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The above-average case for being a Hugh Jass at airports



The above-average case for being a Hugh Jass at airports

A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd

Deputy features editor: Sunday Times

I have often wondered what life must be like for people who work at airports.
For those of us who visit them only for travel purposes, an airport is a place suspended between destinations, a place of long queues and even longer walks and the anxiety endured while you wait to see if your suitcase will be one of those that teeters for a moment on the lip of the luggage pipe before dropping to the conveyor belt and smashing so hard against the barrier that its wheels break off – which is an enormous relief because if it doesn’t come out that way it’s probably been diverted to Guam and you’ll be stuck in Iceland for a week without thermal long johns.
The departure side is no less terrifying. I bet I’m not the only one who has waited with sweaty palms and heart in mouth, hoping the customs official will not see and confiscate my tweezers and thereby ruin my cunning plan to arrive in Iceland with on-fleek eyebrows.
My tweezers really were confiscated once. I found it extremely puzzling. What did they think I was going to do with them? Threaten to pluck the pilot’s nose hairs if he didn’t divert the plane to Guam?That’s why I find airports stressful, even if they are tinged with the patina of excitement that travel almost always delivers.
For many others, airports are far more mundane. Among the ever-changing indigence of travellers must exist a community of faces extremely familiar to each other, to whom the airport is known not as OR Tambo or King Shaka or Heathrow or JFK or CDG or Soontobe Madikizela. To all those who go there every day not to go anywhere else but to stay there until they go home again, the airport is known simply as “work”.
I suppose airports aren’t necessarily the worst workplaces in the world. There are amenities and facilities, and, if your station is in the arrivals hall, the heartwarming sight of families tearfully reunited. The ebb and flow of crowds as aeroplanes come and go must become a routine by which one’s days are measured, like a fisherman watching the tide. Except there are probably more passengers travelling on aeroplanes than there are fish in the sea.
That’s all very well, but I still wonder how airport employees live with the constant announcements. Hearing a too-loud nasal voice blaring from above my head and telling me to attend to my luggage every few minutes would drive me bats. Especially if I didn’t have any luggage.
My friend Jonathan once came up with a way to provide airport announcers with some entertainment that would break the monotony of their endlessly repeated scripts. He used to go to the information counter and hand over a piece of paper on which was written a request for a general announcement to be made concerning his lost friends.One of these was a Mr Hugh Jass. Say it quickly and out loud.
Have you noticed that very few airports still make public announcements at the request of passengers? I blame Jonathan.
We are left with the announcements we’ve heard a thousand times and will keep hearing if we keep travelling. There are three that particularly irk me.
The first is: “Any unattended baggage will be removed and destroyed.”
I know they mean baggage abandoned by its neglectful owner (like a puppy, a suitcase is not just for Christmas), but that’s not how it sounds. To attend to something, as far as I understand the correct meaning of the word, means to care for it, to pay it attention.
Hence my anxiety, because how do I know if I’m paying my suitcase enough attention? If I don’t buy it a cup of coffee or give it a little pat every few minutes, will it be taken away from me and destroyed? Are the suitcases that emerge scuffed and beaten onto the carousel the ones that weren’t properly attended to?
Then there’s the call for “outstanding passengers” to board. Sometimes the flight being announced is the one I’m supposed to be on, but I’m never quite sure if the announcement applies to me.I don’t think I’m an outstanding passenger. I’m not terrible. I’ve never clicked my fingers for a stewardess, called her “hostie” or pressed the button to summon her – except once, by mistake. I also might once have stuck my foot out when a small child was running screaming up and down the aisle, but it didn’t hurt itself badly.
On balance I’d call myself an above-average passenger, but I certainly wouldn’t say outstanding. An outstanding passenger would respond when the person next to them wants to talk about their great-grandmother’s bingo-card collection and I’m not that noble.
I think this may be why I’ve missed the odd flight – if they had called for the normal, everyday kind of passenger, I might have been more attentive and made it to the gate on time.
Lastly and finally is the one that annoys me most. “This is a last and final boarding call.”First, last means final and final means last. There’s no need for such unnecessary verbiage.
Second, they’re lying, because a few seconds later they will repeat the announcement, meaning the previous call was neither last nor final. Why should I believe anything they say after that?
I think I’m going to stop stroking my suitcase and ignore it. I might even give it a bit of a kick now and then just to see if anyone really is paying attention to my unattended baggage. Let’s see if they still call me an outstanding passenger after that.

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