I love airports, even though most of my travel is work related and therefore hardly glamorous. Once you’ve fought your way past the bag drop desks (if you’re using them) and the security scans you step, as if through the wardrobe into Narnia, into a different world – the world of the Departure Lounge. If you’re really posh and flying business class, or you’ve racked up so many loyalty points that you probably spend more time in airports than you do at home, then you’ll be able to go into the rarefied world of the Business Class Lounge, but I’m not going to talk about that here.
The great thing about the Departure Lounge is that all of humanity is here; for a people watcher like me it’s wonderful. There’s a Stag do gang knocking back pints in the ridiculous Olde Worlde Pubbe, even though it’s only 8 in the morning. They’re having a great time but you send up a silent prayer that they won’t be on your plane. A wedding party wanders by, all in matching tee shirts with their roles printed on – “Mother of the bride” and so on. You know they’re not on your plane because you’re going nowhere very exciting, and they’re patently off somewhere exotic. “How much are they spending on this wedding? Who’s paying? Do the bridesmaids secretly resent the fact that they’ve had to spend their meagre savings on this, just because Tanya wanted a beach in the pictures?” Tired looking parents are encouraging their small children to wear themselves out on the play equipment, in the forlorn hope that they’ll have peace after takeoff. Business people tap away on their laptops in the quietest corners they can find, glancing anxiously at the departure boards from time to time. And there are people sleeping, who look like they’ve been there for days. How long have they been here? Where are they trying to go to?
All the posh shops are also there – Harrods, Rolex, Cartier and the like. There are no prices on display in the windows – “If you have to ask, Darling….” The forbidding looking sales people are patently bored out of their minds, and probably haven’t sold anything all day, but I find myself wondering who buys stuff like this on impulse while waiting to board a flight? “Sorry Mildred, I forgot to pack my watch. I’ll just pick another one up from Rolex over there..” Really?
Rather busier than the posh shops is Duty Free. “How many litres of gin can we take to Portugal, Mary? Do they have tonic over there or should we just get brandy instead?” The smell of the perfume section would give anyone a headache after more than 10 minutes, but there are people browsing it anyway and wondering if the prices are actually higher than outside the airport.
There’s also (in the UK at least) the inevitable smoked salmon and caviar bar, always positioned in the centre of the lounge, with a couple of rather overdressed punters sipping champagne and looking around in the hope that they can catch you envying their obvious wealth (sorry people, if you were properly wealthy you’d be in the Business Class Lounge, so I’m not buying it).
There are young people – organised groups, hockey teams and so on. Loud and excited they descend on Boots and Dixons like locusts, in search of cheap make-up and the latest gadgets. Families shuffle past the restaurants, trying to find somewhere they can afford to eat before boarding their budget flights. And the Elderly are there too – looking confused and poring over their paper itineraries (none of this ‘app’ nonsense for them).
There’s so much to watch while you wait, but all too soon the signs indicate that your flight is ready to board*, and you have to follow the endless, soulless corridors to the departure gate. The politics of the departure gate are even more fascinating and depend entirely on what type of journey you’re undertaking, but we’ll come back to that in a future blog…
* unless you’re flying with Tunisair, in which case you’ll have several extra hours due to their inability to run anything on time.