Griff Rhys Jones on the modern misery of the airport
Everybody flies. Everybody. What with all the cheap airlines, and those package tours and school trips, there can't be many people left who have never travelled by aeroplane before, can there? So why do I always find myself in the queue behind an airport virgin?
It's that bloke who is going to testify against his brother in the Mafia trial in The Godfather Part II. He is standing haplessly, staring at the machinery and looking unhappy. Or a big fat sweaty chap who refuses to believe that he has to relinquish his two-litre bottle of explosive liquid.
"Have you got any computers with you?'
"What is that sir?'
"That is my computer."
"You have to put it here."
"Is it going to be safe? It will wipe my memory."
"No, it won't. But I am afraid your suit of armour will have to come off and go through the machine."
How can this man have a huge Rolex, a massive computer, six bottles of men's perfume and a silver gun in his hand luggage, and yet have never ever gone through an airport security system before?
But secretly I enjoy being "George Clooney" smug at airports. I've got my iPad out of its case in advance (dropped it twice, but it's only a small crack), stored my watch and my phone in my briefcase where I won't be able to find them later, and I feel really "frequent traveller". If my trousers weren't around my knees because I'd taken off my belt in the queue, I might almost be cool.
What we should all enjoy is that airports make us clever. I am definitely one of the more intelligent members of the human race in an airport. I can instantly see where everything is going wrong. Even my mate Bob could run an airport better than this. He tells me he could, often, over and over again, as we are waiting in the queue. And I believe him.
But I am fascinated by the fact that the people who organise getting on and off planes have obviously never done this themselves. Where did they find the man who thought up online check-in? He's definitely not in the same league as the containerisation genius.
Or perhaps I should say the "team"? It was probably "a team effort". This is how the thought processes went: instead of spending hours at a check-in desk, the customer will spend hours sitting at a computer trying to get it to do what it claims to do without it cutting out and going right back to the beginning. Then they arrive and all they have to do is drop their bag off.
Except that, in order to do that, you have to do exactly what you used to do when you checked in. You get in a queue, you meet a woman wearing a nice uniform from the 50s and you show her your passport all over again and you discuss the details of your flight with her and then you put your stuff on a scale and weigh it. And it trundles off up the belt. Exactly as before.
Sometimes you are allowed to put your own sticker on the handle. Bless. (That is surprisingly difficult actually, isn't it? And it does slow the process down even more.) And er ... why do they not provide any litter bins for the discarded wrapping on the sticky bit?
But then you gradually realise that the consultancy team who thought this up were not daft, they were exceptionally cunning. They went to the airlines and said: "Look, everybody will now have checked in and simply be dropping off bags."
"And so, you won't need as many desks or to pay as many people."
So they've cut down on the number of staff sitting at check-in desks, but the passenger now spends twice as long just doing exactly the same thing as check-in used to do, only with the extra hours at the computer.
Actually, while I've been writing this, I have decided there is only one solution. I am not going to go by plane ever again. If you carry on like this, airports and airport people, I will walk to Australia next time. I will walk and then you will see. And Emma Thompson will be happy. Got it? Good.
— The Sunday Telegraph