Some guy has been living in Charles de Gaulle airport for eighteen years. After six hours in Luton airport, curled up in a ridiculously uncomfortable seat, I felt sure I was at least halfway there. You see, airports are not made for sleeping. Or washing oneself, or feeding oneself as it turns out. In fact, I’d go so far to say that they are designed specifically to discourage travellers from lingering any longer than necessary. Hence why I proclaim that the seats at Luton airport are constructed by some spine-hating masochist.
It’s customary for hard-up travellers to book a night-time flight in order to save precious pennies on a free night’s sleep, which is how I ended up here. London’s Luton airport. 1am. Cold, tired and destined to spend the next twenty year in a back brace. Airports on a whole are an incongruous mix of heaven and hell. Rather fitting given the sort of timeless limbo they represent. On one hand, they are a hive of excited fervour and electric anticipation. If I learnt anything from Love Actually it’s that inside the wired barricades of an airport, raw human love emanates in a flood of tears, kisses and manly thumps on the back. Airports are also home to cheap liquor and enormous, life time supplies of Marlboro cigarettes (which consequently don’t need to be that big).
On the other hand, you’re a prisoner to your bulging pack. Quick dashes to the bathrooms are near impossible. Loo breaks essentially turn into ten minute expeditions as you negotiate your twentyfive kilogram hump through the hordes of stressed tourists. From these experiences I scientifically deduced that camels’ ability to store vast quantities of water is precisely an evolutionary feature to avoid such awkward scenarios. Lucky camels.
The usual assortment of chain stores provided some time-wasting relief. But I discovered you’ve only got half an hour maximum of flicking through magazines before the sales assistant’s subtle sidelong glares become not so subtle. I also established that airport terminals provide two distinct forms of edibles: congealed and plastic wrapped. Both will cost the approximate GNP of a small African country and both will taste like socks, which probably have more nutritional value anyway. No matter what country you are visiting, McDonalds always offers an alternative. But I personally do not credit the golden arches as suppliers of actual food.
My greatest challenge was the upkeep of personal hygiene. My first response was to step into the nearest duty free perfume outlet. A few squirts of Yves Saint Laurent, oh and hell, why not? A dash of Chanel for good measure, and voila! I emerged smelling like a new person. But this quick fire method thinly disguised my mankiness. The greasy hair, shiny skin and crumpled clothes still gave away my true hobo status. Plan B required an actual shower, meths and a chisel. None of which were readily available, thus leading to Plan C: washing my hair with stolen hotel soap, splashing water on my face and turning my t-shirt inside out. All in the privacy of the public toilets. Needless to say I did not seductively tousle my hair as I stepped out of the Ladies’, but I sincerely believed such schemes promoted me from hobo to hippy.
My dreams of riding the luggage carousel were promptly curtailed by a ruddy-cheeked security guard. The boredom soon set in. Postcards were posted; my travel diary was up to date. There was only one thing left to do: (dramatic pause) entertain myself. It’s fine if you have a travelling buddy. Oh the possibilities are endless. Hangman! Noughts and crosses! The ‘would you rather sleep with Robin Williams or Billy Crystal’ game and other such delights (…you’re thinking about it aren’t ya? Robin or Billy?…). But for the solo nomad, entertainment is in rather short supply. I was reduced to making up my own ‘games’. The most successful was trying to remember all fifty-two states of the United States of America. Which really just goes to show how bored I was and how truly geeky I am.
I explored every crevice of Luton in hope of finding a group of equally bored and astonishingly good looking men. In one such curious wandering, I discovered that once you ride the escalator down to Gate 18, there is no way of getting back up to the main terminal. You either join the passengers as they were shepherded onto the tarmac, bound for Lithuania, or wait for a gap in the traffic and sprint up the escalator, dejectedly returning to your rightful departure lounge. I wasn’t so keen on Lithuania at the time, so opted for the latter.
Now I’ve had my fair share of sleeping around European airports, but this was back in the day when baby bottles weren’t considered terrorist weapons, so I really can’t complain too much. In fact, I may just look back on my night at Luton airport with a nostalgic sigh. And remember not the long, tiresome night, but a simple innocence of a lost golden age; a time when my greatest distress was not the fear of a hijacked plane. Or even snakes on a plane. But trying to remember the name of that funny little state above Kentucky.