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A Survival Guide to Airports

Part of the reasons why I turned vegetarian is because I know exactly how the a cow feels at the slaughterhouse. The poor bovine is skinned alive and its still twitching body is hung on hooks on a carousel for further processing. Buy an air ticket, enter any airport, and you find yourself right in the middle of a human slaughterhouse ready to skin you alive and butcher you.

Departures at unknown airport

Prepare to be butchered.

Airports are dry, air-conditioned places, where possessing a bottle of water is forbidden. These conditions are necessary to make processing your flesh easier. Before your fight for survival begins, increase your blood sugar to near-lethal levels. Chocolate is best, your serotonin level will receive a boost. The high blood sugar and a flood of serotonin will give you a high while you are being chopped to pieces. Strictly do not drink any coffee or Coke on the day and the day before your flight. If caffeinated, you will receive special treatment by the executioners. Be at the airport spot on two hours before your scheduled flight. Ignore flight delays, you have to be there two hours before the originally scheduled time.

When you enter the terminal, you abdicate all of your human rights. Thousands of cameras immortalize everything you do at twenty-five frames per second. Massive algorithms decompose your facial features and your posture, they analyse your gait, compare it to a library of suspicious gaits, and send an alert to the security if you limp improperly. Invisible heat sensors watch if you have a fever, if you are anxious, if you are having a bad day. Computers and machines are unbiased, they are much better than the human dead-ends watching the screens. They gather perverted thoughts in their sick minds, and you do not want to know how disturbing the mind can get. Yet, these aspects are still tolerable, you can ignore surveillance. The worst part is that you must interact with fellow humans.

The behind of two happy zebras

Why is it good to be a zebra? You never have to go through airport security.

Your first task is to obtain your boarding pass. If automated terminals are available, ignore them, they never work, and you waste fifteen minutes by yelling at the screen. If you have a bag to check in, go home now, you are not a traveller. By law, you can take at least one bag with you. Always do a bunch of simple tricks to make the bag appear lighter. The allowed weight varies between seven to ten kilos, but the actual allowance will be determined by the check-in personnel. This means that irrespective of official regulations, you must make your carry-on bag appear at most seven kilos. So before you queue up, put on as many clothes as you can. Clip your laptop charger to a belt loop. Cluster small, loose items in a zippable bag; they add up to 200-300 grams. Clip them on the same belt loop. Your toiletries fit the pocket of your jacket. Other small but relatively heavy items, such as an electric shaver, go to the other pocket. If you have books, put them in the sleeves of your jacket. Thus prepared, your bag should be feather-light.

The check-in desk might prove difficult to reach. Arabic countries are terrible in this regard. People pile up all their belongings on trolleys, and use the trolleys to ram into other passengers who try to check in. Queues do not exist. So next time you see a four-mile queue with those annoying retractable barriers, consider yourself lucky.

Airport employees are punished by working at an airport for a reason. Under-average intelligence, history of violent and antisocial behaviour, and hormonal malfunctions are job requirements. The dunderhead at the check-in desk has the power to deny your flight, and also to call security and detain you indefinitely. So put on your best smile as you approach the check-in desk. They hate you anyway. If they cannot find a flaw with your luggage, they will invent new rules why you cannot fly. Be prepared for a load of nonsense if you have a one-way ticket. The bright-minded check-in people at the Trinidad airport made me buy a return ticket to “Europe” when I was trying to fly to Barbados. Even though I purchased a fully refundable ticket, it was hell getting the money back later, and I lost a heap of cash on the exchange rate.

Playful chute for entertaining passengers at Changi Airport

A reason to stay alive: passenger chute at Changi Airport.

If the devils allow you to check in, you must get these points to get across: your food preferences that you ordered and paid for in advance; your frequent flier number; seat preferences. Given the devils’ lack of intelligence, this task is not easy. They will also shamelessly lie that your food preference is available on the flight, as it happened with Cubana Airlines.

Once your first stage of suffering is over, it is time to reshuffle your gear. Take excess clothes off, unclip hanging items, put everything back in order. Your next and arguably worst stage is security screening number one. It is security screening number two in those countries where you are screened when entering the terminal, but the zeroth screening is so lax it does not count. The queue will be long, it takes at least an hour in big airports. Time to put your noise-isolating earphones in and listen to some sexy salsa.

