Recently I flew to Athens from Heathrow Airport.  Having looked at all the available options, I chose to take the evening flight to Eleftherios Venizelos Airport, which leaves at 22:15 and arrives in Athens at 04:00.  I chose this HUGELY inconvenient flight as I needed to be in Athens on the following morning, and the flight that leaves 6 hours earlier was £400 more expensive.  A bit of a no-brainer, I’m sure you’ll agree.  And I agree too.  The only thing is that this flight is a real bitch to the internal body clock.  Anyway.  The main advantage of it is that you have all day in London to do as you would normally do, and then at around 8, you mosey on over to Terminal 2 and get on a plane.  In theory, this could not be simpler.  But anyone who has ever flown anywhere will tell you that if you take any number flights a year, one – maybe two – will be that simple.  The rest will have little blips, little things which may seem inconsequential, but actually often set off a chain reaction that leaves you stressed for days.  I am not even talking about missing connecting flights; that leaves me feeling stressed for years.  I no longer arrange to take connecting flights unless absolutely necessary, and I need at least a 4 hour window to feel even remotely relaxed.  It’s just silly little things, that heighten what is already a high stress situation for many of us.

I am not what you would call a nervous traveller.  I mean, I am not usually afraid of flying, I don’t freak out when there’s turbulence (although I have one more than one occasion prayed in a plane which seemed to being tossed about like a paper airplane.)  I have survived several landings at Chios Airport, an airport second only to Hong Kong in terms of degree of difficulty I am given to understand.  The last time I flew into Chios, we sat through the prerequisite turbulence towards the end of the flight, and then as we approached the runway (mountain on one side, sea to the other) we just sort of dropped out of the sky onto the runway and applied the brakes.  Hard.  Hard enough to make some of the people on board scream.  It’s always a little bit exciting is what I am saying.  But I don’t get too nervous.  In fact, I am more nervous about getting to the airport on time than actually flying.

This time, my sister D, and her boyfriend R drove me to Heathrow.  We made it in good time, I was there by 8:40 for the 22:15 flight.  No problems checking in. Well, no problems if you have previous experience or a PhD in how to scan your documents and boarding pass into the machine which then spits out a new boarding pass and your luggage label which you then attach yourself etc.  I mean, if it meant things happened faster I would be totally onboard with it, but it doesn’t because you still have to stand in line and jump through all the same hoops as before, except now if you lose your luggage, you only have yourself to blame.  Anyway, I digress.  (for a change).  As I walked through to the security check, I bypassed the men and women trying to mug me with plastic bags.

“Any liquids?” the guy asked me.

“No” I replied walking along.

“Nothing?” he asked me in a disbelieving tone.

“No,” I repeated moving further towards boarding pass control.

“Lipstick and make up counts!!” he yelled.

“ I don’t wear any!!” I yelled back.  “Can I go to Athens now?!”

Even the airport officials think I should wear make up.  WTF.

Anyway.  Boarding pass control is now also electronic and involves scanning your boarding pass (but not in the same way as you just mastered at check-in) and then sprinting with all your stuff  through a gate which opens for about a nano-second to arrive breathless on the other side.  In fact, if this is a labour saving thing, that didn’t work, because they have to have almost as many people as gates to instruct people on how to scan the boarding passes and to tell them to hurry through or the gate will shut with them still on the wrong side of it.  Then there was a person telling us which security station to go to.  Again, there are plenty and I assume this is to save people time.  I must admit, there weren’t many people in front of me. And there were at least 10 stations.  I know it was the middle of the night and everything, but I appreciated not having to wait for ages.

I have always been one of these lucky people who doesn’t often get stopped at security.  I don’t wear a lot of jewellery, I wear soft clothes, I don’t know what it is, the machine doesn’t often beep with me.  Usually, I wait around for D to get down to her bra and pants while she is frisked and walks through the scanner machine.  This time was no exception.  I sailed through the machine, nothing beeped, I didn’t have to take my shoes or my belt off.  I was about to pick up my hand luggage when I realised that it had been diverted to the conveyor belt at the back.  It was third in a row of four suitcases.  The first suitcase belonged to a Japanese man who decided to go back out into the airport and start from scratch as they were trying to confiscate his stuff.  The second suitcase belonged to this lady and the guy said to her: “We have to open your case Madam because there was something suspicious in it.”  He showed her a scan of her suitcase with something ringed in the image.  I thought he would then proceed to locate the items within the ringed part of the image, see what it was and move on.  Not so.  He proceeded to take out every item in her hand luggage, s-l-o-w-l-y and pass a wand with a cloth over it.  My nerves were on edge just watching him do things so slowly, and the woman was having to explain what everything was to him.  Finally they established that the offending item was cheese.  Cheese!  Hardly semtex or anything, but anyway, I guess these machines can’t tell the difference.   I was busy trying to work out what could possibly have triggered the alarms in my suitcase.  I was also hoping that they wouldn’t open it and rifle through it, firstly because I had packed it in a certain way, and secondly because I was carrying an embarrassingly large amount of crisps in it.  I know, I know, crisps are allowed and all that, but I had two six-packs of Marmite flavoured crisps, which I always bring for my cousins D&E as they are addicted to Marmite, and when you put them into your suitcase they either a) explode leaving all your clothes smelling of Marmite, or b) get squashed which means I have brought them crumbs from London which isn’t very nice.  So I put them in my hand luggage, and it isn’t usually a problem.   I couldn’t imagine the crisps were the problem, but was already squirming at the thought of explaining them to the man with the wand.

