So they are still really serious in Heathrow about the new security measures apparently. I arrived at the airport armed with the traditional 23 items of hand luggage, 60 kg worth of suitcase, and the usual blasé attitude that I could blag my way through excess luggage etc. I had also stupidly thought that the severity of the new regulations is to some extent contingent on the airline you are flying, and that since I was flying Egyptair, I would be allowed to take a live zebra into hand luggage should I so wish.
There were small clues that things were different from the moment I stepped into terminal 3 – you could almost smell the tension. People were arriving at the departure gate and discovering that no, they could not conceal their laptop bags under their coats, and that if they were unable to perform magic and reduce four items of hand luggage into one, they’d have to say goodbye to three of them. Oh and absolutely no liquids of any form allowed through either. Near mania then, as people tried desperately to fit laptops into mini-handbags, women applied all the lip gloss they had brought with them rather than have to throw it away, and two-litre bottles of water were drunk in 30 seconds before the empty bottles were added to the mountains of stinking rubbish at the checkpoint, and the passenger spent the next hour trying desperately not to wet himself in the queue. The musical accompaniment to all this was; kids screaming as embargoed food/drink/toys were taken from them; mothers screaming back at them; fathers telling mothers they were stupid for bringing the lip gloss; and mothers watching smugly as the fathers wrestled with getting the laptop bag into the kid’s Dora the Explorer mini-rucksack.
I suffered my own indignity at the check-in desk when I had to check all but one of my many hand luggage bags into the hold, and was forced to transfer the contents of these bags into a rucksack. An Egyptair employee (who God bless him was admittedly very generous with the excess luggage fine) watched me trying to cram the obligatory laptop into my bag, together with (amongst other assorted crap) two pairs of emergency travelling knickers I had forgotten were in there. I felt compelled to murmur something about being prepared in case suitcases go missing, but his look betrayed a suspicion that I had an incontinence problem.
And they scan virtually everything now, including shoes. Dazzled by the bright lights of the Duty Free, I of course left the bloody laptop on the scanning machine, but fortunately fellow passengers were too busy fighting each other, shouting at their kids, putting their shoes on etc, to steal it.
The flight itself was in what felt like a toy aeroplane which transmitted even the smallest currents of turbulence to its green-faced passengers. A mysterious technical error meant that while I could listen to the pre-film Ministry of Tourism programme on exciting new ancient Egypt archaeological discoveries, and enjoy a 20 minute item on whirling dervishes, I could not actually hear the (luckily crap) film once it started – unless I chose to listen to Harvey Keital in Japanese. After attempting to read the subtitles on the three inch squared overhead television (which was some four metres away) I conceded defeat and decided to read, but obviously the overhead lights weren’t working. Fortunately the food arrived at that point, and face-stuffing closed the potential conversation window that might have been opened by the fact that me and the old man a seat away were both sitting in the dark doing nothing (my anti-social tendencies become particularly pronounced when I am trapped in a window seat and the gun of polite conversation is held to my temple.) Luckily the guy also seemed of a morose, unfriendly nature similar to my own. This impression was confirmed when, as he was drinking coffee, a man walking past was propelled into him by a particularly violent burst of turbulence, causing coffee to spill all over his shirt and glasses and making him look like he was going through a carwash. The old guy spent the rest of the flight giving the most spectacular Wicked Witch of the West type evil stares to the back of his tormentor’s head, which at least provided entertainment and more than compensated for the lack of a film, or light.