As you approach the X-ray, do not empty your pockets or take your belt off in advance. While it sounds logical — doing so would speed up screening — security officers are employed if and only if they were born without a brain. They must see you empty your pockets and taking your belt off. You must do everything in front of their gummy eyes: belt off, pockets emptied, laptop removed, toiletries removed, sweater off, shoes off, money belt off. The gate will beep anyway. The screening is all about the show, it has nothing to do with security. Be prepared for harassment and inconvenience: a random item will be confiscated, a drug inspector will smell your book, and you will be scanned with anus inspecting super X-ray. There is never enough space for packing and unpacking, this is by design. Do not ever expect polite requests by the security, they are not familiar with the word please. If security refuses to speak English, talk in the most obscure language in which your are fluent. Do not ever be helpful. Amsterdam Schiphol airport has surprisingly arrogant security. I wrote a two page detailed report on the abuses I had suffered. That was two years ago, I am still waiting for the reply. Remember: you have no rights at the airport, you are a cattle being slaughtered. They can search your insides, take your property, or shoot you, with no consequences.

Abandoned information desk at Gatwick airport

Airport information desks are seldom attended. Even if they are, the staff does not know the answer to any question that is of interest to the passengers.

If you make it alive to the other side, you arrive in the void, a vacuum of existence with no temporal or spatial structure. This is the afterlife. In Beirut, it is a smoky afterlife, passengers gaily puff away their cigarettes wherever they please. At Gatwick airport, the void is pure. At midnight, the screens drop dead, the information desk is long abandoned, the shops close, and the question will not let you sleep: when exactly is my delayed flight leaving? There is no answer, no help, only the void. Embrace it, become part of the void.

There is nothing in the transit area that a passenger needs. If it is a fancy airport, you can be sure that there is no vegetarian food, they charge $10 for a bottle of water, and the collection of books is miserable. If it is a small airport, be happy that there is a roof above you. In Afghanistan, I had to wait in the cold desert for four hours before boarding a domestic flight. In any case, do not ever buy liquids at the airport: perfumes and booze will be confiscated at some point. They will make up an arbitrary rule why you cannot take it with you. This is especially true if you have to make a stopover.

Get intelligence on the airport in advance, most crucially, whether there is a money changer inside the transit area. You are bound to lose money if you are not prepared. Have all batteries fully charged, especially if there is a long layover. No power sockets will be waiting for you. Check in advance whether there are water fountains. Make sure you make camp near a working one. Shop owners sabotage water fountains, for instance, at the Copenhagen airport. Chances are good that you will either have to shell out money for water or drink sewage.

Empty shelves at the Caracas airport

The void: there is nothing in the transit area that passengers actually need.

You would think you are safe in the void, but the void is patrolled by Nazis. Security officers incessantly scout for victims. I was badly abused by members of the Barbadian Fascist Party at the Georgetown airport, who disguised themselves as airport security. They did not have name tags, of course, and their power was unlimited.

If it is time to queue up at the gate, prepare for security check round two. Some destinations require an extra screening at the gate, accompanied by blunt questions. US destinations are notorious. Smile, answer the personal questions, let your luggage go through the X-ray again, let them deep-frisk you, let them fry you with the super X-ray, and your reward is a void voider than the previous one. You used up all the sugar in your blood, the serotonin is gone. You are humiliated, intimidated, your self-esteem is destroyed. Waiting at the gate is a good time to die spontaneously.

The torture is still not over. Random checks are increasingly common while you are boarding. A bad-smelling dude will unpack all your gear as others are boarding behind you, asking you the stupidest questions since you passed beyond the age of three. Then he will put back everything the way it was never meant to be. Finally you board last, when every inch of space is already taken up by your dear fellow passengers. The moment you set your foot on the plane, entirely new horrors await you, but they belong to a different story.

Boarding a flight on the runway in Ethiopia

Do you think it is over and you can board? Not so fast. Airport security does random checks even during boarding.

PS: Nobody in airport security ever climbed a mountain. You can take anything on board, as long as you can inconspicuously hide it in the raincover compartment in the bottom of your professional hiking bag. Security?

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