicly turfed through my suitcase, holding up my underwear and socks far longer than necessary, I thought.

The passenger who had sat next to me on the flight gave me a funny look as he walked by, wondering whether he had just spent 15 hours sitting next to a drug smuggler.

Finally the officer said “sorry for the inconvenience” without sounding sorry at all, and left me to repack my miserable belongings.

Happy landings

It is nice to know that for all their problems, some flight crews maintain a sense of humour.

On one occasion a pilot in the US announced to passengers: “We are pleased to have some of the best flight attendants in the industry, unfortunately none of them are on this flight.”

However, cabin staff are capable of getting their own back.

After a really bumpy landing, one flight attendant announced: “We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal.”

After one very scary landing in the US, the first officer stood at the exit to handle the expected complaints. To his surprise, there was hardly a whine, until finally an elderly lady asked him: “Did we land, or were we shot down?”

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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