Saturday, December 15, 2012

Observations of a traveler

My feet are back firmly on the ground after 134 flights taken from January to December in 2012.  I am blessed to have a job that permits me to travel so much, meeting people from all walks of life, see cultures deeply embedded in countries, learn lessons from history in places Ive seen and visited and most importantly, realize that the world is a wired, twisted wonderful place!

One of the best things about travelling is that you get to see and observe people, whether they work in an airport, train station, duty free shop, airplane or airport security, or they are travelling somewhere on holidays, work, or just trying to get home. But each and every one of these individuals makes my travel experience so much more amusing and entertaining and the inspiration for my hobby, which is writing.

Being a writer involved good observation skills, to be able to capture moments in life that free your imagination and inspire your senses to write a story, a play or a blog. And travelling gives me this opportunity. This year alone, with 134 flights, I have been able to write several articles and blogs, 4 plays and a musical! And recently I joined a writers club called Shakespeares Monkey where we write short stories for an e-book we will publish next year. So the world isnt such a bad place after all when it offers me such a great opportunity to flourish a hobby that allows me to express myself through the art of writing.

And so I wanted to share with you all my observations for this year, as a frequent traveler, and perhaps allow you to have a giggle and say, that is so true or even say thats so me!. We wont tell anyone, I promise!

I entitled this blog observations of a traveler so I will share these observations as a list of experiences I have had while taking 134 flight, driven thousands of miles on coaches from home to the airport and back, taken hundreds of taxis to get to hotels, sat for several hours in lounges waiting for those 134 flights and observed thousands of human being from different parts of the world interact with each other.

So sit back, buckle up and enjoy the journey through this wonderfully twisted and wired world of travelling!

Observation No 1 frequent traveling its a status game!

Several months ago I wrote a blog entitled my life or my seat which told the tale of a business traveler who would fight for getting on the plane first! Since then what I have discovered is that getting on a plane is a matter of status rather than getting a seat. Of course being first on the plane is important so you can get all of your bulky hand luggage just above your seat (you can also read my blog hand luggage is no longer hand luggage") but it really is a matter of status! When a frequent traveler achieves gold, its like winning gold at the Olympics! And perhaps it is comparable, as these individuals can run; jump, bend and twists in more ways than you care to imagine, to get on the plane first!

The ultimate price is not to get to your seat first but to say, Im gold as they push their way through everyone in the chaos to get on the airplane. (By the way why do we all get up as soon as the airport staff touches the microphone? surely the plane won't leave without you, right?)
But even a gold member will push other gold members when he/she clearly sees them all standing around the gate like hungry wolves waiting for their pray. And this ultimate fighter, the one who knows how to maneuver around everyone else, pushes his/her way to the front and stands proud holding the boarding pass that clearly says priority boarding. Doesnt he realize that everyone there is also got priority boarding? But the rewarding moment, as the observant traveler, is to see his/her face of anger when they finally open the doors and announce we will start boarding people with special needs and families with small children what? Small children? Before me! Surely not! They are not gold members!

Its the small things in life that make me smile, this is one of them!

Observation No 2 travelers that tell big fat lies!

When you travel if you ears-drop, you will hear the best lies ever told. There is something about travelling that makes us tell porky pies! Something pushes us, as grown up adults, to regress and lie like a 5 year old. And just like the 5 year old, we think we are going to get away with it, when it is plane to see its not going to work. Here are some of my favorites for this year:

we are now boarding people only on rows 25 to 37
Sir, we are only boarding from rows 25 to 37
sorry I didnt hear it

you can only take one piece of hand luggage with you
I only have one piece of hand luggage with me!
(he is standing there with 2, we can all see it)
sir, you have 2 pieces
No I only have one
(I promise you we can see 2)
Sir, you have two
no, this is my briefcase!
(I guess he has a point, however you know dam well he is trying to get away with it! This is not Ryan Air by the way)

you can only take liquids less than 100 mil
that is less than 100 mil!
no its not, it says 250 mil on the bottle
yea but its more than half empty so its about 100 mil
(again good point but I think they were trying to get away with it)

I was told by your colleague at check in I could use the lounge…”

"You are late and holding back the plane"
"Sorry, it was a short connection"
(They have duty free bags under their arm!)

and my favorite of all, the biggest fat lie ever told:

madam, please switch your music off
No response from the traveler
madam can you please switch your music off
No response from the traveler
A tap on the shoulder, she looks up and take the headphones off
can you please turn you music off we are about to take off
Yea it's off (big fat lie!)

