Talk to Rochford Life by E-mail  For  contact numbers see details on individual pages. HOME WHO WE ARE CONTACT US
RDC News Make a point of visiting us weekly!        Tell a friend about us. Silver Surfer Articles Return to “Silver Surfers”  CONTENTS PAGE Page FIFTY SEVEN

It should probably start with that search that takes place on your computer for a flight. Now I am sure that the airlines will probably deny this but the advent of cookies, put on your computer by many companies who have websites you search, means I am certain that when you check out a price on at least one well-known airline and then go off to another site to check their prices, when you come back a few hours or even a day later the prices of the original site will have gone up.  Now, as I said, I am sure this is true because my wife and I, these days when we are looking for prices on this well-known British airline, now check them on one computer and when we come to actually book, we book on another computer. The new prices, only asked for once, are probably what we originally saw on the other computer but the prices on that one are now showing higher!  Devious players on the airline market!

Travelling to America is an interesting experience. Put aside the thoughts of being confronted by gun toting heavy policemen at immigration, I’m still talking about getting ready to fly. This occurred a couple of years back, I think it was. This famous devious airline that we tend to use (cos they are the only ones doing direct flights to one of our usual destinations – visiting family abroad) took our booking but did not make clear that you needed a thing called an ESTA to get into the States. Imagine our panic when we arrived at check-in at Terminal 5 (where on opening day they tried to beat the Guinness Book of Records ‘highest number of pieces of baggage stored on one place for more than twenty four hours’) to be told we needed to get an ESTA before we can be checked in – you can do it on the computers over there. “Over there” was an area with about six computer terminals and about twenty people all trying to do the same thing!  We were not the only ones in the same predicament. This is where bureaucracy sniggers best with many people told it sometimes takes twenty four hours to get one – three hours from a take-off time! Headless chickens does not describe the panic that was going on in this small area. To get an ESTA required getting on to a US site, filling in loads of information and paying money – except it wasn’t as clear as that and so people on the terminals were getting ever more fraught as they found it almost impossible to navigate the system. Some were giving up and ringing home asking family to communicate with their destinations (I kid you not) about there being a risk of them not turning up. Eventually my wife (clearly good in crisis situations) left the area and went and found a young man wearing the uniform of ‘our’ airline who came over and gave advice. After half an hour it was done – we thought, but the trouble was when you logged off, you were told it was done but you had no paperwork to prove it. It was an act of faith to go to Checkout again. It was only when we went to the checkout desk that we found that, yes, we were now cleared.  These days getting an ESTA online at home seems an easier thing to do – but they won’t do it until you have actually got a flight booked and can tell them where you are going at your destination. Bless the land of wide open spaces and lots of tall skyscrapers!

So there you are, checked in and you watch your large cases disappear off into the bowels of the airport, hopefully to eventually turn up on the carousel  (where your luggage goes round and round until you snatch it off - but more of that later) at your destination airport. In our travelling my wife and I are utter legalists and so if we are told you are allowed say 21Kg, we will be a couple of kilograms below. So how I wonder do some people get away with cases that are capable of carrying a small person, unless perhaps they are filled with feathers. I have never actually seen anybody paying the extra for overweight baggage but perhaps it does happen.

Shall we go and get a coffee or go through security to ‘the other side’, viz. ‘Destinations’?  Get through security because you’ll need the coffee or tea the other side. ‘Security’ in the second decade of the twenty first century is an interesting experience and means you being strip searched (I joke) to be allowed on a plane, courtesy of the stupid terrorists of this time in history. (Whatever you do don’t tell jokes about carrying bombs – I have known of people missing their flights [and even being banned by that airline from ever using them again] after being pulled out of line, taken to an interrogation room and given a thorough dressing down – which they make sure takes a long time – this is not an area for levity!)

