Everyone I know is travelling again, and the easing of travel restrictions has caused much relief. I have also performed an exuberant cartwheel symbolically, thinking of my imminent plans.
Travel is my thing: the planning, the dreaming, the pre-travel scrimping, the researching, the packing; are all an intrinsic part of the excitement and anticipation of the actual trip. My footloose self, therefore, has trodden in many far-off lands with equanimity and joy.
Sandwiched between the heady lead up and the exhilarating destination, one must navigate airports.
No matter what the time of departure, I always manage to look bleary eyed and tired — the excitement of packing and getting ready takes its toll. Weary or not, many an airport adventure has fallen to my lot.
But first the good: Dubai’s T3 International Airport is, unequivocally, my favourite. The sheer convenience of the e-gates, (if you are a resident), the courteous security check, the smooth elevators, the discounts at the glittering duty free shops, the luxurious lounges, (if one gets extravagant or lucky); are all designed to stimulate the pleasurable anticipation of one’s vacation. One can be sure that if you happen to leave your valuables in the tray at security, they will be returned. Happy moments to remember are my brand-new Mac handed back to me at the security once I confirmed it was mine by typing in the correct password and the gold bangles my friend retrieved several weeks later from the Lost and Found.
Fortified with several doses of the Pfizer vaccine, masks, and sanitisers in tow, I am looking forward to donning my most comfortable airport shoes again and flying off to new adventures.
The big bonus is the unexpected reward of getting upgraded, especially on a long-haul flight; I have had to restrain myself from giving the person at the desk a hug! It’s the difference between heaven and hell. You are suddenly elevated to the well-heeled traveller who can snuggle into a fluffy blanket and sip a glass of bubbly, far away from the madding crowd. Oh, sweet privilege! The joy dims considerably when you have to actually pay for it.
What’s the worst that can happen to you at airports? Missing the flight because the queue for security was too long, the luggage carousal does not spit out your beloved bag, forgetting your bag or favourite pen on the plane, realising that your visa has lapsed at the passport counter, sleeping through the last call for boarding, the flight is overbooked and you are not on the passenger list, your PCR test turns positive for COVID. Yes, my family, friends or I have experienced all the above.
My nightmare? The memory is painful, even today. Cut back to about 5 years, bound on an internal flight in a foreign land, we were inexplicably pulled out of the boarding queue by a tight-lipped officer who looked triumphant at having pounced on us! The security checked everything twice. This included powering up our electronics, sifting through individual notes in our wallets, (besides wielding a chemical sniffer machine), sorting through our clothes in fine detail, making us pass through the X-ray machine twice. The final humiliation was when the security officer (female) frisked us, including running her gloved fingers through my hair and patting the soles of my feet. As the humiliation grew, I became furious; my friend warned me with her eyes to comply or else worse would follow!
We were just 2 ladies, respectably dressed, and yet!
“Pleatse, can I ask you, what did we do wrong?”, I asked the officer, ultra-humbly. “You may not!”, he snapped. He looked very unhappy that we had passed muster.
Nightmare of profiling
Friends tell me it’s about profiling: and somehow, we fitted into the wrong one! Though I have travelled extensively, all over the world, we always managed the cut before. This time my friend was wearing a brace for her injured wrist — I accusingly told her, “That must be it! They thought you were concealing something!”
I tell myself that the officer was only doing his duty diligently, and yet it does not take away the sting. I remind myself of horrors far worse. A colleague accompanying two dozen students, arrived at their destination after an arduous long-haul flight. Instead of sailing through the passport counter, they were whisked into a poky room, adults separate, grilled for several hours, with nary any refreshment, and then told that they would have to return as their papers were not in order. The end of this experience was, to quote my colleague, “We were marched along, in single file, amid stares from bystanders, to a waiting plane; the only dignity that was accorded to us was that they did not shackle us!”
Such experiences have not blunted my travel lust — though, admittedly, COVID has temporarily dimmed it. Fortified with several doses of the Pfizer vaccine, masks, and sanitisers in tow, I am looking forward to donning my most comfortable airport shoes again and flying off to new adventures.
I will attempt to look as inconsequential as possible and the paragon of a law-abiding citizen!
Rashmi Nandkeolyar is the Principal and Director of Delhi Private School Dubai and the author of several books for children.