Just Plane Stupid

Before we get started, you need to take two things on faith. One, I can read. And two, I’m not a moron.

Now then, that puts you exactly two steps ahead of the people running Heathrow airport. Having managed to negotiate my way around Northern Europe by learning some of the language and applying liberal doses of common sense, I felt confident I could survive the final leg of my journey and find my way off the plane and out of Heathrow airport. My confidence soared as I descended the steps and was met with a raft of instructions in my native English. ‘Behold!’ they screamed, ‘you are home, follow us to safety’. Most even had handy diagrams in case my time away had muddied my understanding of the language. All in all, I was far more than adequately equipped to read the sign ‘e-Passport only’, and join the appropriate queue.


That little symbol under the word ‘passport’ that’s not just for decoration you know, and the absence of that symbol does not simply mean your passport is less bling than mine.

It seemed however, this wasn’t something the staff at Heathrow were willing to take on good faith. Apparently they weren’t convinced I’d been given enough clues as to where I should be standing and that even if I had, I was clearly too dim witted to interpret them.

‘I need to see your passport.’ The Queue Warden held out an arm to bar my way. A largely ineffective ploy as her arm was far shorter than the gap between barriers.

‘Why?’ I took one headphone out and glared at her.

‘I need to see your passport.’

‘You said that.’ I shrugged, identifying the weakness in her blockade and turning side-on to take a step past her.

‘Sir, I need to see your passport.’

‘Why do you need to see my passport?’

‘I need to see your passport.’

‘That’s not a reason.’ Now, I knew exactly why she needed to see my passport – she wanted to check I did in fact have an e-passport and would be able to use the electronic passport gates at the front of the line. However by this point I was less than impressed by her grasp on how conversation worked and decided she really needed the practice.

She turned her back on me for a moment, ignoring me while she took the passports from some other people that were trying to squeeze past. This seemed particularly rude – her annoying other people before she’d properly finished inconveniencing me.

Those folks dealt with, it was my turn again. ‘I need to see your passport.’

‘Why do you need to see it when there’s a guy down there already checking it?’ I gestured to a similarly purple-blazered automaton checking people at the front of the queue had the right type of passport. For a moment I almost descended into a rant about how useless his job was but fortunately I was in a good mood, and politely said nothing.

‘I need to see your passport.’

‘No you don’t.’ Enough was enough. I ducked past her and wandered down the line. Perhaps if there hadn’t been a plane load of people behind me waiting to join the queue, she might have called out, chased after me even, but I doubt it. If the previous few minutes had taught me anything, it was that her induction into her role had been swift. Six words and a snazzy blazer were all she’d be armed with. She was little more than a walking, breathing, almost-talking billboard.

At the front of the line, the woman’s colleague checked my passport was eligible to use the electronic system. And if it wasn’t? Well, he’d have let me go to the front of this other special little queue for morons who can neither read nor interpret diagrams. Which is really why the whole process winds me up. People that ignore the sign or think an e-passport is something they can download once they get to the front of the queue, should be banished to a very long queue, preferably one that snakes past a manure farm and one were rottweilers chew on their ankles while they wait. Fuck those people*.

Like steaks and sporting events, the Americans do airports properly. In their airports, the blazered folk shout at you while pointing decisively, and you soon get in line. Though it might have something to do with their co-workers carrying firearms as opposed to the effectiveness of the system. Regardless it seems far more efficient. I’ve certainly never found cause to stop and argue with them…

*This might seem a little harsh on people with visual impairments but I assume they have some form of audio thingy-mi-bob that helpfully tells them to, ‘turn here to be inconvenienced,’ followed by ‘wait here for another pointless cross examination of your passport.’


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