Airport security can seem extremely tedious if you’re racing for the departure lounge. But since electronic scanners can’t detect passengers’ personal agendas or politics, maybe today’s snail’s pace could yet become slower …
If your dignity requires reinstating hastily-shed belts, watches, shoes, wallets, phones and aerosols - lest other passengers suspect that ‘slovenly’ is normal for you - you’d better strike up a close friendship with tension.
For a moment though, let’s step back from the glamour of flying; to check some basic questions…
Nobody enjoys living near airports; so why are so many people every day so desperate to arrive as quickly as possible where none of the locals wants to live?
Why don’t in-flight magazines admit that planes are collections of spare parts - assembled by those who quoted the lowest price - that will hopefully all arrive at the same destination?
Do captains realise that referring to landings as “final approaches” does not inspire confidence among passengers? Perhaps this is why airports are called “terminals.”
As I was the last to board my flight to Rome, the stewardess’ clenched teeth diluted her welcoming smile. She indicated my seat: between a beaming, white-clad nun and a man whose gaze remained so fixed on the window that he ignored my apology for clumsily treading on his foot.
While clipping myself in I smiled towards the nun, anticipating an easy conversation. And a safe one, for recalling Sally Field as “The Flying Nun,” I felt her enormous headwear could come in handy for any possible holding flight-pattern.
Conversation began awkwardly, for I couldn’t imagine the cruel irony of her being called Sister Demonica!
“No, it’s Sister Dominica!” she cheerfully corrected me, and began her story. However, with take-off G-forces thrusting us back in our seats, nerves took hold and she went quiet, her pallid knuckles and face matching the pure white of her habit.
“Don’t worry sister,” I tried to encourage her. “Jesus said he’d always be with us.”
“No,” she replied; a twinkle returning to her eyes. “He said: ‘Low, I am with you always!’”
Her little joke helped her to relax, and we shared our experiences in ministry: the highs and lows of caring for the sheep – and the goats, and the skunks and jackals that come along for the ride.
Dazzling white clouds far below us, catching the sun’s glare, bathed our discussion with extra light; while our taciturn neighbour just stared out the window; muttering occasionally or lapsing into brief naps.
Finally we were above the Eternal City, and I envied him the view which he was ignoring completely. But then he stirred. Suddenly animation gave way to agitation, then hyperventilation; with his knuckles blanching in a vice-like grip on the armrests!
To relieve his gasping, I quickly directed an overhead air nozzle towards his face and asked if he wanted me to call a flight attendant.
“N-n-no, th-th-thank you,” he replied from a ghostly, expressionless profile; though his breathing was becoming more regular.
“What’s troubling you?” Sister Dominica asked.
“I-I-I-I’ve g-g-g-got a j-j-j-j-job int-t-t-t-erview!” He was really struggling by now.
I could hear no distant bugle-call to indicate the cavalry was coming to save the day, but I knew I could put on a white hat and come to his rescue …
As a former employment counsellor with years of experience, I knew I could reassure him with a few interview tips to swing matters his way…
“I can understand your anxiety, especially in new surroundings. But you’ll love it here. The people are friendly and there’s so much history to see because Rome has so many exciting relics and ruins. Now, what about this job you are going for?”
“V-V-V-Vatican R-R-R-Radio w-wants an ann-ann-ann-announcer!”
My intended tips suddenly joined his earlier prolonged gaze - right out the window – and honesty took over: “I’m sorry old mate, but I don’t like your prospects.”
Swivelling his blood-drained face towards me and making wide-eyed contact for the first time, he responded in a pleading tone: “H-H-How c-could you t-t-t-tell I’m n-n-not a C-C-Catholic?”
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