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The not-so-romantic side of travel

We either love or hate airports.

We love the romance of travel they provide a base for, or we hate the bustle, the queues, the screening, the waiting, or the inconvenience. Just a quick visit to drop someone off at your local airport can bring the airport memories – good or bad – winging their way back.

One of my earliest memories comes from Levels Airport, Timaru. I distinctly remember boarding NAC and SPANZ DC3s. The fuselage sat at such an unfriendly angle that crampons were required to climb up the aisle to your seat. You needed at least to pull on the backs of the seats to propel yourself upwards.

Two favourite airport quotes come from Christchurch. I was booked on a transalpine Fokker Friendship flight from Christchurch to Hokitika and, on checking in, was told, “The plane’s broken. We’re sending you on a bus.” They probably share that kind of information more diplomatically these days.

Possibly apocryphal is the report that when an Australian tried to purchase a last-minute regional flight out of Christchurch, he was told, “Sorry, Ocker, the Fokker’s chocka.”

I vividly remember a white-knuckle landing at Napier. It was in the days when they still landed Boeing 737s there. We circled a few times to allow the runway to dry out then the pilot did what you are supposed to when landing in the wet; he literally dumped the plane onto the runway. Thump!

Screaming reverse thrust and brakes enabled us to pull up right at the end of the runway with absolutely nothing to spare. Right outside my window, as we turned to taxi in was a dairy cow with her head over a barbed wire fence. I could see right into her eyes. She was clearly thinking that things in the aviation world weren’t going as they should. Her milk may have curdled.

I wrote to the airline about that landing and, while I’m certainly not claiming it was because of me, 737 flights into Napier stopped soon thereafter.

There have, of course, been plenty of white-knuckle landings into Wellington Airport. As the plane buffets on approach and you can hear luggage being thrown around in the hold, the rocky vista below is not a comforting sight.

Not all airport news is bad. Every time you disembark at Nadi Airport, you can’t help but be impressed and soothed by the live island music which welcomes you.

Papeete is quite relaxed too. The terminal has the feel of a large brush hut.

Staying with things French, my strongest memory of my first landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris is, you guessed it, rabbits. It was an early morning landing, so my first real sight of Paris was airport bunnies – great numbers of them – running for cover.

My strongest memory of Los Angeles Airport is the giant eyeball camera you once had to gaze into to be photographed on entry. I’m sure they have smaller, less intrusive cameras these days.

Doha Airport has enough travelators to carry you, I feel, the equivalent of the full length of New Zealand. It’s easy to feel you still have miles to go, so you might turn and talk to someone behind you. Unfortunately, that section of walkway is about to finish and, as you reach the end, over you go. People come rushing from all over to help you. Embarrassing.

Some airports can be confusing, and Madrid’s is right up there. Here is, I believe, a fitting finale. It’s an accurate transcript of a conversation directed at me once by an American woman who must have thought I looked as lost as she was.

****ing Madrid Airport! Where the **** is 57B? I’m going to miss my ****ing flight. **** Madrid Airport!

    Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.

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