‘Security’ for me took on a new meaning after I was given a new metal knee several years ago, so now EVERY single time going through security I set off the alarms and then have to take off my shoes (to go through the x-ray machine) and get an all over body search, front and back. Now to handle this indignation that occurs every single time (except in Atlanta where they have a body scanner that everyone passes through and immediately shows “it’s a knee!” and it’s OK) I enter into a little banter with the individual who has to take me through this search and I laughingly ask why they can’t afford a proper body scanner, and so on.  Now as quite a lot of us Silver Surfers these days wander around with new hips or new knees or whatever else might have an element of metal in it, you would have thought that these guys would almost expect it, and if we are accompanied by grey hair or baldness, we are probably fairly low down on the scale of the profile of a would-be terrorist. That being said, you would expect them to be nice to us and, hey, give a bit of respect to an old guy struggling to navigate the world. If you happen to be an airport manager, be warned this reflects on you and the training you give or don’t give your staff. Having recently flown out of Southend to the Channel Isles I have to say that Southend (my experience at least) do it brilliantly. The guy patting me down was excellent and happily joined in my banter with a broad smile and bantered back throughout. Thank you sir!  The same cannot be said of the experience coming back from Jersey. The patter-downer was clearly a ‘brain-turned-off’ dour Scot (apologies to any Scots reading) who was miserable and determined to convey his misery to me. No, this is not a necessary evil; you are a potential suspect of the worst kind and I will not be detracted by your nice manner!!! Jersey manager, you need to get him sorted! I don’t care how many people he has to be nice to. The customer is always right (or is that a dead echo from the past?)

Talk to people in the business and there is always a lot of dispute about profiling travellers. I am tall, white, clearly very British, stand out in any queue and I am fairly certain that I am streets away from any character who has turned up in the news over the last ten years accused of being a terrorist. Ah, says my learned friends, but they are told to pick on people from all racial groups, just to be seen to be fair and not picking on certain national or religious groupings. Why? If you aren’t focusing on those particular groupings first of all, you are not watching your TV. The height of insult in this respect, I felt, was about five years ago in Los Angeles International on the way home when I was picked out of the line-up before reaching the scanner and having most of my clothes checked, my shoes taken off etc. and given a thorough going over by a security official of distinctly Middle Eastern origin. Los Angeles manager, take note, you did yourselves no favours that day!

Space forbids talking about the flight itself; that would require a separate article. Changing flights part way is an ‘interesting’ experience. Passing through Atlanta I found was easy and quick and comfortable. Passing through Miami was a nightmare. Let’s just cover a small part of it which shows an interesting aspect of America. We were told by our carrier that our baggage would be taken automatically on to our second-leg flight and we would only see it at our destination. However as soon as we started traversing the nightmare that is Miami, the loud speakers kept repeating, and I do mean that, that all transit passengers MUST collect their baggage from ‘Baggage Reclaim’ and take it through security to be checked in afresh. Local airport staff seemed uninformed and conveyed that to us, so we turned up at the area for our flight’s baggage but our baggage was not there. We found a similar passenger looking lost who was in the same predicament and together we accosted a further member of airport staff who denied knowledge but pointed us to a help desk about a hundred yards down the hall. Arriving there we found four individuals sitting in a row, the first ones denying any knowledge (remember, this is a ‘HELP’ desk) and passed us down to the fourth, more elderly individual who said (and I quote) “Oh no, your baggage will go straight through. Don’t take any notice of the announcers, they never know what they are talking about.”  Yes he did!   Honesty at last. But what a shambles. And that was after trying to follow the confusing signs to get from one side of the airport to the other for our second flight, getting lost, asking a person how to do it, and being told, “You would do better to leave the airport and come back in again.” I joke not!

Collecting baggage at your destination is an act of faith. My worst time was about midnight in Mumbai airport seeing everyone else disappearing off into the smelly darkness while I was left gazing on an empty, now-stationary carousel. Oooops! Only after a few moments did I realise we were not alone for there were about half a dozen other rather lost looking individuals. One o’clock in the morning in an alien airport is not the best time to handle a lost luggage situation, but we managed to find what seemed to be the only remaining member of airport staff who disappeared and came back a few minutes later to tell us, that yes, they had found a baggage cart outside with our baggage. How reassuring!  Well space has run out so I had better end this rant. Air travel does that to you. You lose contact with time and reality and are left ranting at the follies of inefficiency in different corners of the world.  I said at the beginning maybe you empathise with a little or all of what I have shared, and if these things have never happened to you, just be grateful – there’s plenty of time left if you carry on flying! Let’s finish a little lightheartedly -

There are two critical points in every aerial flight—its beginning and its end.  — Alexander Graham Bell, 1906


Trouble in the air is very rare. It is hitting the ground that causes it.   — Amelia Earhart

When the captain accidentally leaves the microphone on the last thing you want to hear him saying is, “What is that red light that’s just come on?”  - Anon

"Airline travel is hours of boredom interrupted by moments of stark terror." – Al Boliska

"I get pretty much all the exercise I need walking down airport concourses carrying bags." – Guy Clark   (Don’t start me off again!)