The Joy of Travel


No. 5  Pardon?

I have no idea how many people pass through Stanstead every year – millions, possibly billions. And I assume most of them reach their destinations, with or without their luggage. Which is something of a miracle if my recent experience is anything to go by. The incomprehensible screeching that passed for public announcements would do a good job of shattering glass and put any self-respecting parrot to shame. As to fulfilling its purpose – forget it.

Where on earth do they recruit these people? What criteria do they use in interviews? Maybe they select perfectly normal people with perfectly normal voices, though with a preference for those on the shrill side. Or maybe you really do have to speak on a frequency that would have even dogs whimpering and covering their ears. Perhaps it’s all in the training. Maybe in boot camps where recruits are required to begin  at a normal speed – getting faster and faster and higher and higher as they progress towards their diplomas. Somewhat along the lines of the old speed typing tests except with the added requirement to run the words all together so as to be indistinguishable, one from the other. With extra brownie points for slurring.

Bad as it was in the departure hall, the situation at the boarding gate was even worse. I was a going to try to replicate it here to try and give some idea of what it sounded like but the nearest I can get to describing the tone is the sound of nails being scraped down a blackboard or the high pitched shriek of metal grinding against metal. The only two words I caught were ‘the back’. Whether that was to say we were to board from the back (no sniggering please) or that the plane was for some unaccountable reason going to fly backwards it was impossible to say.

A long line of hopeful passengers milled about like sheep that were one dog short of direction. I approached the desk hoping for enlightement. It did me no good. I still couldn’t understand a word. All it achieved was more confusion, a cold stare and hurty ears. It wasn’t much better on board. Given the vital importance of some safety instructions this is less annoying than alarming. We are all a bit blasé these days about life jackets and whistles and oxygen masks – we know they are more to reassure us than a having any practical use. But the stuff about electronic equipment really does need more than a quick slur. And why not spell it out – mobile phones, MP3 players, iPads and computers can all make the plane crash.

The captain has just made an announcement. All I understood was that we are makings good progress, despite being bounced about like a celestial tennis ball. Whatever he did say was I imagine meant to reassure us. A bit pointless really since he too seems to have been to boot camp with the rest of them.

P.S. For those of you who have yet to see it, this video is hilarious. But it does rather prove my point; I could only catch about one word in five. Nevertheless, I wish all the flights I was on had attendants with such a sense of humour. There’s an interview with Ellen here.