(why I hate airports, part 2)
In the 2000s I often travelled to London for work and ended up getting a Platinum frequent flyer card. This card was a passport to all kinds of assholery, the most important of which was being able to use a special check-in counter. I didn’t really care about the other things it offered. I cared about checking in.
This was my father’s fault. For some reason he always tried to do his taxes just before we had to drop him off at the airport and on a few occasions we actually missed his flight, including the part where the plane took off. Seeing that scarred me for life. I was going to make damn sure that the flight couldn’t leave without me. Checking in was as close as I could get to that.
The Platinum Card made things a little easier. I no longer had to queue like a prisoner. I could stroll past everyone else to the Platinum Counter. I remember watching a man with pointy shoes and a pinstriped suit at the Platinum Counter when I still had only a Gold Card. He looked calm and deserving and disinterested. It was obvious that the Platinum Card was just one of the smaller benefits he enjoyed in life. I hated him. I hated him so much that I wanted to be just like him. I wanted pointy shoes and a pinstriped suit. I wanted to be calm, like him. I wanted a secretary who could book my flights for me instead of having to book them myself using a website designed by the inmates of an asylum. This website was called I-fly and it made it so difficult to choose a flight that it should have been called U-stay. I hated I-fly and I hated this man, but what I really hated was the Platinum Card.
Until I got one.
I fell in love with it and became an asshole overnight. I strutted deservingly to Platinum Counters and drummed my fingers royally upon them until an agent appeared to check me in. I liked it particularly when there wasn’t already someone at the counter and I could do that. I started to relax a little. I arrived a little later than I usually would. I sweated a little less at the thought of an airport. With the Platinum Card I even managed to look calm and disinterested.
Until one day.
It was obvious that something was wrong from far away. The check-in area looked like a street market in Lebanon. There were more people pushing about than could possibly fit onto the remaining flights of the day.
“What’s going on?” I asked a man who was stretching to see the counters.
“They cancelled three flights,” he said flatly. “We’re all on standby.”
“On standby?” I wheezed and grabbed his shoulder. “For which flights?”
He eyed me.
“Dude,” he said and glanced at my hand, “for all of them.”
A voice came over the PA system.
“Ladies and gentleman,” it barked.
A severe-looking woman at the counters was doing the barking. She paused for effect.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she began again. “To repeat, for technical reasons we’ve had to reschedule the remaining flights to Cape Town. We’ll try to get as many of you onto these flights as we can. Please queue in the demarcated lanes. We apologise for any inconvience this may cause.”
I pushed and shoved through the crowd to the counters. There was a Platinum Counter but the area around it looked like a field hospital. The severe woman was at it, talking to a couple while others poked at them and looked over their shoulders.
“Excuse me — ” I interrupted.
The severe woman gave me a withering stare before she returned to the couple.
“Your original booking is no longer valid,” she explained.
While she talked I took a moment to look her over. Everything about here was stiff and ironed into pleats, the way you’d expect of the matron in a military hospital. She had wide eyes and plucked eyebrows and puckered lines around her mouth. This gave her a surprised look, as though her digestive tract had suddenly shortened and pulled her mouth and her ass closer together.
“Those seats,” the Matron said with infinite firmness, “are no longer reserved.”
The couple stood their ground while the crowd washed at us in waves.
“But we booked them six weeks ago,” the woman grunted.
“Excuse me,” I said again, a little louder than before. “Is this the Platinum Counter?”
“Wait your turn,” the man growled.
The couple were outsized people, tall and heavy-boned. There was no way either of them could ever fit into a pinstriped suit. They couldn’t possibly be Platinum Card holders.
“Is it?” I asked the Matron.
Someone shoved me against the counter and my face came close to hers. She smelled faintly of baby powder.
“This is the Platinum Counter,” she snarled, “but we have a larger problem, as you can probably see. Do you mind?”
She turned to the couple again.
“What we can do —” she began.
“I’m sorry,” I interrupted again. “I do mind, actually.”
The Matron straightened and pursed her lips.
“You can continue to have a larger problem,” I added and swallowed, “after you’ve helped me.”
I slid my Platinum Card across the counter like a little bribe. The large woman said something but her voice was so deep that I couldn’t make it out.
“Sir,” the Matron said, “like everyone else, you are on standby at this moment — ”
She motioned with her hand to indicate everyone.
“I understand that,” I said, “but surely the Platinum preference applies even now?”
The couple looked at her and then at me.
“The Platinum preference!?” the woman boomed.
The Matron stared through me and appeared to be restraining herself.
“Please?” I added.
“Booking confirmation?” she snapped.
I handed her my printout. She turned to the screen in front of her and typed something.
I told her the flight number.
“It’s printed on there,” I added miserably while the couple glared at my cheek.
“I had a window seat,” I whispered.
“I see that,” the Matron said, suddenly more friendly than before.
For a moment I thought of I-fly and how it was perhaps not so bad after all. The Matron returned my card and the printout.
“You still have that seat,” she said with an almost smile.
“Thank you very much — ”
“A month from now.”
“Today is the 4th of the 3rd,” she said, pointing at my printout. “Your booking is for the 3rd of the 4th.”
“But — ”
She turned to the couple who were now smiling broadly.
“Things should be calmer by then,” she said.