Movies make world travel seem glamorous: you alight from a shiny aircraft in your crisp blazer and skinny jeans looking stunning and refreshed.
This isn’t true. Air travel, especially on a tight schedule and zero sleep, can bring out the worst in a person.
Case in point: Jamie and I were en route to Finland via Istanbul, just two hours after I’d gotten home from the airport after the school trip to Italy. I logged barely two hours of zz’s before stumbling out of bed and into a cab back to the Cairo Airport. There, we breakfasted at the classy establishment of Burger King before boarding our Turkish Air flight. (This story aside, I really like Turkish Air. They find a way to make flying a sophisticated affair, handing out menus before meals and providing unlimited free alcohol.)
Our first flight departed Cairo extremely late, but I didn’t think anything of it until we landed in Istanbul and the destination time read 1:03. Our flight for Helsinki departed at 1:55. Cutting it a bit close, but I figured once we were off the plane, we’d jet on over to our gate, stretch our legs, then board. I was even envisioning a latte break. Fool!
We deplaned at 1:20 and were shuttled into a crowded terminal where we followed the signs for transfers. Upstairs, a crush of anxious passengers clustered beneath the international transfers sign.
Surely this must be a mistake.
“Excuse me,” I said to a nearby employee. “I’m going to Finland.”
He pointed to the stagnant mass of people trickling through to the security sensor; of the four possible scanners, one was in use. One. Jamie and I became a part of the throbbing mass of angry passengers, much like two unwilling molecules engaging in painfully slow osmosis. I imagine this is what it’s like for yeast to rise.
It was a nightmare.
A man pushing a stroller rammed my heel repeatedly until he successfully oozed by me. Two little elderly women appeared suddenly and ferociously and wasted no time pressing me hard into the back of the man in front of me, as though perhaps he might consent to absorb me. An irate man stood to the side waving his boarding pass at the security woman who sipped coffee and told him to wait his turn.
“I will lose my flight!”
“We’re all late!” called another man.
“My wife is pregnant and cannot wait in line!” replied the first man.
“Why are you flying, then!?”
Clumping around the conveyer belt, marinating in the anxious sweat of at least fifty men, I realized how easy it is to turn humans against each other. It won’t be a plague or a war or a political scandal. It will be a pushy man hitting people with a baby stroller, inefficient airport conduct, several scheduled flights departing now, screaming babies – and voila: a recipe for madness. And I was as reprehensible as the rest of them.
We got through at 1:50, prepared to make new arrangements for Helsinki, when – luck! Delayed until 2:10. This was just enough time for a 5-minute sprint to our gate, Jamie at the lead and me gracefully weaving in and out of zombie passengers dragging cases behind them.
Breathless and perspiring enough to attract concerned looks, we joined the queue to board. The upshot? Writing my journal from the comfort of my Turkish Air seat, the plane engines grumbling to life and pointing us directly north, felt the closest to first class I’ve ever come.