David Moseley

Laying over in limbo

2013-09-10 14:20

A description for limbo is given as a home for the lost, forgotten or unwanted. That's never more apt than when people pass through life's only true limbo, the airport.

At some stage in your life of airline travel you'll end up in an airport a lost soul, watching your precious time tick away through molasses. You can struggle and rail all you like, but the fug of futility will eventually wear you down.

I remember my first international holiday as a trip of interminable delays, mad dashes to boarding planes and my grandfather's cavalier approach to British traffic circles.

"Left or right, Mary?" Right, Davie. "So it's right then?" No, I'm saying "right", it’s left! (a story for another day, when my brother and I can handle the trauma of the retelling).

But those delays were fine because it was all so exotic. Air France to Paris, then to Edinburgh, then to London. Whoopee. Who cares that the flight from South Africa to France is delayed for six hours at OR Tambo in a time before OR Tambo was OR Tambo and before airports cared to torment passengers with glam shops and fine fast food dining.

France back to SA and a nine-hour delay at Charles de Gaulle. Not a problem when you're 17 and ushered through to the airport hotel at 2am with your 13-year-old brother and the front desk has forgotten to turn off the free porn (much to the dismay of granny, who came bursting into our room moments later, only to find my brother and I staring innocently at the ceiling, whistling away while the tell-tale BBZZINGGG of the old tube television being turned off played in the background).

At an airport on domestic trips, though, once you're in, there's no way out. Hercules, famed for dipping into the Underworld and making it out the other side alive would find no such favour while taking domestic flights.

Checking in is pure purgatory, a brief spell of suffering as you plead for an earlier flight because you’ve arrived early, only to be told that you've "just missed it" by the unsmiling souls at the check-in counter, themselves damned to suffer passengers’ impotent rage for eternity.

Winding amusement park queues turn this and way and that as you step mournfully towards the gates of hell, here masquerading as metal detectors that somehow miss the spanner in your pocket but detect the half-inch of steel decorating the tip of your belt.

Then you're in. Then limbo proper begins as you wander from greasy steel chair to overcrowded airport café in an effort to evade wailing children and their flustered parents.

If you're lucky the chatter of passengers drowns out the club-volume music that restaurants insist on playing. If you’re unlucky someone starts talking to you.

Your torment is only compounded if you're foolish enough to order food, and then attempt to eat it with the plastic cutlery provided.

As I tucked into my Wimpy breakfast on Saturday at Cape Town International a fellow patron was lucky to escape the strangely durable fried egg that flew from my plate and bounced along the floor before settling under a size 11 slip-slop.

Then, a boarding call cackles from above, announcing that flight Hjhjnbn to Ghgjkkzz is now boarding at Gate Ggghzzzz. And the slow trudge to another queue begins as you prepare to wait, to wait on the runway.

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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