Tim Warrington details the events that followed an upgrade to Business Class and show that a travel writer's life is not always rosy.
Whenever I'm asked "what's it like to be a travel writer?" — I reply thusly:
The snap of the elasticated medical glove suggested the creepy man with the hairy mole was not joking about the strip search.
I was in deep.
In some alternate universe, his breathy whisper in my ear, "what are you hiding in your bottom?" might have raised a titter.
But not in the arrivals lounge of a sweaty, Far Eastern airport.
It was late and my heart buzzed faster than the solitary fluoro tube, high above me in the stark, sphincter-clenching interview room.
Away from other travellers, the question was posed again — less eloquently this time.
"You have drugs in arse?"
But my reply was the same.
The elevated harmonies of Business Class had come down to earth with a bang — or rather a crack ... because that was what these people were convinced I had concealed in mine.
Hairy mole man said this was the only reason why I would be drenched in cologne — to confuse the sniffer dogs.
But it was not the only reason.
There was a far more innocent explanation why I had drenched myself in Chanel Platinum Egoiste.
An upgrade at check-in quickly soured when the adjacent traveller threw up on my skybed.
"Aeroplane food is the only cuisine improved by partial digestion," the passenger in 3B joked before resuming his snoring.
It was not the auspicious start to the getaway I had imagined. And it was about to get much worse.
Exactly 54 moist towelettes later I had restored a modicum of cleanliness to me and my airspace, and erected a great wall of flight pillows to guard against further in-flight reflux.
But the smell of vomit lingered as we began our descent.
Later, in duty free, I hovered at the perfume counter spritzing away the scent of honey-glazed carrots, slow-roast wagyu and partially digested potato rosti.
I cleared Immigration easily enough but in Customs the fragrant cloud of bergamot and amber drew the attention of the officious ground staff and their sniffer dogs.
The man with the hairy mole eyed me with immediate disapproval and pounced.
Then, in the room with the solitary fluoro light, surrounded by customs officers, I was questioned about what exactly I was trying to hide.
Apparently CCTV captured me spraying 23 different types of perfume.
But purchasing, "not one," said Hairy Mole with a flourish of his bony wrist and a faux spritz.
"Why?" he snarled.
Several officers had already gone through my luggage twice and found nothing more incriminating than a pair of Hello Kitty boxer shorts.
And three stolen hotel hangers. A theft for which I could no doubt blame this karmic retribution.
But aside from the hangers, which I vowed to return, I was clean, so I pleaded with Hairy Mole, employing staccato for effect.
"THAT IS WHY I AM WEAR-ING PER-FUME.
Each syllable bold, crisp and purposeful.
Hairy Mole appeared unmoved.
My mind was a chaos of despair. I was barely able to point at my crotch where the stain of red wine jus was still clearly visible.
"Call the airline," I implored them, in a desperate finale to my theatrical explanation of windmill arms and heaving bosom. I pointed to the stain on my crotch again. And again.
Hairy Mole seemed tired of my entreaties, and looking at my crotch.
He picked up a phone and made a call.
He said something I didn't understand before nodding and grunting for several seconds.
"We hope you enjoy your stay," he said damply as he handed me my Hello Kitty boxer shorts.
Just like that.
I was about to say something clever and just a little bit cheeky but Hairy Mole flicked me his best Clint Eastwood, "go ahead, make my day" look.
So instead, I hastily repacked my case, grabbed my knickers and dashed out the door.