Departures

It’s just gone 9am, and you find me sitting at a cafe in the departure lounge of Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport in Germany. My flight isn’t for another couple of hours, but the rules say you need to arrive two hours before – so I arrive two hours before. Invariably you pass through check-in and security without incident, but I have been caught out in the past. Through a stunning lack of foresight, I tried to leave Germany once on the same day that every family in the surrounding area left for their easter holidays – you can only imagine the mayhem at the airport. I think I made it to the aircraft a minute before they closed the gate.

You never can tell if you’re going to set off the airport security scanners or not – it’s become an odd sort of a game in a way – wondering how many layers you might have to remove before the scanner will say you’re good to go. Today I was lucky – after standing in the glass tube and having the robot sweep around me, the screen came up with a big “OK” – in the past it has detected all manner of anomolies – lighting up my armpits, and my ankles. The staff are quite amusing when the machine throws an OK – I doubt it happens very often – today the woman checking the results shouted “WUNDERBAR!”, and waved me straight past the staff waiting to frisk the less fortunate.

In Europe we have automated border controls with biometric passports – instead of having officials inspect your passport, you hold it over a scanner that reads who you are through both OCR and RFID (a chip is hidden in the passport), and then walk through a gate that compares your face with the face held on record. It’s much faster and probably more consistent than a human, but if you’ve not done it before, it’s a little bit unsettling. The lady ahead of me in the queue obviously had never done it before, so was nervously watching everybody else.

I wonder what will happen when the UK leaves Europe ? (if we leave Europe – har har) – I imagine I’ll have to join the queue of international travellers at the airport, and have a conversation with an aloof official that will see “British” on the passport, and roll his or her eyes.

I have another hour until boarding starts for my flight. Perhaps I’ll go look around the ridiculous shops in the airport, and wonder why anybody buys anything beyond electrical adapters. You never knew you needed a small bottle of whisky, brandy, or vodka emblazoned with an international label until you have perused the various displays in the duty free shops. I’ve never quite figured out why you can buy knives in the gift shops – presumably they post them to you? This is where somebody in the US tells me they have gun shops in regional airports.

Time is ticking. I have lots more nothing to get on with – so if you’ll excuse me, the next post will almost certainly originate from the junk room at home – hours or even days from now.

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