After losing my bank card at the airport on the way to Athens, I wondered if the trip back would be less stressful.  Certainly, travelling alone would suggest that it could be, but then again, I had been alone on the way there and had gotten cheesed off with a billboard, so perhaps I need a travelling companion to keep me calm.  Lucky I do all that yoga to keep me zen…

Anyway,  I got to Athens airport and the woman at the counter told me the flight was fully booked and did I want to give in my hand luggage as they didn’t think all the hand luggage would fit in the cabin.  This really irritates me.  Don’t tell everyone they can bring a certain size and weight of bag, sell tickets at prices which basically require it and then hope not everyone does because you don’t actually have the capacity to store it.  I declined and moved on.  Mum was with me and we did the pre-requisite tour of the airport shops with me spending loads at Accessorize so I would have something to take to my nieces and then a quick stop at Victoria’s Secret to buy (astronomically over-priced) make up for a friend.  We parted at passport control with Mum waving until I had completely disappeared from view which is a particularly endearing quality of hers.

I then went through security.  Once again, I knew that my clothes and suitcase didn’t contain anything prohibited so I waved off the woman pushing plastic bags at me.  I told the guy at the security gate that I had loads of make up in a bag which I had just bought and he told me it wasn’t a problem.  I put my case on the rollers and walked through the arch.  No problem with my person, but the bag was an issue again.  What was it this time?  It wasn’t the crisps (yes, four large packets of Oregano flavoured crisps that you can’t get here) it wasn’t the make up, it wasn’t the kindle.  It was….

“We don’t know what it is Lady, carry on.”  I was relieved they didn’t take my bag apart but not very encouraged by the strictness of the system.  Oh well.  Then we went downstairs and waited by the gate.  In Athens often you get bussed to the plane.  We waited by the gate and about 10 minutes before our flight was due to take off, we heard an announcement:

“Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, in a few minutes we are going to make an announcement.”

Talk about just make a nothing announcement to appease the natives.  Anyway.  At take-off time, we were called to board the buses.  They are usually bendy buses and about 2 bus lengths.  The openable windows are minute, sometimes they open and sometimes they don’t.  You basically stand there losing body fluids and trying to blink through the sweat dripping from your brow because letting go of the handles or bars could result in you being flung into some other poor unsuspecting yet sweaty traveller and either taking him/her down with you or just generally embarrassing yourself completely.  Finally, after 10 minutes where the bus was full, the doors were closed and we were being steamed nicely while the bus driver chatted idly to the lady checking passports, we were off.  We drove a really long way around the terminal building and around the edges of what I assume is the equivalent of a massive car park for planes.  A plane park then.  We were being followed by the trolleys with our luggage on it.  As we were following the outside edges of the plane park, the luggage truck swerved quickly to cut across the empty space.  As it took the turn, we all watched in disbelief as the contents of the last two wagons tipped over, spilling all of the luggage onto the tarmac.  I am so glad we pack so carefully and assume that our luggage is at least handled with care.  I am telling you now that our luggage is not only not handled with care, but often tossed onto the tarmac and then retrieved angrily by a guy who then literally tosses into a messy pile of mixed weight luggage.  There go those Grecian urns, I knew I shouldn’t have checked them in….  Likewise, the biscuits for Auntie so and so… a thing of the past, looks like we are importing crumbs after all.  All the tourists on the bus with me were exclaiming loudly about the litres of ouzo and olive oil and generally, the luggage promised to be a big old mess when and if we got it.

Eventually we got to our seats.  Someone asked me to switch with them, so I did, and ended up sitting next to a lady I had travelled with on one of my previous trips, so we ended up chatting and catching up on each other’s news.  It’s funny how being trapped on a plane makes you share stuff you might not on a bus or tube for example.

At some point, I got up to use the toilet.  As I was washing my hands, I read the sign above the sink:

OUT OF COURTESY AND CONSIDERATION FOR YOUR FELLOW PASSENGERS, WE KINDLY SUGGEST YOU USE YOUR TOWEL TO WIPE DOWN THE SINK.

Right. Because there is nothing more offensive and horror-inducing than a wet sink.

Because the whole time I am standing there in a puddle of wee, I am thinking, I hope there’s no water in the sink.

