I have always found the excitement of a new adventure to be inversely proportionate to the overwhelming tediousness of flying there; an activity not helped by constant queuing and other people’s ineptitude for efficiency. Nowhere is this contrast in emotions more apparent than in the immediate five minutes after an aeroplane lands, in what I like to call the emotional loop-the-loop.
For the first minute upon arrival you ascend one side of the loop. A wide range of jubilant emotions sweeps amongst the hundreds of passengers you’ve shared the journey with. 13 hours of awkward eye contact, even more uncomfortable accidental leg to leg brushes and worst of all the “Sorry, do you mind if I…”, as you ask your neighbour to pause the movie they were watching and stand up so you can use the worlds smallest bathroom.
Ascending the emotional loop further you feel euphoria that the plane has landed safely. No matter how much everyone says flying does not bother them, the safe descent from 30,000 feet always brings about a moment, however brief, of relief. Even babies momentarily stop screaming. This is followed quickly by excitement as all the lucky people that got up early and secured a window seat are allowed to look at something that isn’t a cloud for the first time in hours. For some it is home, for others a brand new airport in a land unknown. Those travelling with a companion point out of the window and say “Quick! Look at that!”. This is always followed by an “Oh wow”, or a “Cooool”, no matter how totally benign the subject being pointed at always is (usually another aeroplane, an airport or a hill).
There is then a noise that triggers total chaos. One small, seemingly incongruous sound effect that would have fascinated Ivan Pavlov (but probably not his dogs). The sound I am talking about is the ‘bing’ of the seatbelt light as it goes out granting everyone freedom to stand up (apparently in first class someone lifts you out of your seat). Pandemonium ensues as people rush to be the first one stood up, the first to grab their bag out of the overhead compartment and the first off the plane.
I genuinely believe people internally celebrate like they’ve won olympic gold when they are one of the first people stood in the aisle, bag on their back, ready to safely disembark the cargo ship and run, arms aloft through the metaphorical finish line. No matter how fast you are though, we all get beaten by that one daredevil who sneakily undid their seatbelt before the seatbelt sign was turned off, grabbed their bag and ran up the aisle to gain a precious few yards on the rest of us.
It is at this exact point, 15 seconds after the ‘bing’ that our emotions stand at the top of the loop-the-loop. Some people are still stubbornly sat in their seats, stuck in that slow driver mentality of ‘they won’t get there any faster’, others turn their phone off aeroplane mode absorbed in the two messages their mother or partner sent asking if they got their safely. The rest of us mere mortals stand there doing anything we can to avoid making eye contact with a stranger. Those that didn’t manage to bolt out of their seats and are stuck by the window stare out of it, each one simultaneously deciding that airports in Namibia look the same as airports in London. The majority though are consigned to being stuck in the aisle, overly conscious of the smell now wafting from their armpits while they reach for their bags in an overhead locker.
Little did I realise as I took this that 100 people were passively aggressively staring at me for opening a window while they tried to sleep
It is right here, at this precise moments that we plummet down the other side of the loop. The human race can advance as far as it likes but it will never, ever, work out a way to avoid queuing. Luckily as a Brit I am a very good queuer, but still find it deeply frustrating as everyone shuffles forward in a straight line through the aisle rehearsing the “thank you” and head nod they will give to the air-steward before walking down the stairs and queuing again to get through arrival security.
The frustration felt in queuing though has nothing on the anxiety everyone feels waiting for their bag. I firmly believe every time I stand at a baggage carousel that if mine is not in the first 10 bags off the plane it’s lost. Immediately I start to abuse (in my head) the idiots in charge of baggage handling, the muppets that run the airline and the incompetent person that must have put my bag on a plane to Wisconsin and not Windhoek. This completely irrational reaction lasts for 10 minutes as I plummet down the final leg of my emotional roller coaster until, naturally, I realise I’m an idiot. Due to all my camera equipment my bag will not be coming through on the carousel and will in fact be in the over-sized baggage area on the other side of the airport (apparently putting it next to the baggage carousel would be too logical).
It is here that I, like many others before me when they realise they are in the wrong place through sheer stupidity, pull my phone out of my pocket, pretend to read something important and confidently walk in a different direction. This gives an air of “I knew what I was doing all along!” Sure enough, there sits my bag wrapped in enough protective cling film to cover a small elephant.
This allows the rollercoaster to complete its full loop. But let’s not get off there, instead, for the first time in my life, there is someone at arrivals holding a placard with my name on, allowing me to continue the pretence I started while standing in the wrong place that I am in fact, quite important.
This pretence I can assure you was extremely short lived as you will realise over the next few posts. I promise these will not be sarcastic musings about the wonder (or lack of) that is flying, but will instead document an incredible three week trip around Namibia. Covering 3,500km’s in a truck 7 years older than me on a journey that saw me almost eaten by a hippo (sort of), almost eaten by a lion (sort of) and having to apologise many, many times for being British.