The Airport – where your adventure begins.

9 07 2009


These days we tend to groan at the thought of a trip to the airport. With long and winding check-in lines, less than jovial workers, the necessary strip down for security and too-often delayed flights, we’re more than a little flustered by the time we settle into our snug seats. The airport has over time become little more than a necessary evil to get us from point A to point B. While I definitely understand why, I find it terribly unfortunate.

I remember the sense of excitement I felt every time we’d make our way to the airport. There was something exhilarating about pulling up at the airport while majestic carriers were taking off and landing overhead. Inside the terminal there was always such a buzz of energy, people from all over the world joined together for the common purpose of travel. Announcements rang in multiple languages while people scurried about to their airline’s check-in desk. It was always fun to people watch, to see the carefree looks of those on vacation or the seriousness of those on business. Check-in was where you got the first taste of the carrier you’d chosen and your boarding pass was handed over with your final destination officially in print. It was the start of your adventure.

Airports are often architectural sights to behold. From the modern grass-topped sprawl of glass at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to the contemporary metallic styling of Seoul’s Incheon airport, architects are constantly pushing the boundaries. Airports often give us our first taste of a country’s culture, through art on display or the amenities offered. Voted the World’s Best Airport this year, Seoul’s Incheon airport operates a Traditional Korean Cultural Experience zone. Travellers can enjoy traditional performances including masque dances and twelve-stringed Korean harp recitals on stage. Some of the finest shopping and dining can be experienced while you wait to take off. Many airports also offer panoramic lounges that offer terrific views of planes taking off and landing. Most airports now have well designed websites that can help with your travel planning and research.

So next time you travel, hard as it may be, take some time to appreciate the airport. A lot of careful thought and planning went into its creation. You might even be surprised to find that you enjoy it!

Photo and Post by: Merav Benedetti © 2009


Cracking the Airport Codes

29 06 2009




You’re not a real traveller until you can talk in airport codes. It’s all fine and well to say you’re connecting in Chicago, but until you’ve texted your friends and said you’re grabbing a hot dog in ORD, you haven’t lived.


Every airport in the world has a three letter code. The system was based on one introduced by the U.S. National Weather Service who created two-letter codes to organise the data they gathered from their weather stations around the country. Airlines copied it, but as commercial aviation expanded in the 1930s and airports began to appear in places that didn’t have weather stations, it became clear that two-letter codes were insufficient…and so they expanded to the three-letter system that is today officially known as the “International Air Transport Association Location Identifier.”


Many codes are easily identifiable with their cities, like AMS for Amsterdam, CAI for Cairo or SIN for Singapore, or with their proper airport name like CDG for Charles de Gaulle, JFK for Kennedy or LHR for London Heathrow. But some aren’t so obvious, like YYZ for Toronto or EWR for Newark.


As the U.S. created the system, they had first crack at the codes. The U.S. Navy quickly claimed all the N codes for their bases, which is why somewhere like Newark is EWR while Canada claimed the Y codes, hence YVR for Vancouver etc. Although don’t be fooled, not every Y is in Canada and not all Canadian airports begin with Y.


That would be far too simple!


Unless you work for an airline or are in the travel industry, you will likely only learn airport codes through your own travel experiences. As your airport code vocabulary expands, you can start to read people’s luggage tags as you await your bag at the carrousel. “Oh look,” you can mindlessly think to yourself as that large tartan case with the pink ribbon tied to the handle trundles past for the fourth time “they’ve come from Istanbul and are continuing on to Omaha, Nebraska.”


Well, it beats throwing paperclips at the security guards!


If you have a very small brain like me, you can even amuse yourself by giggling at humourous codes or trying to think up interesting routings just to get a combination of codes onto a plane ticket. For example, did you know that if you flew from San Vito, Costa Rica to Fresno Yosemite your itinerary would read TOO FAT? Or that if your baggage claim tag reads SAY BIE it’s probably not that you’ll never seen it again but rather because you’re flying from Siena, Italy to Beatrice, Nebraska.


Apart from the fun you can have, there is a practical reason for familiarising yourself with airport codes and that’s that you can double-check that your bag has been properly tagged by the airline representative when you check-in for your flight. If it at least has the correct destination on it, there’s already a better chance you’ll see it again.


But just remember, the next time that airline rep hands you a tag that says BIG BUM on it, don’t get angry: it could just be that you’re on a domestic U.S. flight from Intermediate Airfield, Alaska to Butler, Missouri!



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

The Baggage Hall: Traveller’s Purgatory

2 10 2008

Tag, you’re it!

Your flight was delayed. The cabin was too warm. The person behind you performed ‘River Dance’ on the back of your seat. You’d seen the movie. They ran out of your choice of meal and left you with the gluten-free sodium-free minced soy-substitute spinach stew, and your bladder is exploding because you couldn’t climb over your slumbering neighbour. All you want is to collect your bag and get home.


Remarkably, you breezed through Immigration in record time and you’re so close to a nice shower and bed that you can almost taste it.


You sprint for the baggage hall. You find your carousel, grab a baggage cart and stake out the prime position that provides you with maximum warning of your approaching bag and direct access to retrieve it.


As others crowd around, you position your trolley as a perfect buffer between yourself and the hordes. The buzzer sounds, the light flashes, the conveyor starts to turn and the first bag bounces down. You eye the tags as they rotate by to confirm that it’s your flight. The first bags have ‘Priority’ tags but you are confident yours will soon follow.


