Ha! I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist.
I was passing through Bristol airport again this week; how I love that place (see blog Don’t Get Me Started, 4 April 2012). This time the Jobsworths stopped me carrying 100ml of fresh air on to the aeroplane. Our exchange went something like this:
“You can’t take that on board. We’ll have to confiscate it.”
“It” was a half-empty 200ml glass medicine bottle containing rather less than 100ml of Honey and Lemon Throat Balm. “Why not?” I asked. “It’s medicine. I’m a performer and I need it for my throat.”
“I can see what it is,” replied Junior Jobsworth. “Do you have a prescription for it?”
“It doesn’t come on prescription. You buy it over the counter.”
“No prescription, no medicine.”
“But it’s less than 100ml. And it’s in a polythene bag of the correct dimensions. I measured it. Am I not allowed 100ml of bottled and bagged fluid?”
“It’s not the fluid that’s the problem. It’s the bottle. It’s a 200ml bottle.”
“Yes, I know. That’s why I made a point of having it less than half full.”
“You can’t take it on the plane.”
“This is ludicrous. What difference can it possibly make if it’s in a 100ml or a 200ml bottle. The difference is approximately 100ml of air. I would like to speak with your supervisor please.”
Actually, I didn’t use those precise words. What I said was: “This is f***ing ridiculous. Give me the bottle and I’ll drink the medicine right now.”
At this, Junior Jobsworth, still clutching my bottle of medicine, marched off to consult Senior Jobsworth. I saw them conferring earnestly for a minute or two before Senior Jobsworth came over to me, bottle in hand: “You can’t take this on board. It’s 200ml.”
“No,” I said. “As you can see, it’s less than half full. It’s not even 100ml. If you really won’t let me take it on board then let me drink the medicine now.”
“You can go back outside the security area and drink it.”
“What! What conceivable difference does it make where I drink it?”
“That’s the rule.”
“Then the rule is ridiculous.”
He walked off with my bottle of medicine which I presume found its way into a waste bin. “Imbecile,” I muttered sotto voce, with just enough self-control not to get arrested for breach of the peace. I picked up my laptop, repacked my bag, put my belt back on, and made my way grumpily towards the departure lounge.
What is it about the word “Security” that engenders such rigidity and lack of discretion? Somebody please tell me how either employing morons who cannot think for themselves or (equally bad) employing intelligent people who are obliged to act like morons, makes any of us one jot safer. The Jobsworths were not impolite (though, admittedly, I was). They were merely stolidly intransigent and lacking in any sense of complicity with me in the face of arbitrary regulation.
I didn’t want them to break the rules. I didn’t even mind very much about the loss of my half bottle of throat balm. I would have been happy if they had just said something human, something like: “Yes, I know it’s ridiculous but we don’t have any discretion at all. Sorry about that.” I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Here’s how it’s done: later the same day, at Schiphol Railway Station I went to buy a train ticket and asked if I could have the advertised senior’s discount. The Dutch woman behind the counter smiled and shrugged. “Sure,” she said. “The discount is only 50 cents though. It’s so small it’s crazy but what can we do?” I smiled back at her, enlivened by our brief contact and delighted with the – albeit miniscule – saving I had just made.
There are good airports elsewhere in the world, even some great airports. Munich, for example is a veritable cathedral of understated, friendly, efficient service. But UK airports seem determined to inflict all manner of pettifogging restrictions on travelers whilst trying to fleece them at every opportunity: an almost unique combination of institutional stupidity and corporate greed.
Thus, at Bristol Airport (which my partner continues to insist is convenient whilst I maintain it is merely close to home) once through Security, there is only one way to the departure lounge: running the gauntlet of the obscenely consumerist Duty Free Zone where one is urged to purchase large quantities of what appear to me to be dangerous flammable liquids in the guise of perfumes and spirits which, ironically, one is quite free to take on board the aeroplane of one’s choice.
“I wonder what would have happened,” I thought, fighting off the semi-hypnotic urge to shovel assorted travel goods into a basket, “If the Jobsworths had paid for pints of beer in a pub and had been given half pints in pint-sized glasses. Would they have accepted the argument that it’s the size of the container that counts? I don’t think so.”