Given the choice, I would rather have a sign up saying:

GENTLEMEN – OUT OF COURTSEY AND CONSIDERATION FOR YOUR FELLOW PASSENGERS, PLEASE TRY TO PEE NEAR OR IN THE TOILET.  WE KNOW THE THING IS MOVING BUT PERHAPS YOU COULD LEAVE A WET SINK AND USE YOUR TOWELS TO WIPE THE SEAT AND/OR FLOOR.

I know we aren’t supposed to talk about these things, but come on.  The sink is what bothers you?

Anyway.  On to other things.

I know that the planes have been refitted to make everyone except the passengers happy and the planes seem to leave on time etc.  but since when has it been ok to increase the price of the tickets but make the service a little bit worse?  Last time I flew to Athens, the seatbelt went around me comfortably, and the tray table opened no problem.  This time, I had to open the seatbelt to the max (and it was snug) and the tray table CLEFT ME IN TWAIN.  I can assure you that I have not doubled my weight in the intervening 8 weeks since I travelled.  I am as I always was.  And yet, the airplane is not.  I now refuse the meal because sitting for so long with a tray digging into my belly just isn’t what I want.  I mean, I don’t wear a belt for crying out loud for the exact same reason.  I wore a lot of  restrictive clothing as a ‘what-are-we-going-to-do-with-our-giganto-child’, and as an adult, I refuse to do so. So having Aegean Airlines impose it on me is more than a little galling. It’s on a par with the Pizza Express Leggera pizza. This could be the most unbelievable and insulting marketing strategy I have ever seen.  We’re offering you a pizza (and let’s not talk about how over the years, Pizza Express have been shrinking their pizzas and upping their prizes incrementally) and we are going to take the best bit out, replace it with salad and charge you more for it.  The more I think about it, the more I am amazed that no one has chucked this concept in their faces.  Not only has that not happened, but I see people ordering it all the time.  I mean, cut the pizza in half.  Give them half a pizza and half a plate of salad.  Charge them for half a pizza and a salad.  Cutting the best bit out of the pizza and replacing it with salad is just cruel man.  OK, rant and aside over, back to the skies.

For the saving of 170 calories, (and an extra £1.20) you can have this tiny ring of pizza and a tiny salad. You're welcome.

For the saving of 170 calories, (and an extra £1.20) you can have this tiny ring of pizza and a tiny salad. You’re welcome.

Aegean used to show a movie too.  The video ‘show’ now consists of a safety video with the two women I assume to be the chairperson’s wife and mistress,  fastening and unfastening seatbelts and life jackets in slow motion.  (Which is how I assume it all happens in an emergency).  This is followed by a ‘documentary’ about a randomly picked area or island in Greece with all of its traditions and characteristics, complete with tinny and annoying bouzouki music which is low enough to just be a fly buzzing on the outskirts of your consciousness.  It always takes me a few moments of looking around to see who has that annoying noise coming out of their headphones to realise that in fact, it is being piped through for our aural pleasure.  I don’t usually watch these videos because they show a lot of pictures of what looks like delicious food and it only serves to remind me that a) nothing I am going to get served on the plane is going to come close and b) even if it was, I couldn’t eat it because the table tray is slowly becoming part of my anatomy.

This time though, I looked up once or twice from my reading as it wasn’t particularly gripping.  The island they were showcasing was Skyros.  It looks beautiful and I found myself wishing once again that I had travelled more extensively around Greece.  They zoom in on delicious dishes – Skyrian Food, they show short videos of potters at their wheels – Skyrian pottery, another of a man with a wood plane – Skyrian woodwork and then they showed a still of a field with a small horse in it with the words Skyrian pony in the foreground.  I got the giggles.  I mean I know Skyrian ponies are a thing, but really?  Under the pony  – was that wait – Skyrian Grass?  Under the Skyrian Sky which was Skyrian Blue and had white fluffy Skyrian Clouds in it?  The more I thought about it, the more giggly I got until I was experiencing a full on laughing  fit with snorting included and the lady in front of me whose pen I had borrowed to write some of this down in case I forgot it was looking at me as if the paramedics or mental health professionals were needed. As it turns out, when you start laughing maniacally in a plane without provocation, people get a bit jittery.  Of course, stopping yourself during a laughter fit is extremely difficult, I remember from class where giggling fits always used to land me outside the Headmistress’ office.  I could see that people had started to stare so I took deep calming breaths, but then I would think Skyrian pony!* and start all over again.  Tears were streaming down my face and I was trying desperately not to make a sound, but – as anyone who has witnessed me in this situation will confirm – I was not entirely successful.  This is the downside to travelling alone.  When you are emitting muffled snorts and high pitched squeals with tears rolling down your face and shoulders shaking, people don’t smile at your infectious laughter; they look around nervously and wonder if you are going to detonate your wristwatch.

