Early boarding calls are a patronising rort, writes Winston Aldworth.
At the airport, airlines treat passengers like big babies.
Regular travellers know that when the information board says your flight is boarding, it's not really boarding. The airlines just want you to get down there to the gate and stand around like sheep for 20 minutes before they're actually ready to open the doors. This makes their job easier, but it's basically being dishonest and creates uncertainty in the minds of fliers.
It also means the passenger's last experience before boarding the flight is a stark exercise in tedium. Having gone through the annoying business of checking in and inching your way through security checks, you've finally arrived in the most interesting part of the airport — there's food, drink and good shopping.
And suddenly, the airline tells you a fib to get you to the gate long before they're ready to have you board the plane. Hurry up and wait, as they say in the army.
It's one of the annoying truisms of travel: when they say "final call", they generally mean the doors have just opened and they've just started boarding. You want to know what the "final call" really is? It's when you hear your name on the airport's tannoy system. Now, I'm not advocating for a moment that you should be so late your name is called on the tannoy. But by being disingenuous with their language, the airlines put doubt and scepticism into the minds of regular fliers — many of us are unsure when the plane is actually boarding. More dangerously, many of us reckon we know.
When I arrive too early at the gate, I resent the airline.
Spare a thought, too, for the businesses at the airport, who are paying exorbitant rates to pitch their products and services to customers, only to have the airlines whisk us away with false promises of an early departure.
Many passengers are paying for the privilege of using the airline lounges — and being summoned away from a glass of decent pinot 20 minutes early is a pain in the neck. And those not in lounges will affirm that — aside from endless queues for security checks — the most tedious part of any flight is waiting at the gate. You could be mooching in duty free, enjoying one last coffee or just generally being the master of your own fate. Anything other than standing needlessly in a room with nothing but uncomfortable chairs and other irritable passengers.
Airlines should put screens around the airport displaying what's actually happening at the gates. That way passengers can see what's going on and make grown-up decisions about when it's time to put down the pinot.
Boarding gates are generally a point of no return — at many there's a security scan, so you literally can't head back to the more interesting parts of the airside airport. At the very least, they tend to be placed out on the ends of branches, extending away from the airport's main hub, meaning when you've arrived at the supposedly boarding flight to find it's most definitely not boarding, it's too much of a hassle to head back to the cool stuff.
Some airlines treat passengers like cattle — at the least they should treat us like grown ups.