Long Distance Travel

I thought I would ruminate on the /Cynicism On joy \Cynicism off, of the experience of long distance holidaying. This is one of those long-standing and building rants that has turned what used to be a mildly irritating, but ultimately fulfilling activity, into a nightmare of tiredness and bureaucracy. As an example I will use my recent experience of traveling to the lovely country of Thailand for a holiday.

For the purposes of this exercise I will also skip over the endless search through holiday company web sites for a suitable break meeting certain criteria although I am convinced that not one employee or web designer of these holiday sites has actually used the system for their own break.

I could wax lyrically about the joys of on-line check in and seat allocation on Emirates but I want the blog to be shorter than the actual holiday. Suffice to say that as per holiday shopping sites someone needs to be hired who actually knows how ordinary people use the system. So I can change my seat allocated (no choice at booking) up to an unknown time before for a fee, undisclosed. At on-line check-in 48 hrs before the flight I can then change my seat (and accompanying passengers on same booking) to whatever seats are available, zero in my case, because no one else has tried to change this. The system may be an improvement on first come first served at the airport check-in desk but ease of use is not obvious. We then have the boarding pass fiasco. Email, printed out, phone display if security have not stolen your phone, or all three then on baggage drop off – where you effectively check-in anyway, we got new seats and boarding passes. But I’m jumping ahead.

At this stage we have a holiday booked and have on-line checked in. Now we come to the great how do we get to the airport and what time do we go. Long-haul advice is 3 hours before. Presuming the M3 is not closed, (see way back) for the 18 months of roadworks, that have so far lasted 30 months and are still not finished. The airport, Heathrow is within driving distance, for taxi or car, we can set off. We live just over thirty miles from the airport so we had a taxi (cheaper than parking) or train – add 2 hrs plus need to get to train station.)

18:00 Zulu or GMT – Taxi arrives

This arrived on time unlike last holiday. Due to the planets being aligned and a following wind it only took fifty minutes to travel the 30 miles despite 19 miles of 50 mph roadwork restrictions. I mean single lane roads have 60 why 50 in one way coned slightly narrower motorway with no one working – a regular occurrence which is why 18 month project has so far taken 30. Still at least motorway is open.

18:50 Z – Arrive Heathrow Terminal 3.

Baggage drop off is not open for our flight until 3 hrs before even though we are told to arrive 3 hours before! Still it’s only a few minutes to wait in the queue (line for Americans). We now have the check-in which is not a check-in but still checks passport and tickets. Get new boarding passes.

Go through airport security – main reason we are told it takes hours and to arrive early. Under five minutes (blimey I thought I was dreaming but I can strip and get Kindle, iPad and phone out of bag and into trays pretty quickly) including removing every metallic object on me (except fillings) including shoes, wallet, change, belt. Alarm still goes off – go through body-scanner and hand swipe. Redress

19:20 Z – Departure Hall

What used to be a series of seats is now the Heathrow duty free shopping experience. Every price is more than it cost to get delivered from Amazon. What used to be good deals on booze and fags is now some mecca to madness. We decide to get something to eat to wait the two hrs we have spare till boarding. Food ok drinks over-priced – so much for duty free. Sit around or browsing shops complaining about poor value for money. We can check Amazon whilst in shop as comparison.

21:25 Z – Gate

Go to gate – pass through gate but it’s not the gate – show passport and boarding cards. Go through to boarding lounge. Sit in gate waiting for boarding zone to be called. Emirates ground staff call zone. Ignored by passengers who all rush to board. Then thankfully they get told to wait till their zone is called but they still stand in way. Board plane show boarding pass again

22:00 Z – Scheduled flight time

Still boarding. Doors close 22:15 push back and take off at 22:30

04:30 Z – 08:30 Dubai or Delta time – Arrive Dubai

Disembark – Transit passengers go through security. We’ve just come off a plane for xxxx sake! Repeat process of security at Heathrow but add in pat down by bored security guard. Wait 3 hrs – more non-shopping look at these bargains before repeat of boarding process/fiasco as before. Push back engine start almost on time. Sit on tarmac for 1hr due to air display for Dubai National Day. Clearly not heard of air traffic control

16:00 Z – 23:00 Thailand or Gulf time – Arrive Thailand Phuket

18:30 Z – Leave airport.

Thai immigration – check passport – has 4 planes arrive yet puts only 3 immigration staff on but 3 supervisors who watch. 2 hrs in immigration queue. Get personal transfer car to resort. Pouring down with rain – this is supposed to be dry season! Stopped by Thai police who check our passports – again.

19:45 Z – 02:30 Thailand Time – Arrive in hotel room

Yes we are on holiday!

Fun, good food, lovely beaches, very nice people – not in immigration service. Half way through transfer hotels.img_0107p1030244 img_0165

On-line check-in – same problem with seats can’t print boarding passes over hotel Wi-Fi by pool.

22:00 Z – 05:00 Day of departure

Personal transfer pick up and leave for airport – told over one hour actual 45 mins on empty (except one street’s prostitutes) roads

22:45 Z – 05:45 Check in

Can’t as more than 3 hrs before but need to go through terminal baggage security first. Suitcases open for lots of passengers. Wife gets stuck other side as something in check-in baggage needs to be taken out, wait 15 minutes, seats allocated and baggage drop off by friendly staff.

Security passport and boarding cards – clothes off, scanned clothes back on – not a lot of shopping, have coffee in 28c heat – lovely – do we have to leave?

Wait till boarding same process / fiasco as before. Take-off 20 mins late

+ 6:30 hrs – Arrive Dubai – as above yes including passport and security check for transit – joys of internal train to different terminal.

+ 2:30 hrs – Board for Heathrow

As above, only more gates and called into first gate area by zone where we all then mix then called by zone again fighting past the passengers who ignore the 3 language announcement of which zone is boarding. Also not the one piece of hand luggage allowed. Instead carrying 2 carry-ons plus large handbag and large bag of shopping bargains who wants to board so they can steal all the overhead compartment space. Advice to airlines, get passengers to demonstrate overhead capability with carry-on luggage or just carried-on rather than wheeled across my feet weighing more than my checked-in bag

Push back on time engine start, sit wait 20 minutes, move forward to gate and shut down – sick passenger has to be off loaded. One hour later push back and take off.

21:15 Z – Land London

Passport and Immigration – wife’s new passport does not get through electronic scan so have to wait for her as she re-queues for manual check. My bag in baggage hall – wait 30 mins for wife’s bag.

Get into arrivals – where they filmed Love Actually scene – no taxi driver. – No message on phone. Call taxi firm get voicemail. Wait then note more drivers have arrived find taxi driver who has just got there. He grumpily leads way to car discussing on phone other job which continues in car. Does not appear to be regular taxi firm – outsourced?

Set off – M3 closed for bridge works on project so have to take alternate route – I mean, all they have been doing is supposedly allowing the hard shoulder (as per M42) to be used as peak times. This has saved cost of adding proper lanes according to Highways Agency. Still great project if and when it gets finished. Whilst on holiday they have started to close motorway every night so that can work without traffic – progress – none visible

23:10 Z – Arrive home – why did we go on holiday?

Following day – what time is it why am I so tired do I have to go to work?

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