Observation No 3 how and why do you beep?

Some of the perks of travelling is that you get a "good seen to" by security officers from time to time, if you know what I mean! (wink, wink)
We have all learned to live with tight security controls and fairly standard procedures in most airports over the last few years but what still gets me is what makes you beep as you go through the metal detector? You can go through airport security 2 or 3 times the same day if you have connecting flights and specially if you land in Frankfurt (which by they way I vote as the worst airport in Europe, more on this later) and you can pass through a metal detector without beeping in one airport and then beep on the other (and you have done exactly the same in both). I have come to my own conclusion and I think the airport guards have a button they press when you walk through and they take a fancy at you! Otherwise why would this be?
And believe me when I tell you this, I have had security guards touched me in places no other man has been! So it doesn't matter what you take off, if he fancies you, you will beep and then he will have his day!

Speaking of Frankfurt, here is Observation No 4 Airport security whose mission statement is "make sure the passenger loses his flight!"

Trust me when I tell you I fully appreciate the work these men and women do every day to keep people safe and a live! I have in fact honoured these silent heroes in one of my blogs as often you see people being so ungrateful towards the guards who are just doing their job when they do it well!
There is one airport I want to highlight in my blog today and that is Frankfurt airport! This has got to be the worlds worst airport in many levels. I know many people would disagree with me, as I know a lot of travelers like Frankfurt, but not for me, and I avoid going through it as much as possible. It is not only the fact that every time I land in Frankfurt and have just under 50 minutes to get from one gate to the other, they, I am sure purposely, put both planes at opposite sides of the airport (same airline by the way) and for some reason, even though you are in transit, you still have to go through airport security! (no other airport has this as far as I know) and it would be ok if this was a good experience, but here comes the frustrating part ITS NOT! (ok anger out, feel much better...) they are so slow, it is unbelievable! And unpredictable! You can take everything out and they will still stop you. When you have very little time to get to your gate this is the last thing you want. I have a bag full of cables; in no other airport do they ask me to take it out, except Frankfurt! So now I take it out, so they dont stop me WRONG AGAIN! (ok more anger out, feel much better...) because they will still stop you and ask you to now empty the cables out!
I could go on and on, so I will stop here, there is more I want to tell you than security at Frankfurt. Oh by they way, I always beep there! Maybe I'm the type German security guys go for?

Observation No 5 there is always one

There is always one
who will do a succession of farts on the plane and is seating next to you.
who will push you to get to his/her luggage without disregards for your safety!
who will try to squeeze his or her bag on top of yours!
who will have the nerve to move your bag so he or she can fit theirs in and then there is no room for yours!
who will always take the whole armrest!
who will always want to go to the toilet when the seatbelt sign comes on!
who will always turn his mobile phone on as soon as the plane touches down! who will always stand up before the plane stops fully!
who will clap as the plane lands!
who will always try to chat even though you have your earphones on!
who goes to the toilet too many times!
who will hold the plane back and walks in with a Starbucks cup!
There is always one

Observation No 6 is this a service industry? I've not noticed...

Coming from a service industry myself, I know what it takes to make a guest happy, and I know how much we demand from our staff to treat people well so they come back and use us again. You have all heard the famous phrase "look after your customers and they will come back"
Unfortunately this is not true in the travel industry and they hold its customers by the throat saying, we dont care, you are going to come back anyway
Most companies working in the travel industry have a big advantage, we, the traveler; will be coming back even if we dont like it! The monopoly of the airlines and lack of care from airport base companies make sometimes the travel experience a misery. Choosing an airline to travel comes down to your destiny and price not because we like them and they treat us well. And you dont really have much choice of visiting an airport either, its not as if you can say, Im never using this airport again! This allows employees in this industry to be dam rude and get away with it! The best example was this summer when we were travelling back from Majorca to mainland Spain and an employee of Iberia, part of British Airways, the world's worst airline, shouted to a customer "are you deaf? Weve been calling for 5 minutes now!" because he did not hear the announcement that he needed to come forward and check in. Let me put this into context for you the Iberia attendant was making the announcement in Spanish, not once she did it in English, and the gentleman was Asian and did not speak Spanish. He clearly did not understand her and when he said what? To her very rude remarks I thought she was not going to repeat what she had just said in Spanish. But guess what? Yes, she wanted to be heard, so she said it in English. I think, luckily for her, this was an Asian gentleman and he did not reply back. I was wishing, in my sick twisted mind, that she would do it to me, then I think I may have not left Majorca as I would have probably been arrested as I would have given her a piece of my mind!
The fact is that at that moment you have to fly with them and then you may have to again, if your destination pushes you to take their flights, we have no choice so they will continue to get away with murder!

