We’re packed! Tickets, passports, magazines, baby wipes, boiled sweets, colouring books, crayons and wallet are all safely ensconced in my hand luggage and we’re off to the airport on our holiday. Now we all look forward to our annual summer holiday with the excitement of a dog that’s discovered the remains of a big mac on the side of the road! But does it actually live up to the glossy brochure promise and can it ever be anything other than the usual trials and tribulations of family life, with the only difference being that hopefully the sun is shining and two of you have developed the runs?
The airport check- in is our first port of call and also the first cause of stress. Let’s assume the queue isn’t too bad and that most other travellers have been conned into paying for online check- in, hence leaving it clear for me and mine to glide through with ease. If we’re on an early flight then I’m already at a disadvantage by not looking my best, having woken at 3am in order to get the kids ready, feed the cat, triple check the bags and give ourselves an extra 30 mins just in case the taxi fails to turn up. So being met by a glamorous check in girl, with perfect make up, chalk white teeth and a fixed grin, isn’t a great start.
It’s now that I have my first panic attack in the hope that we haven’t exceeded the weight allowance by even a couple of grams. My scales are just a set of bathroom ones from the local pound shop, whereas I’m sure the airline use NASA calibrated scales designed to sound an ear piercing alarm if my case is even an ounce over weight! I begin to get a knot in my stomach as my husband delicately places the case on the scales. It’s 6am and the thought of opening the cases to re-distribute my knickers, bras and swimsuits (with built in support) into another bag, is quite frankly, too depressing to think about! I hold my breath…….great...15 Kg exactly! The look of disappointment on the check-in girl’s face reminds me of that time when I had to tell my daughter that next doors dog had eaten her pet rabbit ...‘Thumper’!
So she checks our passports (yeah I know I’ve put on weight since the picture) and asks us the obligatory ‘security ‘ questions….’have you packed the bag yourself, has anyone asked you to carry anything for them, have you left your bag unattended…. blah blah blah, her words wash over my head… I mean come on, if I had done any of those things I wouldn’t bloody tell her would I!
The next shocking news for the poor girl, is when she realises that we haven’t paid for allocated seating on the plane. Her face takes on the look of someone who is simply flabbergasted by this fact and well seeing as she only looks about 22, I think this may well be the most unimaginable thing she’s ever heard? I want to comfort her, to tell her it’s ok to just ‘wing’ it and that we’ll be ok, but then I see the sympathy for me in her eyes as my husband starts to rant about the good old days of plane travel and I decide to just let him sock it to her!
‘ You know, for over 20 years before the budget airlines came along, I travelled with my family and friends and always miraculously checked in and managed to be seated all together. Nowadays the airlines use ‘blackmail’ to try to get us to pay for allocated seats. ‘We can’t guarantee that you’ll be sat together if you don’t pre book your seats at £6 a pop’, they say. Why can’t they just do what airlines used to do years ago, you turn up with your family, check in and you all get seats together! Simple, try it, it works!’
Now I’m sure this type of passenger is covered in her ‘How to be a ‘Check-in Girl’ manual and also a regular occurrence, so I raise an eyebrow at her and whisper to her to be thankful that she isn’t married to him! Besides I know for a fact, that no stewardess is not going to separate my children from us, for the outcome would only mean hysterical screaming and upset, resulting in maximum disruption for all the other passengers and for them! However if only I could ‘pay’ to be guaranteed a seat ‘away’ from my kids? (or any kids in fact)…. now there’s a charge I’d be happily pay with a smile!
So with a deep breath and sigh of relief I’m thinking that all seems to have gone to plan so far. The luggage is within allowed limits and I’ve got all four boarding cards clenched tightly in my hand, in fact held tighter than if I’d been entrusted to hold the hand someone else’s toddler, at a Teletubbies concert!
What next, well now to check our hand luggage isn’t too big? Ok, you’re restricted to one piece per person and 10kg in weight I understand. We’ve decided (the royal ‘husband we’ that is..) to take the maximum number of bags/small cases, on account of them being ‘free’ to take on-board, compared to the price of putting an extra suitcase in the hold, which would cost us a ‘robbing’ £40! So my husband, the two kids and I now all have our own wheelie cases, which he’s measured precisely with his surveyor’s tape measure and in accordance with the online guide. So how could there ever be a problem?
