I used to be a competent traveller. I would leave it as late as I could afford to to get to the airport; to swan in with my efficiently packed and weighed luggage (no embarrassing public re-packs here) and just the right amount of time to get a cup of tea and a gossip mag before the gate was called. Sometimes- dare I say it- I would get a slight thrill from joining the Duty Free queue even as my flight was boarding: let them flock to the gate and wait- I’’ll take my time!
Not so these days. Nowadays I’m planning to get to the airport as early as I can get away with, so there’s time to relax and no risk of a rush- or worse: the shame of having to jump the security queue with an apologetic mumble about my flight closing, avoiding all eye contact and bracing myself for a chorus of objection.
What’s more disappointing is that I’ve become that annoying person you always get stuck behind. I attempt to prepare for security- iPhone in one hand to scan my boarding pass, laptop precariously tucked under my other arm as I try the one-armed shrug to get my jacket off and wonder how I’m going to remove my boots without dropping anything. Of course, the iPhone screen locks as soon as I have to scan it, and my one available hand doesn’t have a big enough span to unlock it and hold it at the same time, so I have to put down my coat, shoes, belt, liquids, laptop, Kindle and iPad as the impatient backlog builds behind me.
I make it to the gate. ‘Is that a trolley bag Madam? You’ll need to put your handbag inside it- strictly one item only.’ Bummer, I got away with it last time. I step aside at the front of the line (oh, the shame!) to jam the Mulberry into the Kipling, which is very full- but I made sure I put the underwear at the bottom in case of this exact scenario. I then walk three paces through the gate and stop with great ceremony to get it out again. Humiliation is briefly eclipsed by glee for this triumphant obstinacy.
My (disappointingly private) victory is short-lived, as to my horror I’m now the last one to board the plane. Red faced and breathless, I place my handbag on my seat in row 4 and walk all the way to the back of the aircraft, banging the stupid trolley bag off poor aisle-dwellers’ knees, trying to ignore the sea of eyes I’m convinced are all fixed on me. I re-open each overhead locker along the way in the futile hope of finding space. Seeing none, and now delaying our already late departure, I make my way back apologetically. The cabin crew take pity and relieve me of my burden- which I soon discover still contains my Kindle. Of course I won’t dare to go back down the plane, even once we are safely airborne and the seatbelt signs are off, as retrieving it now would involve locating my bag and removing my outrageously heavy ‘hand luggage’ from the overhead compartment, thereby opening me up to the further cringe-inducing possibilities of a) underarm sweat patches and b) the overhead lift vs stomach exposure sartorial faux pas.
So instead I sit there, browsing the drinks and snacks menu until we arrive on stand at the other end. As the seatbelt sign pings off everyone bursts from their seats like uncaged animals. Once I would have frowned at this deeply uncool behaviour and waited patiently for my turn. Today though, I’m Usain Bolt off the starting block. I only make it three rows back towards my luggage in row 12 when my path is blocked by opposing traffic. Now, awkwardly crammed sideways-on to avoid placing my bum/crotch in anyone’s face zone, and my face in anyone else’s face zone (the closest you can get to another human being whilst trying not to acknowledge their existence) we wait. And wait. Shift a little- oops, that was a leg brush. Someone’s farted and I grimace extravagantly so that hopefully it’s obvious that I’m repulsed and therefore not the culprit.
Small mercies: on the shuttle bus I am offered a priority seat. Either my looks could kill, or I look pregnant, but either way I’ll take it.