Observation No 7 my life in their hands!

I wrote a blog some time ago on my experience when travelling on a taxi from a hotel to the airport at 3 am. Although convenient as you avoid traffic and get there faster, it is also dangerous as I saw my driver close his eyes for what seemed an eternity! He did wake up but the rest of the journey I build my mussels as I was so tens keeping an eye on him!
Often I think of the fact that I take most methods of transport to get to my destinations every day, from cars (taxis or private cars), buses (to and from the airport), trains (underground and rail) and airplanes (134 of theses) and for every form of transport I relay on the driver, conductor or pilot to get me there, safely and on time.
Statistically they say you are more likely to die in a car accident or being run over by a buss than in a plane. Statistically I use all those that can get you killed!
But for me, it is not the odds but the luck. I think you can spend your life travelling (and thousands of people do) and never be involved in an incident, and then you can step out of your house and a car runs you over. I am a believer that when its your time, its your time, whether you are on a plane or watching a movie and you choke on your popcorn! So when I travel I have learnt not to worry about things like this, if you do, you would never go outside your house!
This year I have not had any major scares, seems that everyone involved get me to my destinations have worked very hard to get me there safely! But I guess when you have seen the wing of your airplane scrap the surface and produce sparks and the aircraft take back up again as it couldnt land due to high winds, anything else is a walk in the park! (Thank god this happened earlier in my travelling life, I can cope with anything now!)

Observation No 8 everywhere you go, always take the weather with you!

If you started singing the song by Crowded House it shows your age! No but seriously I could not write a blog about travel and live in England without talking about the weather!
Like most people, I like summer, it is warm, its sunny and people are in a good mood. And more importantly your plane is never delayed! And like most people I hate winter, its miserable, its cold and the slightest sign of snow paralyses the whole travel industry.
Some countries cope better with this than others. Take the Russians, they are able to take off and land with 2 meters of snow. The have heated runways, they have plough machines to remove snow, they have enough de-icer machines and they have nice warm Russian hats! Take the British; we have none of the above! And when we get a twinkle of white stuff falling we just close the country, its cheaper apparently than buying the equipment to cope with snow!
Look, I can cope with delays, they are part of the deal when you travel, and its not going to be always perfect. But what I cant cope with is the same issue every year when we know its going to happen! Einstein said, Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results do we think that we are not going to get snow next year? Or that people will look outside and see the snow and say I wont go to work today Seriously! Im willing to put a tenner for buying some of those wonderful machines the Russians have. If we all chip-in, we could buy all of that equipment and the country wouldnt to shut for days every winter. Ill put a collection box outside number 10 Downing Street, feel free to contribute!

I feel I am getting a lot of my anger out in this blog! This is good therapy!

And my last observation No matter how many things you encounter when you travel, you are truly blessed by having the chance to see the world.

I know I travel excessively, and some would not like it, but I believe that travelling is a way for humans to see and understand the world around us. You cannot say youve arrived home until you left home. Whether you travel for holidays or business, pleasure or work, business class or economy, abroad or in land, every time you do, keep your eyes and ears open, you will learn so much about the world we live in, and it will make you appreciate who we are and why we are the way we are, there is so much out there to see.

I look forward to another year of travelling, enjoying new experiences, learning from different cultures and people, meeting human beings who inspire my stories and most of all having more time to write for you all

You can read my plays at and join our new writers club Shakespeares Monkey in Facebook
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