• 12 May - 18 May, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

In the 21st century out here in the West, travelling is the mother and father of all hassles.

First of all, you have to have a master’s degree in computer technology to be able to handle it all. The flight booking is made entirely on line and if your software is not up to it, you have to know how to download the relevant software. If you cannot, you may still be able to book your flight on the phone, but that often costs more. Once you have booked your flight your e-ticket will be sent to you via email and you have to have a printout of that to take to the airport with you, or you can download it on your mobile phone for which you would need the relevant airline’s app on your phone. In other words, if you do not have a smart phone, you might as well forget it.

Usually a day before departure you have the option to check in online and earmark your seat. You can do it before that, but you have to pay extra for that too. That means you need to have a smart phone or a printer in good working order. If not, you better go to the nearest library and get a printout of your boarding card there. Remember, this is all to be done 24 hours or less before the flight. So if your flight is at, say 10:30am, seats are only open to be allocated free of cost at 10:30am the previous day.

You then go to the airport where you find out that checking in online the previous day has not helped you much because you have to hand over your checked in baggage, show your passport and visas and also show your cabin baggage so that airline staff can ensure it is not over the permitted size or weight. To do all that you have to stand in the checking-in queue so it takes just as much time whether you have checked in online or not. Yet checking in online is strongly recommended because out here in the West, technology is the new god. Even if you do not have baggage to check-in, you go to a computer screen where you put your encrypted boarding pass to the screen and pray that it will be able to read the encryption. But the god of technology does not always answer your prayer in which case you have to ‘Seek Assistance’ which again is easier said than done because there is precious little by way of assistance around. Whether to god of technology works or not, he does serve the purpose of cutting down on human labour so there is very little assistance to be had. Finally you may get it and then your card will be validated but then you have to go to the check-in desk any way because your visa has to be checked.

Once you have completed all that you need to go through security but before that you have to go through a barrier which reads your encrypted boarding pass. Only ever so often, it does not read it. So you go back to the queue in a check-in desk and when your turn finally comes up, if you are lucky you may be issued with a fresh boarding card; if you are not lucky – and usually you aren’t – you go back and forth two or three times before a new boarding card is issued. All this, mind you is based on personal experience less than a week ago.

Finally you get to the main hurdle, going through airport security. Here you have to take off your watch, belt, phone, shoes, wallet, keys, spectacles, pen etc and put them on a tray which goes through a scanner as you go through a body scanner. The thing here is that at busy periods the tray with all your things goes through the scanner before you move up in the queue to the personal body scanner, then to be frisked by security staff. So there is very often a time gap before you can get to the tray which may be lying unattended for a few minutes before the passenger has been scanned and can go to reclaim his or her things on the tray. We made it without incident, but everyone is not so lucky. One student, going through London City Airport, found that after going through the personal body scanner when she came up to reclaim her things on the tray which had passed through the scanner a few minutes earlier, that her Apple Macbook Air was missing. Those things do not come cheap, costing around £1000. The security staff at the scanners were not bothered and it was left to the passenger to contact the airport police – if the WiFi system at the airport was good enough for her phone to work. The thief who took her computer was caught on the CCTV cameras but airport staff said they would give the relevant footage to the police if and when they asked for it. Desperate to get her computer back, because it contained all the material she had so painstakingly collected for her dissertation, she place an ad in the paper for her Mac promising a reward. She got an almost immediate reply – from the thief demanding a ransom! Gangs are said to roam airports targeting vulnerable people as there are rich pickings to be had near airport scanners.

Local bodies’ elections

On a more mundane note, local bodies election were held in the UK on May 3 in 32 London boroughs, 34 other Metropolitan boroughs, 67 District and Borough councils and 17 unitary authorities, making a total of 150 local authorities. Although Labour won a large number of seats it did not do as well as most Labour politicians and supporters had hoped; more to the point, the Tories did not do as badly as feared, which means there will be little pressure on them to change tack on Brexit. The LibDems and Greens, both parties which support a second referendum on Brexit, did the best on a percentage basis, but their overall performance still makes neither of them serious contenders for power. According to latest results available, Labour had won 1467 seats, a gain of 37 which is much less than they had hoped for, Conservatives won 884, a loss of 2 seats which is much better than they had feared, while the LibDems won 326, a gain of 40 seats and the Greens won 22, a gain of 6. It takes a lot to change the mind of the British voter, which is overwhelmingly Conservative, and even the prospect of a calamitous hard Brexit, which is now staring the country in the face, does not appear to be enough to do it.