It has a sign above it saying ‘size matters’ and as I look at our cases, which now seem positively obese, I mutter to myself, ‘yes it bloody well does matter, especially if I can’t fit the bleeding thing in!’ Anxiously I lower the first case into the rack and squash it down as much as possible whilst trying to look inconspicuous. I’m beginning to feel the panic rising and wonder if this can already be seen on my rapidly ageing and sweaty face.
The case stops just shy of fitting in, so my husband casually picks up our 9yr old daughter, lowers her on top of the case and quietly whispers into her ear, to jump, stamp and do whatever it takes to make sure it gets in! Now our daughter finds this hilarious, whilst our 16 yr Old by this stage is so embarrassed by our behaviour, she announces that she is seriously considering blagging her way onto a different flight and spending the next two weeks by herself. I quickly glance at the other passengers behind us and hope and pray that they don’t report us to social services for using our child as a battering ram! However, in spite of the effort, the outcome is successful as the case fits and our little one is so knackered from all the jumping that there has to be a slight hope, a chance, a small possibility that maybe she’ll sleep on the plane!
Now for the next hurdle… security. The reality of getting through the security process is just shuddersome. Not only are we now faced with yet another queue, our teenager points out the ‘speedy’ security machines, which in exchange for £4.00 each will enable us to bypass all the tight gits who haven’t paid for the privilege of joining a slightly shorter queue. So, to pay or not to pay, that is the question? We’re a family of 4, so that’s £16 out of our holiday spends and we haven’t even left the airport yet! Is the queue really any quicker? All my experience and head tells me it isn’t, but seeing as those with the special fast track tickets are concealed from view like mystical creatures, hidden away from us, the masses, I have no visual evidence to help me make an informed decision! So in the end, I can tell from my husband’s face, that we just can’t justify the extra expense and I’m left trying to quell the feeling of being a complete cheapskate and ignore the disappointed expression on my children’s faces, by saying ‘well you can spend the money we’ve saved in duty free if you like‘!
Finally we arrive at security and proceed to take off our coats, shoes, or boots and belts. We deposit lip glosses, make up, liquids etc, all in little plastic bags (which for once I remembered to bring with me, saving a £1 by not having to buy them), plonk the wallet, purse, mobile, IPod and lap top on the conveyer belt and cross my fingers.
Now the staff look and act friendly enough, in the kind of way I assume a prison guard would! I watch eagerly as our bags go through the scanner and gently guide the children to the machine they’ll walk through, one at a time. I silently say a prayer to myself and just hope that they’re not wearing anything metal that I don’t know about, or that they’ve haven’t secretly packed a toy gun, knife or fake liquid blood left over from Halloween or maybe even a rock like last time! I mutter to myself about forgetting to check their bags, but accept that it’s now beyond my control.
It’s funny 'cause I know that without doubt I have nothing sinister, forbidden or suspect in my bag or about my person, but I do start to sweat slightly, I struggle to breathe and even begin to ‘feel guilty’. This reaction is normal I tell myself, it’s just a result of the stressful situation, and as we all make it through! Thankfully all our bags conquer security I can finally start to calm down.
The process from check-in to the ‘air side’ leaves me exhausted. It is invasive, uncomfortable, and stressful but I accept a necessary procedure. In fact it’s much akin to a trip to the dentist to get a root canal done!
Relieved that the pain is over, we head over to Starbucks for a restorative brew! Nursing my liquid reward, I can’t help but feel peeved by the ludicrous amount of frothy milk that I have to battle through to get to any actual coffee. This coupled with the fact that a ‘large’ could easily be mistaken for a window cleaners bucket which will no doubt go cold before I’m even a third of the way through drinking it, I’m beginning to stress again! But still, this is now ‘holiday time’ and I can now concentrate on relaxing.
The last queue, the final hurdle, the one to board the plane, goes surprisingly well and we manage to avoid being flattened by all the passengers with small children who push themselves forward, desperate to get their brood on first and to get the best seats! So against odds and costs, we’re there, seated as a family (damn it I really hoped we’d get split up this time;)) but we’re on the plane and waiting to take off…