You happily watch the cases with rainbow straps, the large cardboard boxes and the items wrapped in industrial cling-film. You notice cases that have been torn-asunder and which drag trains of formerly-white unrecognisable garments behind them. You read the addresses on the boxes to distract your growing impatience.


You start to count the pieces. Your bag will be the 20th one down, the 25th one, the 35th one…


The crowd around you thins. The person before you at Immigration is long gone. Your palms grow sweaty. The seed of doubt germinates. Will you ever see your bag again? You begin to recognise the same items going around and around and around. You fidget and pace from side to side. The others have the same apprehensive expression. You are united in your forthcoming loss. There’s a baggage bonding between you.


The carousel stops.


There’s an audible gasp. You feel compelled to hurdle the belt, climb the ramp, dive through the rubber curtain and retrieve your bag yourself. Then it dawns on you there’s a very real chance that your bag is indeed lost. Self pity descends. Why you? You only want to go home. It’s not asking so much. There are half-a-dozen people around you. You try to remember if they sat near you, if you saw them check-in, you grasp for any logical explanation for the unlawful separation from your possessions.


Your shoulders slump. You start to prepare a mental description of your bag and its contents and steel yourself to complete endless paperwork. You should have bought insurance.


The buzzer sounds, the carousel starts. Everyone perks up. No new bags appear. Shoulders sag. The same boxes pivot past, their owners evidently sitting in some netherworld along with your case. There’s a swish from the rubber curtain and a bag tumbles down. Someone to your right grabs it. Then a second…and a third. Your fingers are crossed. Your breath is held.


And then it appears.


As if in slow motion it tumbles down. You run towards it and embrace like Heathcliff and Catherine on the moors. You take it in your arms and hoist it skyward like a father playing with his toddler. You kiss it, twice, continental-style, and place it on your trolley, all the while caressing it tenderly and wiping a tear from the corner of your eye. You race towards the exit, eyeing your bag tenderly, its strap looped flirtatiously around your wrist.


You no longer care about the bed or the shower. You have forgotten the torment of your journey.


You are complete.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 96

28 05 2008

Never assume that having your name called by the gate staff just prior to boarding is a good thing.


I was in the lounge about to board a very long flight and watching with venomous hatred as fellow passengers were called forth and upgraded from economy to business…or beyond. Each turned and waved to the little people left behind, then headed down the walkway towards the aircraft with a sickening spring in their step and a jaunty smirk on their face.


Suddenly, my name was echoing through the hall as if sung by angels playing golden harps.


Hurriedly, I gathered my things and headed to the desk like an actor accepting an Oscar. As I stepped around over-sized carry-on bags and dipsy-do’ed through a minefield of teething babies, I rehearsed my acceptance speech: “I would like to thank all the people who made this possible…”


As bidden, I surrendered my boarding pass to a quizzical gate agent who fed it into the machine. I was already mentally in my newly-acquired reclining throne, glass of champagne in my hand, attendants fanning me gently while peeling grapes.


“Not quite sure why that change was made”, she said, curiously, surveying my new boarding pass.


I thanked her profusely and bounded down the gangway, assuming that my new seat – 99G – must be upstairs in the bubble and affording utter luxury in more intimate surroundings. It was only when I was directed towards the rear that my heart began to sink. After a demoralising trek past row upon row of seats that seemed to get smaller and smaller like Alice’s doors, I reached the very back where the interior narrows to a constricting stub – not to be confused with the opulent pointy end found at the front.


And my seat was by the toilet.


Fighting back the tears before I sat down, I tucked my book and water bottle into the pocket before me, and strapped myself in for the 13 hour odyssey ahead. After take-off, I plugged in the headset and settled down to watch the screen at the front of the cabin, only to realise that I was three inches too short to see it without sitting on a telephone directory. Something I had foolishly not brought along. With resignation, I took out my book and flicked on the reading light…only to find it unresponsive. I desperately beckoned a flight attendant and explained my dilemma.


“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll check the fuse” and headed for the galley.  A few moments later she returned with a perky smile on her face.


“Well, it’s not the fuse”, she bubbled, with a radiant smile. “So it must be the bulb. Unfortunately, we don’t carry extra bulbs but we’ll have it repaired at our next stop.”


Before I could point out that was 7500 miles away, she was gone. With movies and reading out of the question, I opted to recline my seat…the one inch it would move before colliding with the toilet wall. Without any empty seats available, I took two anti-nausea pills and sought the refuge of the defeated: sleep. Alas, to complete a perfect trifecta, each time I was on the brink of the velvet embrace of Hypnos, my seat was emphatically thumped by someone visiting the toilets, my brain rattled by the incessant bang of the cubicle door and my nostrils mauled by noxious scents.


Eventually, emotionally battered, spiritually spent and utterly exhausted, I drifted into a comfortless and fitful sleep, haunted by visions of the luxury of a normal economy class seat like the one I had briefly possessed but had willed away in hope of something better.


Who ever said “A bird in the hand…” had likely been sitting in the malfunctioning last-row of a trans-Pacific flight in the pitch-dark, devoid of entertainment and constantly jostled and harangued by the flatulent and be-bladdered masses.



Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008