Air travel is full of mystery. No, not the mystery of how a teeny-weeny jet engine manages to thrust a big metal cylinder full of people up into the blue, and not the question of how the pilot finds a little island in the middle of a big ocean – no, I’m talking about some of the really BIG questions of life.
Question one – who are those people that must urgently rush to Gate 79 so their plane can depart (and – where are they?). Question two – why do they show movies on planes (and – why are they always just slightly longer than the time left on the flight?). My theory is that these two seemingly harmless questions can reveal the key to one of the great secrets of the modern age. How so, you ask? Well, let’s just start with today …
We arrive at Brisbane International Airport, or BNE to its friends, after an early rise and a couple of hours jostling in traffic from our home nestling secure on the mountainside. We’ve read all the reports and warnings – “Do not pack anything sharp – or you will go to jail!” “Do not leave your baggage unattended – or you will go to jail.” “Do not …..” well, you get the picture.
So, here we are at the airport. We’ve just sent our luggage (and all our clean undies) off somewhere on a robotic belt. Once upon a time, there was a smiling check-in lady who assured you your bags were in good hands. Now, we scan our passports, click the screen a couple of times to say we won’t do anything naughty, then try our best to stick those nasty printed labels to our gear without creasing the barcodes. Anyways, the bags have gone – somewhere – and we’re momentarily feeling lost. Then comes the announcement. “Can Mister – J – C – Smith – and – Ms – C – J – (something unpronounceable) – proceed immediately to Gate – 7 – 5. Your aircraft is cleared for immediate departure.” We’re not Mr Smith, and pretty sure we’re not Ms (unpronounceable), but we get the distinct feeling that, if we don’t hightail it down that ominous looking departures escalator and through security, our names will be next.
So, down we go. Security is actually OK – no gels, liquids, sharp objects or umbrellas here, no sir! Then, there’s the lure of the duty-free shops. Should we look? Quick time check. Hmm – only two hours until boarding time. Well, maybe we can chance a quick look before they start calling our names.
To our surprise, time passes fairly slowly. We’re dutifully sitting at our boarding gate, with nothing much to do but watch the people passing by. Our flight is delayed a bit, but there have been about ten more announcements calling for people to urgently rush to this gate or that,so we ain’t going nowhere! We’re starting to speculate about the fact that we never actually see any of these recalcitrant travellers rushing by on their mission to reach the gate before “offloading procedures have commenced”, but our musings are interrupted by a local announcement that it’s our turn to show our documents and walk down the special corridor to the first of two planes that will be our home for the next seventeen hours.
Ah, here’s our seats. Oh look, there’s a swag of movies to choose from on this flight. We’re only on the warm-up hop to New Zealand, but a good movie will be just the thing to finally get us in the travel groove. Ah, here’s one we’ve been waiting to see …. time passes …. the hero is just about to save the world from certain destruction. The music’s building up to a climax – then – black screen (with an annoying little text box right where the hero is supposed to be) – “Hello everyone, this is the captain. We’re just starting our descent. It’s time to turn off all your ….”
Suddenly, it strikes me! It all fits together! At last I understand how all these announcements are connected! It’s all because …. (sorry, my battery just died).