I mean they are darling, but it just tickled my funny bone.  What can I say?  Nobody's perfect.

I mean they are darling, but it just tickled my funny bone. What can I say? Nobody’s perfect.

Anyway.  The flight was pretty uneventful after that (or people gave me a wide berth) and we arrived at Heathrow on time and then set off in search of Border patrol.  My issue with Border patrol is always that there are loads of flights arriving at the same time, and two little people looking at everyone’s passport.  This time, there were quite a few people in the queue, but there were two queues.  One for people with regular passports who had to go and present themselves to the Border Control people who look them up and down, ask them to remove their hats/glasses/headphones etc and generally make them dance for it.  But there was a second queue.  For e-passports.  I didn’t think I had one, but I was getting confused.  It turns out I do have an e-passport.  I thought it was the thing with the biometric measurements on them, but it just means that you have renewed your passport in the last 3-5 years.  Anyway.  Lured by the word e-passports, I joined that queue.  I thought it would be quicker.  Less hoops to jump through etc etc. How wrong I was.

First of all, there was a bank of 8 or so e-passport checkout gates (no personnel required) of which 3 were working.  Because it isn’t obvious, there were two members of staff there waiting to help people sort themselves out.  Personally, I would have put instructions up on the wall so that people could read them while they were waiting and have some vague idea of what was expected of them.  I waited in that line for about 25 minutes while watching the ‘poor backward peasants without e-passports’ queue diminishing rapidly.  At some point I thought about ducking under the barrier and just taking my chances that the guy who checked my passport wouldn’t ask me to do too much to get through, but I figured, I had been here for so long I might as well see how much easier it was with the e-passport.

I approached the gate having watched every person in front of me take about 5 or 6 minutes to go through.  The instructions on the screen say to put your passport onto the scanner.  No mention is made of which way up.  I put my passport down on the scanner and looked at the facial rec screen.  Nothing happened.  The lady behind me said

“Take off your glasses”

I took off my glasses and held my face still.  Nothing happened.  I could see things flashing on the screen.  I leaned closer trying to read it.

“Stand back please.”

I stood back, squinted trying to read the words on the screen which clearly were telling me what I was doing wrong.

“Keep your expression neutral.” said the bossy woman behind me.

“I can’t see the screen.  I am trying to see what it says.”

“Try turning your passport around.” Said the woman helpfully.

I turned it around and squinted at the screen.

“Please try to maintain a neutral expression.”

“I can’t maintain a neutral expression and read the screen without my glasses on.”

“Flip your passport over and push it into the gap.”

I put my glasses back on to obey the latest instruction.

“Now take off your glasses and look at the screen with a neutral expression.”

I leaned closer as nothing happened.

“Stand Back Madam!” she snapped.

“I am doing my best here, this is a flawed system.” I replied.  “I cannot be scanned wearing my glasses and I can’t see how to be scanned without them.”

“Just do as I told you please and it will work.”

There I was, sweating profusely now, feeling like the world’s dumbest criminal, wishing that I had just stayed in the queue for the non e-passports and danced for the other guys.  Finally, FINALLY, the scanner went green and the automatic door opened.  Quickly I gathered my bag, sweater, passport and glasses and shuffled through the gap before it changed its mind.  As time saving devices, this one takes the biscuit, I would say the whole exercise took over 45 minutes. I just realised that you can actually visit this website and get detailed instructions on how to use e-passport gates.  If only I had known…  Still though,  when I got down to the baggage hall, they hadn’t even announced which carousel we were supposed to be waiting at, so I suppose the ‘time saving’ serves no purpose really.  The extra 10-15 minute wait for the luggage allowed my heart rate to go back to normal and the time of day to segue smoothly from afternoon to evening rush hour.

Welcome Home the twinkling brake lights in the tailbacks on the way home seemed to say.

Thanks, it’s good to be back.

* Note: no Skyrian ponies were harmed during the writing of this blog.

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