Duty Free Dreaming and Departure Lounges; the final leg of the long haul flight

Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo.

Al Gore

Another stop, Dubai now, for what was meant to be an hour and a half but I have a sneaking suspicion it has been, and will be, longer than that.

I’m in another departure lounge. I don’t quite understand the use of the word lounge in this context. “Lounge” conjures up all sorts of images, none of which are even remotely like the thing I am sitting in.  It is not that this departure “lounge” is any worse than others I have been trapped in. They’re all pretty much the same. Cheap, heavy-duty carpet with mind-blogging patterns. Vinyl bench seats in a colour scheme which clashes beautifully with the mind-boggling carpet. Big, empty white walls. Big, nasty fluro lights. That constant beep-beep, beep-beep as they recheck boarding passes and passports.

This particular departure lounge is spinning. It could be the carpet. Or the lights. Or the fact I haven’t slept in 24 hours. Probably some sort of combination of the three. The carpets makes 3D shapes which jump into my face whenever I look down.

I should stop looking down.

I feel disgusting but at least I smell nice.

Upon passing through security I was greeted by the bright lights and empty promises of the Duty Free stores. The United Arab Emirates Dirham makes everything look expensive. The US Dollar makes everything look affordable. I wasn’t fooled; Australian Dollars will get you nowhere. So I browsed and attempted to keep that nonchalant I-could-afford-it-if-I-wanted-it expression plastered on my face. I tried to not look guilty every time I passed a security guard. Not that I had anything to feel guilty about – except, possibly, the fact that there was no way in the world I was actually going to buy anything or shoplift anything for that matter. That feeling of guilt for not actually doing anything wrong always happens when I have to show my bag to the security guy at the door of the store or when I walk past a cop … It’s just a thing I think.

Anyway, I tried on some Chanel perfume because Keira Knightley strikes me as a really lovely person and someone I think I could be great friends with one day. (OK, OK, I know – I just completely sucked in to celebrity branding. Gross.) I put on the perfume with my nonchalant expression.

The girl with the nonchalant expression decided she didn’t want the perfume.

The girl within the girl with the nonchalant expression really, really did want it …

But you can’t just buy something so extravagant before your adventure / international experience / holiday even begins, can you? Plus, you know, I am going to Paris so there’s that. Yeah.  Paris.

Meanwhile, back in the departure lounge …

A man in a fluro vest (so he must be official and know what is going on) just made everyone seated in rows 1 to 21 stand, expectantly, to board the bus which will take us to the plane (finally).

So I stood. And waited.

He was wrong.

Despite the fluro vest.

Everyone in seated rows 1 to 21 could sit down again.

Most of them didn’t want to.

I can understand that.

What I don’t understand is why this part of the airport even exists. We got off the plane. Went through security. I wandered around the Duty Free stores. I tried on expensive perfume. Then I had to show my boarding pass, again, and passport, again, and wait in this thing they call a lounge which is more like a holding pen. Or the setting for some bizarre psychology experiment. Stand up. Sit down. Beep-beep. There are no bathrooms here. No water. Not even enough places to sit. Just crazy carpet. And vinyl seats.

And a lonely girl wearing Chanel perfume she cannot really afford.

Roll on Heathrow …

Fluro lights of the departure lounge

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On board; grumblings from a long haul flight

There are only two emotions in a plane:  boredom and terror.

Orson Welles

The girl who sat next to me on the plane to Dubai had the sulky look of a moody teenager. She compared university timetables with her friend (who was less sulky and not sitting next to me), listed off all the airlines she’d flown with (there are a lot of airlines) and responded negatively to the blessing of the plane (I am sitting in an aluminium tube, 40,000 feet in the air – I appreciate the blessing. Thank you).

I did not like her.

I don’t like to make snap decisions about people. I like to take my time before coming to a like / dislike / indifferent conclusion about a fellow human being. Well. Mostly. There have been, of course, some snap decisions about people have lead to things I have regretted: dating a psychopath, buying a John Mayer album … I have learnt from the errors of making a snap judgement. Like writing an essay, you need to find the evidence to support your argument. So I tried, I really tried, not to dislike the girl next to me on the long-haul flight.

But then …

She used the common arm-rest like it was her own.

I took a deep breath.

