Welcome to Kenya

March 20, 2011

The first hint at what sort of airport you are going to find comes as the undercarriage touches the tarmac and the nose wheel anticipates doing something similar in a few seconds time. We rush past a couple of dumped Soviet cargo aircraft (An-24s, or were they 26s? I blinked.), a Lockheed L110 and three Boeing 737-100s. The last time I saw a 737-100 was one I flew in from Hyderabad to Calcutta much to my dismay. It was a chicken and goat flight if you get my drift – all sorts of hand luggage.

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Dubai Airport

March 19, 2011

I have seen some in my time but I think this one is a favourite. Airports that is. Not because it glitters (Changi does a better job of that) but because it is such a melting pot.  It gives true meaning to the word “exotic”. Two lads are trilling with excitement in the coffee shop where I am enjoying a latte. They are from India and are planning a canoe trip in Kazakhstan.  

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Docile in Los Angeles

September 18, 2008

We have become docile travelers, tamed and very compliant.  Watch us be herded around the appallingly designed Terminal 4 of LAX by TSA teamsters trained (by Heathrow strumpets I imagine) in the cattle yards of Texas and who consequently have little discernible notion of what service looks or sounds like. Service is not their mission. Their mission is to keep the long tangled queues moving. And they are very long and very tangled. I look with some wistful nostalgia at the now unused escalators up which we used to bound arriving from overseas and heading off to our US domestic connections without a bag screening device in sight. Now the lines (I have Christened them the “Mohammad Atta Lines” for that is his enduring legacy in this country after all) snake out onto the sidewalk as passengers wait their turn to have their shampoo checked and shoes examined. As I joined the Mohamed Atta conga line this morning I was keeping a surreptitious eye on my watch as the countdown to my domestic connection started as QF107 arrived at the terminal at LAX. Fortunately, in the end I walked from the careless embrace of the TSA teamsters straight into an aircraft mostly boarded and getting ready to leave. But see what has happened? No hustle or bustle. No remonstrating at the counter. No rush from cab rank or connecting terminal to make a closing gate. We have learned to add hours to the check in process, how to pack our pockets to clear X-rays quickly, to don socks on the day of travel with no holes in them. We shuffle along, herded in murmuring acceptance of all the impositions made in the name of security. We even tolerate the bored attempts at humour by the TSA staff (“Ladies and gentlemen, if you do not have a boarding pass you do not exist” OK, two LA cops thought it was funny. They were the exception). 13 hours over the Pacific in cattle class does not predispose me to their jokes – even if they were trained to handle us in the cattle yards of Texas.

Dubai Tarmac

May 16, 2008

dubai-tarmac290.jpgWhile the new airport is currently being built (a massive enterprise which we are all looking forward to seeing complete – the current airport crowds and bustle resemble the New Delhi railway station, not a first world air port) you can find yourself being shuttled to and from you aircraft by bus and walking to your aircraft. Which you might find inconvenient in 45 degree heat but which takes any plane spotters into seventh heaven as you are taken back to the smell of avgas, tire rubber, and the whine of turbines. All lost in the cocoon of modern airports

Yemen Airport

December 8, 2007

MiG29The taxi down the runway after landing at Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, is the first hint that this place is a little extraordinary. Here are Su22 and MiG29 Soviet aircraft flying circuits (here is one with its parachute still dragging), and a number of them parked in their revetments. For a plane spotter it was heaven. Read more

Heathrow Security – A Joke?

July 31, 2007

I see the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have grumped about the apparent security mess at Heathrow. Glad they have said what the rest of us were thinking. Especially when they seem so out of step with everyone else. Especially the ridiculousness of the one bag rule. Never mind that the screeching middle aged women (whose families are no doubt glad they are at work) telling you that only one bag is allowed have no idea why. In fact yesterday a BA cabin manager, when asked, had no idea why the rule was imposed either. Most folk, myself included, are happy to buy into an amended rule or process if we know why. We aren’t all dullards from Brixton going to Spain for our annual Vitamin D dose. In the last six weeks I have transited Heathrow twice. Each was a horror experience.

In the first case I was transferring to BA to travel to Europe. With a small bag and laptop, both security cleared through Sydney AND Singapore. Sadly Mrs Bucket thought that was not enough and one or the other had to be consigned to the hold. OK for me in that case but very tough for parents and other travellers with extra bags who suddenly had get everything into a single bag. No warning. It is something you discover after you depart your aircraft and are attempting to reconnect to another flight. And you find yourself in along queue for 30 minutes before the rule is barked at you. Leave the queue to check in one of the pieces at a separate counter and then rejoin the queue. I was sweating making my connection.

