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Departures

Stuart White gets the economy class blues

Stuart White takes his annual pilgrimage with the common people – and finds a veritable feast of griping at his table

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This column has had so many gripes it’s begun to resemble a nursery full of two-month- old quintuplets in the midst of a rampant colic epidemic. In it I’ve raged about awful airports, terrible taxis, horrendous hotels, rascally receptionists, rapacious restaurateurs, and even flatulent fellow passengers.

I’ve lashed out at just about every part of what has become the Dante’s Inferno of modern-day travel. One woman emailed to say she considered me the Anti-Christ of travel writers. Well the Fallen Angel recently had a road to Damascus moment – if that’s not going a religious metaphor too far.

So this is in the nature of an Anti-Rant with just a Mini-Rant thrown in later about the Passengers Who Just Can’t Be Satisfied. So for now as briefly poacher-turned-gamekeeper I’m looking on the bright side and giving both barrels to those other travel monsters for a change.

The ogres I’ve got in mind are not even professional travellers. Instead once or perhaps twice a year they pack the fake Samsonite and get a mini-cab to Luton Airport, East Midlands, Stansted or Gatwick for their flight to the Costa del Crappola.

But to hear them talk you think they’d been kidnapped and shipped in chains on the Bad Ship Amistad to a life of slavery. And I’m qualified to have a go at them because, as I acidly wrote in a moan and groan column some years back, even business travellers take a holiday.

I recounted the horror of it all. The cramped seat on the banned-in-several countries airline; the middle-of-the-night landing in some strange fly-blown aerodrome; the wet-behind-the-ears holiday rep with her estuarial whiney drone; the poolside littered with tattooed smoking chavs; wine that could strip both make-up and skin from Coronation Street’s Bet Lynch.

But praise where praise is due. Last year I was forced by circumstance to take a holiday in the worst possible month to travel – August. Airports packed, planes delayed, beaches full. Do I need to send a detailed postcard on this one?

When I rolled up with the partner and daughter to Gatwick, mouth dry and stomach churning, I expected the worst. Half-finished building work, packed concourses, sour staff, interminable check-in, long waits at security, and a frisking that would result in an indecent assault charge if you or I tried it.

Instead it was a dream. A long escalator whisked us up to the concourse where a charming employee directed us to our check-in desk. In seven minutes – I counted each one – we had our boarding cards. Then security; ah the dreaded security, that terrible imposition on our civil liberties.

It was now eight a.m. and these people had started their hardly-above-minimum-wage jobs at four. Yet they were courtesy itself. Even the frisk was painless, although it tickled a little.

But out unscathed in minutes, into the departure lounge and breakfast at a charming little place serving fresh croissants and marvellous coffee. Then off to spacious Duty-Free shops. A Garden of Eden compared with some hell-holes I’ve been through.

The serpents in this particular Paradise were not the staff but the passengers. Queuing at WH Smith’s where FIVE assistants busily and efficiently dealt with a never-ending queue of customers, some sour-faced old Scrooge off to Malta was cross at being made to wait two minutes to buy his Daily Telegraph.
At the perfume counter a perma-tanned bottle-blonde sighed theatrically and impatiently as she clutched her Duty-Free Dior. All because there was ONE customer in front of her.

A fellow passenger who I doubt had previously travelled further than Margate, was indignant when security asked him to remove his shoes? Hello moron! Remember Richard Reid, shoe bomber?

Then on the trouble-free flight down to Greece as I gazed in awe – as I always do – at the majestic Alps a grumpy old matron behind me asked me to pull my blind down, the better for her to watch Night at the Museum 2.

Yet fifty-nine minutes after touchdown I was checking into my hotel. I’ve waited that long for my baggage to slither listlessly out onto the carousel while travelling with major airlines.

OK I’ve unashamedly polished my halo instead of being Devil’s advocate this issue, so full marks to everyone at Gatwick and Thomson Holidays and a loud raspberry to the professional moaners. In future leave the gripes to pros – because very soon after that I was back to business travel and that’s another story. Sanctuary!

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