Hello Inquisitive Stranger,
With the festive season drawing to a close, the reason for your visit to the airport today may be the return journey of your Christmas getaway. Oh, the excitement of foreign travel and winter adventure, however there is a chance your travel plans may be blighted by the question that has haunted you since your first experience with steerage toilets: why am I sitting back here?
During my most recent economy journey to London, I glanced at fellow cheap seaters wondering if they too were reflecting on the life choices that lead to us being ushered to the rear of the aeroplane? Surely we should be swinging a left into first class glory?
So this letter comes to you from Heathrow, the airport that, thankfully, provides alternatives when you can’t afford the straight-up first class club lounge.
Before addressing that let’s address the airplane v aeroplane debate. As a British subject, I use the English (ahem, correct) spelling when describing the aluminium flying tube you climb inside to whisk you to another port. Any further wrangling over the English language can be addressed to the Her Majesty the Queen, Buckingham Palace, London.
As a child, I loved aeroplanes and considered the airport the most unbelievably glamorous place imaginable. Frequently there to wave off Pops on his business trips, I was giddy on the hustle and bustle under the glass terminal dome. Enormous advertisements of dazzling models in luxury goods indicated that I was headed to a ‘bourgeois’ future. Who knew what it meant but it sounded wildly refined when I heard adults use it to describe ‘peoples of money’ and that, I decided, was where I was headed. With a flick of the opulent watch on my future wrist, I would drape a Burberry mac across my shoulders to remind everyone of my sophistication.
Elsewhere in the terminal I was beguiled by the buzz of debonair gents cutting a dash in double-breasted suits and exotic people from far-off lands in extraordinary clothing. Any person wearing an airline uniform paraded their shiny lipstick, which I recognised as the benchmark of elegance and class. During those Dynasty days, I was on the lookout for Joan Collins, the embodiment of 80s glamour, who I suspected was festooning herself in duty-free jewels at that very moment.
I wanted in on this razzle-dazzle so informed Dad I would stop at nothing to fulfil my dream of working at the airport when I grew up. I would do anything; customer service, read out tannoy messages, clean the toilets, anything. Dad was supportive and advised there were so many exciting airport job options I might consider aiming a little higher than a career in sanitation.
I reconsidered and decided to strive for the top job which meant I was to become a pilot. From that point on I was single-minded in my ambition to become the Queen of the Flying Machines. I loved to paint, sketch and make models so many happy hours were spent creating aeroplanes, usually ones that included a grown-up version of myself sporting a beaming grin and captain’s hat worn at a cocky angle.
Then the day came for the meeting with the careers officer who was happy to hear I had it all planned out. No aptitude test needed here so after a brief chat, raced home to share the career strategy with my parents. This was the moment Dad laid down his second piece of career advice which was an extraordinarily deft example of diplomacy and a triumph in parenting.
“Sweetheart, you can be whatever you want to be in life, just try to play to your strengths.”
Translation: Honey, you ain’t cut out for the pilot’s life.
He made a fair point. Maths was never my forte which I understood played an insignificant part in trajectory calculus, wind speed calculation, navigational geometry, wind angles trigonometry and arithmetic operations for take-off and landing. Up until that moment I discerned that a large percentage of the entrance exam was based on looking spiffy in a captain’s hat and I knew I was going to ace that.
I weighed up my options:
1. a career wrestling single-variable algebra while steering a 300 tonne commercial jet hooning it at 614 miles an hour while 6 miles above the ground.
2. rocking it in the cabin as the hostess with the mostess in a fancy neckerchief and a lipstick shade of ‘Captivating’.
Yet as cute as those uniforms are, my childhood dream of being the big gun in the big chair wielding the big steering stick was deep rooted. It was the pilot’s life for me or bust. I revised my options and, as advised by Dad, looked to my strengths. If I couldn’t fly I plane, I sure as heck knew that I could make them (years of childhood practice confirmed this) so applied for a bachelor of arts course making special effects for theatre and film. Three years wielding a paintbrush and hammer was impossibly fun and I didn’t miss making trigonometry calculations once.
So here I am again in an airport setting. I have some time before I transfer so decide to mingle with my kin. Naturally, I head to the elegant ‘Caviar House and Prunier Seafood Bar’ for the full left-turn aeroplane experience. A flute of champagne and 6 rock oysters later and I’m feeling pretty executive.
So what would an exec do next? Decadent food is a delight but with my recent onboard memory, I am missing my guilty pleasure, airline food. With a swish in my step, I stride purposefully to ‘Pilots Bar and Kitchen’. Any locale deliberately missing an apostrophe from it’s alias must be the kind of joint to fulfill my soggy, bland mash potato needs. I am mistaken. Here, the golden age of passenger transport runs riot with the interior decoration and on the menu. Stainless steel furnishings reminiscent of a Dakota propellor plane gleam while the stack of pancakes is straight out of a diner from the same decade. I must have just missed the Rat Pack at the bar.
So now my career path follows a different trajectory to the one Little Samantha envisioned for herself, yet there is still a 747 sized shape in my heart which flutters with excitement every time I enter the terminal. Incidentally, I did manage to fulfill my dream when I became a customer service representative at Gatwick airport. Although I didn’t have the jaunty hat and neckerchief ensemble of cabin crew, I did get to wear an important looking high-viz jacket and play ‘catch’ with the sniffer dogs when the terminal was empty.
So I encourage you, darling Stranger, to find a person and listen to their dreams. Applaud success and offer strategies to achieve unfulfilled goals. Maybe that dreamer is you, so take time to write down your own ambitions and work out how to work it out.
You never know, one day Joan Collins might just sashay across the shiny terminal floor of your dreams.
Peace, love and cha cha cha.
Caviar House and Prunier Seafood Bar – Joan Collins’ hang out, naturellement
London Heathrow airport, terminal 5a, after security
Monday – Sunday 05:30 – 22:00
Pilots Bar and Kitchen – Go back in time for a 1950’s pancake stack
London Heathrow airport, terminal 5, after security
Monday – Sunday 06:00 – last departing flight