In the second instance (yesterday) I was departing Heathrow for the US – this time with laptop and samples. No go. Repack. Again no warning for the first time traveller but I was partially prepared given the previous experience going to Europe. Strangely British Airways reckons it is a government imposition. I thought it was an airline rule and could understand it being in place as a result of some sort of cabin management effort. Any security experts out there with any idea why this rule is helpful?

Heathrow is a second class shambles at the best of times. But this new imposition only creates staggering queues (legendary enough to make it onto YouTube) and convinces the cynic in me that these devices are employment ploys – designed to employ middle aged harpies who feel the need to boss a bunch of tired travelers around. Trouble is, these days you can’t give them a piece of your mind. If you do there is every chance you will be in breach of some sort of anti terror legislation. Off to Guantanamo Bay, you with the two (small) bags and smart lip!!


May 22, 2007

A clear spring day. Sunday morning and in this part of the hemisphere the sun has been up since before 5am. It now glances white light off the American Airlines 777 sitting beside us. It is a marked change to the inbound flight last week when the day was overcast and the feeling of depression was only exacerbated by the abruptness and churlishness of the airport staff who conducted themselves in the finest “British Rail” service which was legendary in the pre privatised world we know today for its appalling indifference.

This used to be the busiest airport in the world. It still may be. Certainly the experience of not having enough gates for the aircraft arriving here underscores that claim. When I was a kid the closest airstrip was a sharply inclined strip of grass which ran to the top of a small knoll (used by an agricultural pilot sowing super phosphate) the notion that an airport handled an aircraft a minute was nigh on incomprehensible. So it is with some satisfaction and irony that I note the guy loading this aircraft sitting down on the luggage escalator and taking it easy. It is Sunday morning after all. Heathrow or not.

Airport Security: A clever Marketing Exercise

May 14, 2007

Security is always about trade offs. If I want to get to my destination I will put up with the impositions of removing shoes, stripping laptops in and out of their bags, handing over my bottle of water. And tolerate people handling me in a way that would earn them a quick uppercut to the jaw and a call to the police if they tried the same behaviour in a shopping mall.

There is nothing that convinces me all this imposition is helping keep us safe. Explain how it is that having liquids limited to 100ml and placed in a small plastic bag is helping the cause? The best it is all doing is giving the travelling public some assurance that somebody in authority is doing something. But there is no question it is simply mistaking activity for progress. And of course helping position those authorities so they can argue that they were doing everything they could, should something ever goes wrong.

Which is highly unlikely. An aircraft accident is more likely to kill us than the act of someone taking an aircraft down with a bomb disguised as VO5. And being killed in an accident is less likely than dying in an automobile accident. Indeed, to put that likelihood in perspective about 45,000 Americans kill themselves each year in car accidents. We don’t limit what is loaded into our cars, and who climbs into them! And to put 45,000 automobile accident deaths into context consider this assuming there are 250 passengers in a 747, there would have to be 180 747 accidents a year, or 3.5 a week. Imagine 3-4 747 accidents a week in the US alone. We say that is ridiculous. The public would not tolerate it. Of course not. But the likelihood of a terrorist strike is even less than accidents suggested here – yet we put up with the stupidity of the security madness at airports so we can all feel comfortable about going through the security motions. But there is no additional protection that I can see. Can anyone else? What are we trading off – not improved security, that is for sure. We are all kidding ourselves. But I am not sure why. Maybe we are just so desperate to get to the other end that the end justifies any means.

Insufferable Changi

May 14, 2007

The Airport I mean. Nothing to complain about really when the “other Changi” is contemplated – that is, the Japanese POW camp that used to be here. Perhaps been through here fifty times and it never gets any better but I should not complain – a passenger is a statistic to be processed after all. It boasts a not unreasonable infrastructure and the facility is clean and well managed. But we get spoiled at home by people who have some comprehension of what service is about. Something the staff at this airport have never gotten their heads around. Officious, petty, hustling, full of their self importance and propped up by their uniforms and badges. Processing you though their security like the number you are. I think sometimes when I am here that I prefer the heat of a Tel Aviv grilling. At least there they looked you in the eye – and you were being handled by security people who knew what they were doing, rather than by a bunch of people who have not been able to make it anywhere else in this society. (Next time you are through here do the sociological exercise of noting how many Chinese staff are actually doing these so called menial tasks). At least at this time of the night (midnight) the place is fairly empty. Enough grumping – back onto the plane and off to London.