Sunday, 5 December 2010

Retail flying

I very rarely fly so, on the occasions when I do, I tend to get a little over-excited. The whole thing is so extraordinary: the aeroplanes themselves (they fly! In the air!), the technology (my boarding pass exists as a sort of bar code on my phone), the bewildering iconography of the airports.

Last week I travelled to Northern Ireland for a conference and some meetings. I spent a couple of hours at Belfast City airport on my return journey. Although my flight was delayed only slightly, heavy snow at Gatwick and Leeds and Edinburgh meant that there was a degree of chaos, with many flights cancelled or heavily delayed.

Various television screens around the departure lounge provide information on the various flights that may or may not be taking off soon. “Go to gate 3”, they say, or “Expected 20.25”.

For a significant number of the listed flights, however, disruption caused by the weather meant that, although it was certain that the aeroplanes were not at gate 3 or any other gate, it was uncertain when (or even whether) the flight would actually depart.

As a result, those responsible for the screens had to offer some alternative advice; and it was this:

“Wait and shop”

I kid you not. Not “relax and have a nap”, not “settle down with a good book”, not “make a new friend by chatting to the equally miserable stranger to your left”, not “reflect in awe and wonder on the magnificence of existence”, not "ponder the fleeting nature of consciousness and reflect on how you might best use this extraordinary spark".

No, the only thing to do, if trapped somewhere with no instruction manual pending your eventual departure, is to wait, and shop.

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