Ottawa Citizen

Air travel: About as fun as juice poured in your lap

- KELLY EGAN

Isn’t air travel just so — I’m struggling, help me here — uplifting? The last time I flew on an airplane, I was a sodden wreck. Only the truly gifted can manage this: We arrived at the terminal two and a half hours before departure and came within minutes of missing the flight.

The fluttery adventure was dampened considerab­ly when, once airborne, the stewardess proceeded to spill about a gallon of orange drink in my lap. Ah, the ‘Friendly Skies.’

The flight leaves Gatwick, outside London, at 3:15 p.m. My small, vital family takes the express train from Victoria station at about noon, putting us at London’s second busiest airport somewhere near 12:45.

There is too much luggage, much of it too heavy. Some visit the Tower of London. We brought most of it home. We find the counter promptly enough, finding three check-in lines. The queue automatica­lly fossilizes the instant you get in it. You crane your neck and examine the statue-like counter clerk, spiffy in his uniform. You assure yourself he is not actually dead, just moving with glacial precision.

We make the front of the line at about 1:30 p.m. Many people are behind us. What could the worry be? Our luggage is overweight. It is checked, but we are given a slip and sent to another counter, where bad people are fined because their luggage resembles a family of waddling bears.

We pay the surcharge, scoot back to the head of the check-in line and get the boarding passes in a jif. Looks like we’re home free. It is now 2:15 or so and we are hungry. A food court is nearby. Surely’s there time for a little sit-and-gobble?

We arrive at the security area about 2:40. Oh, oh. There is a mob ahead of us, literally hundreds of passengers. My wife and I exchange glances. Amazing. With one look, you can communicat­e complicate­d emotions, such as, How did we get so stupid?

The line seems to be moving fairly quickly. We get by the first set of doors. Oh, oh. The line then snakes about eight ways to Sunday along a set of cordoned lanes. I ask a security guard if we can skip ahead because we’re in danger of missing our plane. He adopted a sympatheti­c stance: How about, “No.”

We hit the security screener at about 3:10 p.m., remove belt, unload coins, zip through X-ray. I grabbed my jacket, belt, camera bag and ran to the nearest overhead monitor. We still didn’t know the departure gate. It was 20.

I screamed at my wife and began running. I had 10 gates to go. Them’s big gates. Do not try running at full tilt, carrying bags, beltless, in street clothes, from a dead stop. It is bad for you. Halfway there, my lungs have started to seize or calcify or melt or whatever it is called when you begin sounding like an asthmatic seal.

“Are you Egan?” asked a passing airline worker. “Keep running, they’re holding the plane for you.” In a moment, I hear our names over the loudspeake­r. My God, we’re now An Incident. My son is a couple of gates back, screaming at me to slow down.

It felt like forever, but I reach gate 20. It is empty but for three airline staffers. It’s alright, they assured. We haven’t left yet. Wife and son are a minute or two behind. We board in a complete sweat, the last three passengers. There are stares.

Of course, we sit on the tarmac for another 30 minutes or so. Then we’re off. About an hour into the flight, the stewardess is serving the first round of drinks. She is serving, mostly to children, something she called “orange squash,” which we thought comical. She was standing above my left shoulder as she lifted the clear jug. It was the grassy knoll moment. Somehow, the entire contents of the jug came raining down on me. My arm was wet, my jeans were soaked from hip to knee on the left side. The stuff was puddling in my seat. There were a million sorries.

A few minutes later, the stewardess came back with a plan. Go to the rear galley, remove your pants, wear this blanket around your waist like a skirt, and we shall dry your trousers via our special hot air vents.

Now, I know what you’re wondering. Yes, the colour of the skirt — navy blue — did match the shirt I was wearing.

Within a couple of hours, the pants were no longer wet and all was well, unless you count the damp underwear. Finally, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I was left high and dry. Getting there really is half the fun; coming home sure is the rest of it. Contact Kelly Egan at 613-726-5896 or by e-mail, kegan@thecitizen.canwest.com

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