That’s cool. I mean it is that weird territory, a grey area, isn’t it? I don’t really know what the rules are on that one. All I know is that I have been wedged between two strangers on a flight where neither wanted to give up the shared arm-rest. I never want anyone to experience that. So, I always try to be accommodating to the person in the middle seat; the worst seat on the plane. The girl next to me, however, had commandeered both arm-rests whilst I was shoved up against the window. Suddenly the worst seat on the plane looked far more appealing than the overrated window seat.

She had drawn up some inequitable borders and proceeded to invade my territory with her elbow. She leant into my seat. She put her foot up on the gap between the two seats in front. She spread her legs wider than a cowboy, her knee hovering over my legs. She dusted her peanut crumbs over me. Peanut. Crumbs.

It was difficult to find evidence to support an argument for feeling indifferent about this person.

But maybe that’s to be expected when you’re squashed into economy on a long haul flight.

The girl next to me spoke loudly. Everything she said sounded like it was the Most Important And Intelligent Thing Ever Said. Until you actually listened to the words spewing from her mouth. The girl next to me explained:

  • the problem she faced in having skinny legs but a belly that bulged,
  • how she would scream whenever she heard thunder and lightning (and I wondered, but did not ask, how she heard lightning), and
  • that she was studying psychology (really?) but might do some Vet Science subjects because she really loves animals and surely “a vet must get paid more than a doctor cos they have to know about more than one species”.

Yep.

It was a long flight.

A very, very long flight …

In transit; ramblings from Brunei Airport

It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase “As pretty as an airport” appear

Douglas Adams

In the bathroom at Brunei airport the taps were running. I don’t know why. I turned them off. Habit, I suppose. I still don’t know if I was meant to or not. Airports can be confusing places; particularly the bathrooms.

I found the only functioning bathroom in Brunei airport. Due to renovations. I waited at the end of a queue for the western toilet, whilst the squat toilets mocked me; their doors open, empty, ready and waiting. I felt like an idiot. I wish I could have whipped off my tights and straddled the hole in the ground. But, like an arrogant westerner, I waited and tried, desperately, not to look concerned at the water and paper that flooded the floor or the massive hole in the ceiling.

I washed my hands and looked for something to dry them on. A lovely woman understood the international sign for I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-wet-hands and handed me a roll of toilet paper. We smiled. I said thanks and wished I’d taken the time to learn some other thank-yous before embarking on this trip: danke, merci, grazie … I hadn’t even thought about the thank yous I would need in transit. I stood amongst women I couldn’t understand and plaited my hair as they adjusted their headscarves. I felt ashamed of my plait. I applied some moisturiser whilst they did the same. When most of them had left I turned off the taps. I snapped a picture. To remember.

I was confined to Brunei’s damp and humid airport for about two hours. There wasn’t much happening. Due to renovations. There was one little shop selling souvenirs, lollies and water (it only accepted Brunei dollars) and a foreign cash exchange window (clever). 

I really wished that I had learnt more about the place of my two-closer-to-three-hour transit.

As the plane descended into Brunei I pressed my face against the window to get a better look at the landscape. It was beautiful. Green and lush. Mountains and valleys covered in trees upon trees. They all looked like they were pushing each other out of the way; jostling for the best spot or standing on each other’s shoulders like a crowd in a mosh-pit.

Low clouds covered the valley, slowly rolling by … no, no – not rolling – they were really too wispy to be rolling. The clouds reminded me of that stuff Mum and Nan would call “angel’s hair” and spread over the artificial branches of our artificial Christmas tree to create an artificial winter wonderland in the midst of Perth’s very hot summer. The trees here were greener than any of our fake Christmas trees.

The trees thinned out to make way for little pockets of little houses and little driveways that lead up to little doors. The trees fight for space, gathered together in mournful gangs here and there until there are more houses than trees. Still, it is nothing like the roofs and roofs and roofs that cover the aerial view of Melbourne. The roofs as we come into land at Brunei are blue and red and yellow and orange.

There are some spots where the houses look exactly the same; like someone had gone crazy with the copy + paste function – identical blue roofs all in a neat little row, identical triangular houses built around a cleared rectangle. Suddenly one massive house interrupts the pattern – a manor house with a red roof and manicured lawn.

Next time I’d like to leave the musty airport and feel the damp air and humidity against my face and, maybe, meet the people who live in those identical houses. I wonder if those identical houses are part of a new development, an estate, something the people here have been given as some sort of dream they feel they have to aspire to. I hope it never becomes the roof rather than the tree jostling for the best spot.

I want to learn more about Brunei.

I want to know when to join a queue.

I want to know more about clouds.

But, I am in transit …