Welcome to the first of what will be a regular blog post! I hope you enjoy reading…
First of all, I’m not really grumpy. I still love travelling and seeing new cities. Travel does broaden the mind, and I still look forward to each new trip. (Of course it helps that, because I am travelling for work, I have the luxury of being paid to wander the globe).
However, travel also brings into regular and prolonged contact with your fellow human beings, and this can be less wonderful.
Why is it, for example, that so many people seem unable to manage the simple art of finding their seat on a train or plane, and then sitting in it? I have yet to board a flight (or train) where there is not some open-mouthed numpty struggling against the queue of passengers, gazing vacantly at the seat numbers as if they formed some complicated mathematical formula. They do progress sequentially, for crying out loud.
I would also ban all carry-on luggage above the size of a wallet. There is an incredibly large number of passengers who try to defy the laws of physics by forcing mini steamer trunks into the overhead bins, and then gawp inanely as they hang precariously over the seat below, oblivious to the queue of fellow passengers waiting to take their seats.
Anyway, the first experience I want to share with you is my recent flight to Toronto Pearson airport. The flight with British Airways was fine, and I arrived relaxed and happy. Sadly this was to change.
Initial impressions of the airport were not great; the burnt-out fuselage of a plane that had been reversed into another by a less-than-competent tug driver back in February remained at its stand; a somewhat off-putting sight for any nervous passengers.
Things were not looking up when the pilot informed us that our flight had been selected for a random check by Canadian Border staff, and that passports would be checked on the jetway. Naively I thought that this would mean no need for a further check. Wrong!
Having been greeted by sour-faced immigration staff (despite my smiling warmly – perhaps they thought I was drunk), I then found that I had to scan the passport again in the automatic reader a little further inside the terminal building. I don’t know about you, but I find that these machines are a complete waste of time in foreign airports; as I expected, having queued to use one, it presented me with a slip of paper adorned with a cross. I took it and, in what was becoming like some awful computer game with me as the hapless victim, I walked with misplaced optimism to the next circle of hell to find myself joining yet another queue to…you guessed it, present my passport for the THIRD time.
This was when I met Maxwell*. There were three or four kiosks open, but I just knew that I would be dealt with by this large, gum-chewing individual. Sure enough, the queue progressed in its pre-ordained course to deposit me in Maxwell’s realm. Wiry grey hair cut en brosse, mouth in perpetual motion, and two unsmiling eyes were not conducive to a positive first impression. He looked through my passport disdainfully.
“Why you here? Maxwell did not bother with preambles.
Resisting the temptation to correct his grammar, I explained courteously that I was in Canada on a short business trip.
“I carry out assessments on serviced apartments.”
I must admit that, at this point, I realized that this was going to be difficult.
“I still don’t know what you’re here for” came the inevitable reply, in a sneering transatlantic drawl.
In desperation I gave Maxwell a business card, but this seemed to alienate him further. Out came a ballpoint pen, and with an exaggerated flourish, Baxter scrawled another large cross on the receipt that I had given him.
Knowing what this meant (i.e. another lengthy queue for yet another question and answer session), I scowled impotently and stomped away in the direction indicated; that was the last I saw of Maxwell.
If anybody from Toronto is reading this, can I make the following suggestions:
(1) Remove crashed planes from the terminal building – it doesn’t give a great impression
(2) Teach staff to smile – security and immigration staff at other airports manage to be courteous and efficient
(3) Staff should remove gum and other comestibles from their mouths when on duty; chewing constantly makes you look gormless and indolent, which presumably is not the motto of The Canadian Border Force.
*Name changed to protect the identity of this character.