Anyway.  Finally they called me forward.  By this time, I had been there for 15-20 minutes, and all my generous thoughts of how speedy things were had rapidly left the building.  A lady came forward and said:

“Is this your suitcase?”

“It is.” I replied.  She scanned the plastic container it was in and looked at the screen.  I did too, curious to see what the circle of shame had picked up.  There was no circle.

“Oh.” She said.

“Is there a problem?”

“No, Madam, I just have to take a swab of your suitcase.  It is a random test.”

She put a new cloth on the wand, wiped it all over my suitcase and put it in a machine.

“That’s all fine Madam, you can go.”

Twenty minutes of angst and annoyance for them to wipe my suitcase?  No apology?  I was fuming.  I took my stuff and left quickly though.  If you linger they start to wonder if they have checked you enough, I didn’t want to suddenly be hauled in for a ‘random’ body cavity search.

Once through to the Duty Free part of the airport, I relaxed a bit.  The gate for my flight hadn’t been announced yet, so I thought I would have a wander around and check out the new terminal.  There are lots of nice restaurants and shops, so I took my time and looked at all of them.  I didn’t want to eat anything, but I thought I should buy something to eat on the plane so that I wouldn’t have to eat whatever Aegean Airlines deemed a good idea to feed people on the plane.  (I mean last time, they actually served cauliflower cheese.  In an enclosed space! What were you thinking?!)  I stopped at WHSmith to buy some magazines and chocolate.  I bought a magazine for Mum and then was distracted by GQ magazine which is sporting a gorgeous picture of Benedict Cumberbatch.  I bought that magazine as well, went through the self checkout thing and carried on with my tour.

There is a huge square billboard thingy on the upper level and Julia Roberts is grinning at you benevolently the whole time you are there.  Let’s face it, Julia Roberts is a stunning woman with a lovelier than average smile and presumably, the people at Lancôme thought that that dazzle would translate into sales at the airport .

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At some point, I arrived at EAT.  Usually, I avoid these places, because even though sandwiches are my favourite food group, places like that which put superfluous stuff in perfectly normal sandwiches really annoy me.  Add to that the fact that they are hugely over-priced and only serve warm drinks in receptacles normally reserved for the bulk transportation of fuel, let’s just say I have to be very hungry/thirsty/at the airport for me to even consider entering.  I looked at their selection, chose a croissant and went to the counter to order a small tea.  I ordered the tea, and when she told me that would be £7 or something, I didn’t balk.  I reached into my back pocket to get my card out to pay.  I rummaged around in one pocket, sighed transferred everything I was holding to my other hand and started the same procedure with my other pocket.  No card.  I felt fairly certain that I had had my card in my back pocket.

“I am sorry, I can’t find my card.”  I murmured, panicked.

“Well, then leave the croissant, but I have already made you a tea, so that will be…”

“I’m sorry, I have to go and find it, I’ll be back.”

I left EAT at full trot.  As I passed the smiling Julia, I felt a little resentful.  Stop grinning woman I muttered to myself as I tried to mentally retrace my steps.  I went downstairs again, looking left and right on the floor to see if it had dropped out of my pocket.  I walked the path I had walked before.  Maybe it’s a WHSmith I thought to myself.  All the while Julia grinned down at me.  It was as if she was saying:

“Never mind your lost card!  You could buy some beauty products and be like me!  I mean look at me, I am ridiculously happy right now!  Screw your card!”

“S*d off Julia, I am having a crisis here! No card, no money.  No money no cab home from the airport.  No cab home from the airport, no Monday morning activities.  What’s the number you have to call to cancel a card?”

All of these things were racing through my mind as I hurried to WHSmith.  The gates were being lowered.

“We’re closing now.”

“I think I may have left my card here.” I said breathlessly.

The guy (aged about 12) rolled his eyes.

“Follow me”

I went to the cash desk with him.

“What is your name?”

“Er, Maria, er XXX Er the card doesn’t say my first name, It’s Miss M. er…”  I don’t think I could have been less convincing if I was a bloke trying to claim my name was Maria.

He pulls out a card.

“Er..It’s I…” I stammered on, risking a glance at Julia (still grinning) “I have my passport.”

“Let me see your passport please.”

With trembling hands I extracted my passport from my pocket.  He glanced at it and then at the card.  “Here you go, Miss.”

Oh thank the Lord, my knees went weak from the relief.  “Thanks so much, I…thank you.”

So there it was.  I had become so distracted by Ben, that I had left my card in the chip and PIN machine at the self-checkout thing.  I went back to EAT to pay for my tea and croissant.

Gratuitous picture of Benedict Cumberbatch.  Totally explains why I was so distracted though.

Gratuitous picture of Benedict Cumberbatch. Totally explains why I was so distracted though.

“We’re closed now.  I gave your tea and croissant away.”

“I am so sorry, I had lost my card, I found it thank goodness!”

Amazingly, the EAT. woman was unmoved by my happy ending.  Julia’s happy for me I thought to myself grumpily.

“Yeah, well I gave your croissant away.  You can get another one if there’s one left.”

I went over and got another croissant.

“I hope you don’t still want the tea.” She said.

“No, that’s fine, thanks and sorry.”

I grabbed my croissant and left.

Julia, bless her was still smiling. I found myself smiling back relieved, croissant in hand and flight gate announced.

I still didn’t buy any Lancôme stuff though.

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