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Sofia's Letters from London #10
by Sofia Gkiousou
2008-01-08 09:30:38
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The complications of air travel seem to be never-ending lately and people travelling from British airports are set for a little bit more confusion.

New security checks are coming in play and some airports decided to relax the one-bag rule for hand luggage and allow two for each passenger. So if you are travelling from Heathrow you don’t have to squeeze your handbag in your backpack – this process horribly destroys boxes of mint tea that my mum loves – but if you are travelling from Gatwick you can forget about it – and my mum will get her boxes squashed.

Apparently the Department for Transport allows passengers to carry more than one bag on board if the airport has improved security scanners in place and the airline allows it. Heathrow meets government requirements yet Gatwick doesn’t. But to make this a little bit more difficult some airlines might decide not to allow more bags even if they are flying from an airport which meets the security demands.

So what do you do? According to BBC London News , Tom Kelly, spokesman for airports operator BAA, considers the situation "very simple". He said: "What passengers should do is talk to their airlines. That was the position before the restrictions were introduced and that is now the position again.”

How great is this? One more thing to do before flying, as if we didn’t have enough to worry about already. I’ve been living in London for more than 5 years now and the airport and flying experience has been getting steadily worse. To fly abroad I need to be at the airport 2 hours beforehand – because I get anxious if I think I’m late – and because I need on average 20 minutes to get from security to my departure gate. Being fortunate enough to live near central London that means that, depending on my mode of transport, I leave the house 1 to 2 hours before I need to get to the airport. When I get there I need to be sure that I haven’t got any liquids in my hand luggage and all those other overcomplicated rules.

Say what you will but style is important and the older I get the more difficult I find it to remain calm and lovely for my mother to see when I arrive in Athens. First of all I’m a nervous flyer. I need at least three books with me to calm my nerves and one or two magazines. Not to mention a bottle of water, my wallet, my camera (no way am I leaving that in my luggage), my mobile (two if you count the Greek one as well), chewing gum, some marvellous remedy I take when flying to calm me down (I go zombie-like for the 20 minutes of take-off which is pure bliss).

Needless to say I used to have a backpack and my purse with me (count them, yes two). With the change of the rules I had to use only the backpack – since all my ‘travel essentials’ will not fit in my purse. That leads me to annoy everyone at the airport since all my travel documents are transferred in my backpack and it takes me ages to find them at check-in and security check. Result: I get even more anxious, annoyed and exasperated.

As if the long journey to the airport and the backpack that is just disastrous for any outfit of a 28 year-old-woman were not enough I also have to face the longest queues in the history of the world (not counting the Soviet Union) just to get rid of all my lovely jewellery and go barefoot through security. Yes, my shoes get screened too in London and that gives a whole new meaning to the importance of foot care and making sure your socks have no holes in them. Not to mention that following on from the rot-smelling ex-white-currently-greyish socks teenager in front of me gives me the creeps.

As if flying was a stress-free and easy experience I now have to give a call to my airline before packing , just to check if I’m allowed one bag or two. That means getting even more exasperated since most customer services departments have a habit of making you wait for 20 minutes. It seems that other customers want to talk to them too – the nerve of some people!

Last year we shunned the ridiculously cheap airfares (we are talking less than £10 per person return) to Brussels and dished out a bit more for the Eurostar experience. Got to the station within 30 minutes, got through check-in AND security within another 30 and carried with us all of our luggage. Now that the Eurostar starts from St. Pancras it will take me 15 minutes to get there so all in all a faster, stress free experience. Add to that the freedom of walking about the train, putting your feet up and looking out the window and it’s all worth while.

I now find my self praying for cheaper train journeys to Europe – someone is bound to think that they are environmentally friendly and they need a nice tax break. Or even a government grant? Even better – give them Lottery money. But do something before we have to get to the airports two days before flying and camp it out in the parking lots.

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Christos Varelas2008-01-08 13:30:19
Dear Sofia, I'm kind of a frequent flyer too and I really feel for you. Once I enjoyed flying but lately it's become something of a chore.

Emanuel Paparella2008-01-08 13:32:35
Ivan Illich in Tools of Conviviality pointed out that competition for "progress" and "getting ahead" is addictive and produces a strange paradox: when every Chinese family will have modernized itsefl and will possess one or two or three polluting cars they will find out that it was faster (and healthier) to move about in a bicicle...

Thanos2008-01-08 14:48:37
Traveling by train has been my latest thing and I have to admit I do totally enjoy it even if that means 12 and 16 hours travels.

Asa2008-01-08 20:35:54
You should try it with a wife and young child in tow.

It becomes tag team as you move the young child back and forth between you during security check.

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