The Indignity of Travel

It started off innocently enough. The good people of Newcastle suggested that I leave for the airport two hours before departure instead of one and a half. The airport, mind you, is a leisurely 15 minutes away from the university. I entered the airport and noticed the people around the "self check-in" machines, but I didn't have an eTicket, so I walked up to the counter.

I disturbed the two ladies having a nice chat with each other. They pointed to the sign telling me I had to check in at the machines and then drop my bags off here. Okay, if this is necessary. I approached a machine and was able to choose the airline and a language. I was then requested to either put my passport in the machine, or to enter my frequent flier card, or to punch in the eTicket number. Now, in Germany only the police are allowed to machine-read passports, and I am skittish enough after spending two days on the island of video surveillance, so I tried the eTicket anyway. I did have a booking code.

But the booking code had letters, and this machine only wanted numbers. Okay, resigned to have to give myself up to this indignity, I put my passport into the machine. It couldn't be read. Okay, the ink had rubbed off my Meldebescheinigung and had deposited itself on the passport. I scratched it off, and tried again. No luck. I am beginning to see what I need the extra time for. I go back to the ladies behind the counter and tell them (like the machine told me to) that the machine cannot read my document.

She points, boredly, to a gentleman who is assisting all the people at the self-service terminals. That it is necessary to have a human there is rather defeating the point, I though, but I submitted to waiting in a disorderly line to get his attention. He asked for my booking, took it, looked at it, frowned. Then he asked for my passport and took off. "Just a moment," I said, "where are you going with my travel documents?" "Just have to look something up". I wait. He goes to the counter, interrupts the ladies, and they punch my name into the computer. He comes back, proudly, with a document with my name and itinerary on it, and a magic number. Wow.

He then operates the terminal for me, and says "Shall we take German?" I retort, "No, we seem to have been speaking English up until now". I am really angry now. The machine suggests a seating assignment, he notes excitedly that I can change them if I want to. I do not want to. Then the machine asks me stupid "security questions" like did I pack my bag and did anyone have access to it since I packed it. Sure, the cloak room people, the taxi driver - but I don't want to start anything. I want to get this done with. He prints out the boarding cards, now I can go to the bored ladies.

They are in a foul mood, so many people disturbing their chat. I heave my bag up and ask that it gets checked through, please. She begins asking me the SAME QUESTIONS again. I get irritated - why are you asking me again? What is the point of the machine? This does not save any time. "These are KLM regulations," she retorts, and slams my boarding cards down. "They are not my machines, so don't take your bad mood out on me." Well, she is representing this nonsense, I would like to have an explanation.

I gather my papers and stamp off to drink off my bottle of sparkling before it gets confiscated. After doing so I get out the boarding cards and there is no luggage tag on them. Panic. What if the bags get lost? What if this sullen lady put a tag to Singapore on it to spite me? I return, wait in line, the guy comes out. I tell him I didn't get a receipt. He checks the boarding cards - nothing. He asks for the extra piece of paper. Nothing. He asks for my passport. WTF?? This belongs to the German government, not you. But there is the sticker, glued to the back with heavy-duty glue. Sigh.

Back through the "security" that makes us partially disrobe, dump our pockets, mess through our bags looking for our contraband water and knives and hairpins. I find it so embarrassing that people have to take off their belts and shoes and jackets and put their little baggies in the thing so we can see if they are AXE men or Adidas or El Cheapo.

Lots of time to kill in Newcastle, I get some food (won't land in Berlin until late) and something to drink. I asked if I can take it on the continuing flight. Sure, they say, just have your receipt handy. They won't even tell you your gate, you have to hang around the shopping area until half an hour before take off. Seems to maximize discomfort, you can't even get any work done, just 30 minutes here and 20 there and move along and have your boarding cards handy.

The flight to Amsterdam is uneventful, but we can't get off the plane. Even though the stairs are there, there is no bus. On the way in, the bus had deposited us in Amsterdam in front of a locked door. Now there was no bus, nothing, nada. The pilot suggests everyone sit down. You feel very, very cooped up in a plane full of impatient people who cannot disembark. When the bus finally comes we storm out, I get a seat on the bus, but it is so packed, I have the rear end of a guy in my face the entire long trip. I wish I had chosen to stand....

We shuffle down a hallway, and could go shopping, but we have to hurry to the gate, they tell us. We stand in line forever to have our passports checked (I thought both Holland and England were in the EU, but apparently the UK doesn't participate in Schengen). And then we had to go through the X-Ray machine again and undress again! Why?? We just got off a plane and have not been outside!! And guess what - no, I can't take my bottle of water with me. I want to go ballistic, request that they let me drink the bottle on the spot and get really, really bad gas pains as a result. This is so horrible!

I manage to get some cheese bought at inflated prices hurrying on. Luckily I had already eaten my food, as I would have lost that, too. I considered getting something else to eat, but 4,50 € for a bagel? 6 € for a soggy sandwich? 1,75 € for a tiny piece of cheese? Forget it!

I walk the couple of kilometers to the gate, which ends up being a two-stage deal. You sit down, the room gets crowded, many have no place to sit. Then you are requested to have boarding cards and passports out and go through to ANOTHER waiting room. Those who stood now get to sit, those who had seats in the old room wait as long as possible before crossing. Finally we can board the plane, but there is a long line and we are stuck in the feeder tube, waiting while all the business types stow their luggage in the overhead bins so they can stretch their legs. By the time I get there there is no more room anywhere near me, so I just stuff it under the seat. I do have short legs.

When my luggage finally arrives, one of the side pockets on my bag is wide open. The kleenexes are gone, no big deal. But what else did I have in that pocket? Normally I have my knife in there, but lucky me, I had that in a different pocket this time.

Disgusted with the entire procedure of traveling by plane I hailed a cab and was whisked off home through empty streets just in time to see the 2-1 for Germany, then the 2-2 for Turkey, then the 3-2 for Germany. At least on the plane they had given the 0-1 for Turkey and the 1-1 for Germany over the PA system.

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