Tuesday, 12 February 2013

So ... how long do you allow for your flight?

I don't miss flights. Domestic, international, interplanetary, intergalactic, any kind at all.
I. Do. Not. Miss. Flights.

Nelson airport on a nice sunny day
This means I spend a lot of time waiting at airports - even in little old New Zealand airports, where waiting is not normal...

Dear reader, a question for you: How do you feel about catching flights? How do you approach them?

I recently returned from a little holiday with friends to the beautiful Abel Tasman region, northwest tip of the South Island. This required possibly the shortest flight in the whole country: 35mins, Wellington to Nelson. If there was a land bridge connecting the two cities, it's doubtful I'd pay for flights, or that they'd even exist in the first place.

So, for 2 reasons, my friend and I arrived at Wellington airport a full 2 hours before our little domestic flight departed. This is apparently A Crime. My friend had something like 17 appointments planned during this time, which had included tea with another friend, who happened to be a former travel agent and proceeded to send me a series of text messages in what I can only describe as An Intervention.

I did feel a little bit silly - Reason #1 for being early was allowing 1hr for a 40min bus ride that is actually 20mins. Note that I do not feel silly allowing 1hr for a 40min bus journey, in case of traffic, engine failure, jellyfish on the road, whatever. (In the UK, public transport is so sketchy I'd probably have allowed 90mins.*) I just felt mildly silly that a bus ride I've taken at least twice a year, every year, for 4 years, takes half as long as I thought it did. Oh well...

The other reason is that I Do Not Miss Flights.

Ever since my round-the-world trip as a little 19-year-old Jezo Kempo - where I took 17 flights in total, through strange places like the Cook Islands and Mongolia and Heathrow - I have a philosophy of making absolutely sure I am ready for my flight in time. Not "at the airport before the plane takes off" - I'm talking checked in with time to spare, in the right terminal with time to spare, at the right gate with time to spare. This means allowing extra time for every step of my journey, just to get to the airport, in case one of those steps goes wrong. Because I ain't missing my flight.

Also, I come from a certain place - Europe - where we:

  1. often take international flights, which require much more check-in time than domestic flights. And,
  2. are brutalised into accepting long queues for everything. I once had to wait stock-still for 60minutes in a crowded corridor at Stansted airport, around midnight, after flying back from Slovakia ... to get back into my own country. It took less time to get into Slovakia.

The giant Gollum in Wellington airport
Cut to New Zealand. New Zealand has 3 types of airport:
  • Sprawling, boring Auckland (and slightly less sprawling Christchurch);
  • Cute, medium-sized Wellington (now with added Gollum!); and
  • Regional airports, which are basically one large room with an entrance on one side and the gate on the other. "Baggage collection" often means finding your suitcase sitting on the pavement by the road outside.
And so, a clash of approaches. In New Zealand, you catch a plane like you catch the bus. You catch a bus or a taxi an hour before your flight. (Ish.) You check in half an hour before, maybe 20mins, no bother. There's minimal or no security for domestic flights. You get to your gate when boarding starts, maybe 10-15mins before it trundles off for take-off.

This horrifies me.

NZ is casual and laidback, but there are limits. Sometimes it feels as though you might hear over the intercom, as the plane taxis to the runway: "Sorry guys, we're just waiting for our co-pilot Stevo, he's been surfing and is meeting us with his togs*** on". But this doesn't actually happen. You can't miss your flight and just catch the next plane****. No-one is flagging down planes on the runway to see if there's a couple of spare seats in the back, and would the pilot mind dropping them off at New Plymouth, since it's just on the way?

Fine, I admit it, I admit everything. I love waiting at airports.

I don't love the waiting. There's enough of that on the plane. And I certainly don't love airports - not even Wellington with its Gollum, not even quaint little Nelson.****

But just as I secretly love being on a plane***** because time is out of your hands and there's no work to do, I love being at an airport with time to spare, because I know I things are Under Control, they are Going To Plan. And whatever stupid boring time has to pass before I queue up to get on the plane, I know I'm Not Going To Miss My Flight.

So, back to you, dear reader. What is your approach to catching flights? What is your mindset when you're doing so - are you relaxed, cautious, anxious? What experiences have you had? Does your home/original country affect how you think about it? Leave a comment, if you like.


* Sometimes I feel like the motto of the UK should be "Dieu Et Mon Bus Replacement Service".
** With Jetstar NZ, there is often no "next plane" to catch.

*** "Togs", as in swimsuit, board shorts, budgie smugglers, etc.
**** I do actively hate some airports. Heathrow is a suicide-inducing abomination. The nicest compliment you can give Stansted is that it's "functional".
***** Secret even to me, sometimes. 28hrs on AirAsia very nearly killed me.

1 comment:

  1. Hehehe. Poor Jez. I thought it was funny that the girls arrived for their flight half an hour before it took off, and I was still in the Customs queue.

    As someone who's always late, I'm perpetually freaking out that I won't make it to the airport in time for check-in. Yet, I've only ever missed a flight because I've been at the wrong airport or booked the flight on the wrong day (or gone to the wrong airport on the wrong day).

    I'd like to have a happy medium: less panicked texting to my boyfriend about how I'm going to miss the check-in time, but also not as much waiting around as you.

    How about we all just check in online for everything and only bring carry-ons? :)