Thursday, August 14, 2014

Toothpaste and duty-free gin

We have a good relationship with airlines, in our family. I only fly twice a year – once via London to Oslo and once back. But Linda takes occasional trips on her own as well, mostly to Central America and occasionally to south-east Asia. Ross spends the odd weekend monitoring Wycombe Wanderers’ slide down the Football League rankings in England, and occasionally takes short breaks to someplace warm on the Mediterranean coast.

A few weeks ago we missed our British Airways connection at Heathrow, and the girl at the BA desk invited me to phone Ross in Norway and tell him when to expect us. That was kind. At the Oslo airport one of the greeters called Ross and told him the exact time our train would arrive at the Central Station. (The airport chap wasn’t employed by an airline, but I don’t mind giving them credit for his niceness. The Norskies are like that, anyway.)

The secret of a pleasant flight is to lock oneself into a low expectation. We don’t find in-flight meals bad, really, except the bread rolls are always stale. The hosties are invariably pleasant, and keep us well watered. Even the toilets across the Atlantic are OK, considering the circumstances. Crying babies can’t be avoided every time, but what the heck. Maybe we’re becoming a bit more tolerant in our old age. Or a bit more deaf.

Touch wood, but we never encounter drunks on board. God, I would hate that. Why on earth do airlines allow passengers to board when drunk or to drink their carry-on liquor during the flight? Surely that’s asking for trouble. Is it beyond the wit of man to re-design airports so as to make duty-free liquor available after arrival instead of before departure? No, it’s not. Oslo’s airport sells duty-free items at both ends – which gets things halfway right, at least.

Every published blog or article about plane journeys contains complaints about passengers who recline their seats. “The most offensive thing people can do!” “The person in front should sit up straight at all times even if he has to go without sleep the whole night!” “Selfish buggers!”

Pfffh! I recline my seat (as gently and inoffensively as I can), and have never been chastised for it. Lucky me. Indeed, I protest vigorously if my seat won’t recline to the full extent. If challenged – and it’s bound to happen one day – I might offer to swap seats with the complainant; or I might ask the hostie to arbitrate; or I might just tell the challenger to shut up and live with it, and hope to get away with my defiance.

Surprisingly, every published blog or article about plane journeys does not complain about the so-called security-searches. Those farcical procedures are based on three major premises.

• Every terrorist-group in the world is fixated on destroying planes in flight. Not buses, trains, trucks, vans or boats – not even transport terminals. No. Just planes, and just while in flight.
• While every terrorist in the world is trained to disable planes and crews with eyebrow-tweezers and flip-flops (separately, I mean: either-or, not in combination), he or she has no idea how to use bottles of duty-free liquor as lethal weapons.
• While every terrorist in the world is skilled in making bombs out of a six-ounce toothpaste-tube and a bottle of water from the kitchen tap at home. They are not skilled (mercifully) in making bombs with the contents of two three-ounce toothpaste-tubes and a bottle of water from a shop inside the duty-free area. Or – OR – with the contents of innumerable phials of shampoo or conditioner stolen from a hotel the night before. The bomb-making syllabus is surprisingly narrow, at terrorist training-schools.

Those of us who criticize the Western secret-service agencies must give credit where credit is due. How many million man-hours of overtime must it have taken to discover the danger we face from six-ounce toothpaste-tubes – in such stark contrast to the innocuous three-ounce tubes?

The agencies know all the dangers, of course. But I don’t, and I take no chances. In my family we practice safe tooth-brushing even at home. We don’t mix our toothpaste with water from the tap. We brush and rinse only with duty-free gin, and we carefully decant the paste into three-ounce tubes. There will be no accidental explosions in this house, thank you very much!