Collected notes and photos from getting around.
Airports are like pharmacies - not many people really enjoy going there, but they are rather handy if you need their services. Airports are hubs, full of strange, inconsistent rules, that gather people of all backgrounds to put them together for a few hours, to propel them across the world.
Every time I am flying somewhere, it is a somewhat special moment. It is entering a new dimension away from the ordinary life, as all the ads around you presenting those Omega watches, penthouse investments and 5-stars hotels as affordable, sweet deals.
The true excitement is in what is to come. A journey to elsewhere. Whether it is for a job or pleasure, it always means some sort of change. It can be just a temporary difference in the environment or more substantial step into a new chapter of life, these changes often start at the airports. And so, here are some stories from some of those I travelled through:
Like many other airports, Schiphol offers a connection to-and-from the city center by train. However, while many airports are the terminal station on the railway; here, the line goes through. This can result in a bit of trouble when you miss the stop - like me, in 2017: as soon as I sat down in the train, I fell asleep. And when I woke up, I realized that the train already passed the airport station and was heading somewhere further into the country. Long story short, jumping between platforms, and getting a train in the opposite direction thankfully went without difficulties, and I did catch the plane. Uff.
Another "Uff" situation I experienced on the..
The best way to reach downtown from Orly is by the subway. Piece of cake, when you travel from the airport, as there is no room for a mistake. But when I was going back... Once at the subway station, a train with "Orly" written on it arrived on my platform, and I hopped on. However, later I found out that while there is the connection that goes straight to the airport, there's also a second one, which takes a good size detour through the outskirts. As you probably guessed, I learned it the hard way. When I was looking into my phone, I couldn't believe what the gps was showing. "The map calibration must be messed up," I thought. But then it said "accuracy 2m / 6ft, and I knew that it was me who messed up. The issue was, I planned my time tight, so I'd have hardly any time to spare even if I'll board the correct train. Now, sitting in the wrong one, my nervousness went into high digits. Counting my chances, I ended getting off the train, running to the main road nearby and hitchhiking. Luckily enough, one guy stopped and saved the day. As said, Ufff.
Many of my flights from Edinburgh were leaving early in the morning. So early, I ended sleeping in the airport quite a few times. (There are a few hotels around, but not being that rich, the terminal had to do.) Once I fell asleep on a bench, above which was located an emergency button. No worries for an average-sized person, but me being 6'6", it happened that at around 3am, my head dropped right at that button. The thing started beeping, and I had to explain to the person on the other side of the line that there's no disaster, I just fell asleep. Surprisingly, he took it rather well, as it would happen often. And actually, that was probably the case, as the next time I was flying from here, the bench was removed.
Most of the times, Edinburgh proves itself as an efficient and friendly airport. However, when I had broken knee, their security workers were so proactive, it was literally painful. They insisted on checking my brace, took it off me, and said: "Now get into the scanner." When I nearly passed out from pain, they were like, "Ooh, we didn't know that you need it to walk.."
Somehow similar proactive approach I experienced in..
Here, I went to the information point to find out where I could get my boarding pass printed, a guy told me the number of the check-in desk, and I said thanks. But just as I turned away, the guy started shouting with an annoyed voice, "Xiexie (Thanks in Chinese), you should say xiexie, no thank you..!" Surprised that asking for directions comes with an unsolicited language lesson, I also noted that the airport had a feel of an overstaffed place. There are three security checkpoints: one at the entrance to the building, second before entering ID check zone, and then a third one, the actual security screening. While at all this excitement, I was asked for my passport five times. At least their plugs are working, which isn't a standard (see Vienna below).
Some sort of love-hate affair here, airport business as usual, I guess. While I lived in London, I liked to fly from/to here, as you can score very cheap flights to pretty much any European destination. Also, the security is all right, most of the times - unless...
Once, having nothing metal on me besides the zipper on my trousers, the regular scanner started beeping. "We need to scan you in the more advanced scanner." "Aye, no problem," I thought. But these "more advanced" scanners require the scanned person to stand in a special posture, which can be an issue for a tall person as I am. "Sir, you need to put your arms higher," the officer said, while I was touching the scanner's ceiling already. "I don't think I can," I replied, but the guard repeated: "Higher, sir!" So I banged into the ceiling, pointing out that it's not happening. Suddenly another officer ran towards me: "Please, stay calm and focus on the instructions given to you. You need to put your arms all the way up" ~ "we'll be here for long then..." After an examination that, indeed, I truly can't put the arms any higher than I already had, they run the scanner. It did show that I had some suspicious content on my back. "What a waste of time and resources!" me thinking, while one of the guards approached me with, "I need to do a personal search, do you have anything sharp on you, sir?" A few additional moments later: "Ah, nothing. You are free to go."
Another time I came here and got stuck in a line for the ID check. It took ages for each person ahead of me to get through. When I finally got to the counter, the border agent took my ID card and started asking: "Which airport did you come from?" I answered, and he continued, "Where are you going and how long are you going to stay here?" Now, this raised a red flag - I know this sort of questions are common when traveling to a country where you need special visas and such. Like, when you go to the US, you are harassed with questions such as, "Are you, or a member of your family, a member of a terrorist organization?" Seriously, that's as stupid as if a bank where you want to open an account asked you, "Do you intend to rob us?" Anyway; when you fly within the European Union, you shouldn't be bothered with these questions. So instead of telling the guy a detailed itinerary of my trip, I asked if there's a new regulation requiring him to ask such questions. The guy, surprised, replied: "no, um, I'm just asking, curious." Well good lord, there are hundreds of people waiting, and he just wanted to chat with folks.
The security, as much as it can be annoying, makes for good stories. Some of them I got in...
Prague Václav Havel
Here I learned that you can be classified as a terrorist when you try to board an airplane with an analogue synthesizer. First, they scanned it from all angles like five times, then tried to take it apart, and then took it for some sort of chemical examination. Surprise, no TNT was found. To deal with such disappointment, they checked every single item from my backpack, twice as precisely compared to when I went to photograph Obama on a US military base. I couldn't believe what I am seeing. And hearing, too, because the lines they said meanwhile, like: "You could choke someone with a USB cable ... but the TSA approved lock wire would do a better job," left me in speechless.
But I have to give to Prague, that while the isn't going to feature in any "cool design" list, things work mostly fine and queues are short.
Not all airport stories have to be negative. Here, when coming from another EU country, you don't go through any security checkpoint. No queues, no fuss. You just arrive, collect your baggage - if you have any, and leave. It is beautiful. Friendly people, free wifi without time restrictions, and plugs that work. Thank you! Moreover, as this is Italy, you can get insanely good ice cream to improve your layover here.
Santiago de Compostela
A modern airport with good organisation and hardly any queues. But when I flew out of there, some greedy staff member opened my check-in backpack and nicked my Ray-Bans.
At this good-looking terminal, located not too far from the North Korean borders, I had an unexpected adventure as the NK shot some warhead into the air the night before my flight. This triggered some Chinese military activities, and plenty of flights were suspended. So instead of departing at 9am, my flight took off past 6pm. Joy of joys, but what can you do...
While the building looks all right, the user experience was lacking. After about 10m of standing in the queue to the ID check, my counter closed. Moving to the next one, I wondered why I always pick the slowest line - in grocery stores, airports... And man, this got real, as the counter I moved to closed after another 5 minutes too. I had to stand through yet another one, which finally got me through. But then I noticed the queue to the security - holy cow, it was massive! Anyway, I thought about charging my phone. In the waiting area was an abundance of plugs, "Cool," I thought, "at least something." Um, not. Tried 8 of them, none worked. Seriously, what is it with airports and plugs? In so many cases, they are either non-working or non-existent to be safe. It makes me wondering about some power consumption stats if the passengers drain so much or what. Because it's not like you'd see many passengers taking a toaster, or a big fridge out of their carry-on luggage and pluggin' them into the mains, is it?
The first time I flew through here, it was from Chicago. It was the cheapest MidWest - Central Europe connection at that time. Well, and as I got out of the plane, they took me and a handful of other passengers into a small room, patrolled by a guy with a Kalashnikov, and asked questions like "Why do you want to emigrate into Poland." I was just transferring, so after presenting my boarding passes, I was released soon. Still, tho; whatever they were smoking must have been some darn material. But I also remember that they had free wifi back when it wasn't a standard yet.
A couple of years later, I went there to actually see the city and was surprised how close the airport is to the downtown—almost walkable distance.
Stories sometimes happen in airports. However, in most cases, airports are only the point where the story begins or ends. They serve as gates to bigger adventures.
Like these below:
Bergamo Orio al Serio
New Orleans Louis Armstrong
Porto Francisco Sá Carneiro
Lastly, below is a few pics from other airports with no big story attached, but I still like 'em.
So yeah, airports. I could go on and on about the stupid weight distribution restrictions, resulting in people sweating in bright snowboarding shoes during mid-summer, and unequal space issues for tall people like I am. And of course, all the security weirdness. Somewhere they ask you for your passport ten times, elsewhere once. Somewhere you need to take your shoes off and show off what kind of laptop do you own, elsewhere, nobody cares about such. I get why there's the security in place, but when a 2hrs flight takes 6hrs, and when you see how poor their results actually are.. I managed to get through the security with a Swiss knife - two times, both at major airports. It was by accident, I forgot to put it into the check-in luggage, and it stayed in my pocket. I placed it to the tray together with a wallet full of change, and nobody noticed. But then, I got yelled at because of half-empty toothpaste, and a hard-drive case with a chocolate bar. Oh wait, that's not where I was going with this.
The point is, airports are a part of the bigger picture. A picture where you get seated, listen to a safety lecture about how to stay cool in case of landing on water, how to secure yourselves first before helping others, and how smoking triggers fireworks. And in case you don't know, how to fasten your seatbelt. And later, as the thrust glue your body into that seat, you take off, and the social experiment of being placed with random strangers begin: will you talk to them, find out their story, or will you instead read about other strangers, in the magazine placed in the seat pocket in front of you? Or will you zone out, sleep the whole time? Will you use the airplane as a sanctuary, a place to think, establish plans, and conquer personal issues?
Eventually, you land in a different world, sometimes as a different person.
Flying is a privilege, flying is grand. And airports have a good share on it.