The future of flying

I have seen the future of travel, and it is…retail. I sit in the terminal at Newcastle upon Tyne, a shopping mall that happens to have airplanes around the edges.


I have been in two airports so far in the UK, Heathrow and now this, much smaller, one, and the difference between these UK airports and those of the US is startling. Sure, our airports have a lot of places to drop your dollars while waiting for a flight (Is it cynical to suspect that today’s hour-early check-ins are at the behest of the shops rather than Homeland Security?) but the Brits have raised it to a new level.


Take Newcastle. One checks in (then marches across the hall to a desk where the attendant is permitted to take one’s ten pounds baggage surcharge, for those of us who arrived with our homes on our backs and have then picked up fourteen books—count ’em—along the way.) Once checked in, with passport and boarding pass in hand, and after negotiating a security line worthy of Chicago on a Friday afternoon, there comes the more deceptive departure area, with a coffee place over at one side and a seafood bar at the other, and between them an array of shops selling liquor, jewelry, magazines, and suitcases (which always puzzles me—who buys a suitcase post check-in?)Â


Having spent the night in a pricey cubicle across the car park from the terminal, I needed more caffeine than a teabag permits, so I made for the coffee place, and added fruit and a muffin. And since the place is well equipped with lighted boards informing us that the Easyjet flight to Bristol will be given a gate in fourteen minutes, thirteen minutes, I broke my fast at leisure and from a ceramic cup rather than paper. All normal thus far.


Caffeinated, I rose to follow the signs for the departure lounge. And found myself in a shop. Puzzled, I retraced my steps to the last sign, and found that no, it did indeed point straight to the shop. And the place did seem to contain a lot of people who showed no interest in the wares. So I moved through the shop, towards the narrowing of walls that appeared to be the back of the place other than the number of people it was absorbing, around a display of whisky and vodka, past another with a thousand dangly necklaces—not walking past them, mind, walking around them, since the display cabinets and sales personnel were right in the middle of what was otherwise, indeed, the path to the inner departure lounge.


Then the second shock to the underslept and inadequately caffeinated system: This second lounge was the mall’s food hall, a cacophony of clattering cups and a startling number of young men who thought that 8 am was a grand time for a pint of bitter. And no place to sit that wasn’t connected with one or another of the establishments.


It reminded me eerily of the Las Vegas airport, where the gambling machines begin the moment one comes off the plane, and the path to baggage claim narrows through a bottleneck of blinking tempters, teasing at the pockets, whispering (shouting!) of spectacular explosions of flashing lights and sudden riches.

 I am not much of a user of modern technology, but I have to say, when they come up with blinkers with the same filtering effect as the ubiquitous iPod and MP3, I am so there.

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  1. kate on June 7, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Ah yes – the joys of regional airports! Glad you could make it though and I hope the temple of fast food and duty free didn’t supplant the wonders of the Lit and Phil 🙂

    This was my first venture into the world of author events and thank you for choosing to meet us in a library rather than a bookshop: somehow it seems right to listen to people talking about their books somewhere other than a place where we are expected to buy them.

    Thanks also to Val McDermid – Friday saw a foray into Waterstones to pick up a couple of her books, how have I managed to miss reading her stories for so long?

    I hope you had time to see our fantastic city and please come back soon!

  2. Strawberry Curls on June 7, 2008 at 10:20 am

    What a great description of a truly odd experience. Who would have thought you needed to walk through a shop and wait in a food court to board a plane?

    Going through Heathrow last summer was a bit eyeopening, not only the number of people crammed into a small space, and the number of stores surrounding this small waiting area, but the security. I was really taken aback when told I could have only one carry-on item through security. I was not the only person who had to step into a small side area from the line to try to stuff my tote into my computer case. Then going through security we weren’t asked to take off our shoes. I was really confused with that. Being a Los Angeles gal I have been taking off my shoes to go through security from the time the “Shoe Bomber” was taken off the plane in handcuffs. But, they didn’t want me to take off my shoes, just my jacket and push through the one bag. I was shaking my head when I gathered my things on the other side, but found I was herded into another line where I had to take off my shoes for them to go through a dedicated machine that only screened shoes. This was the first time I had ever seen this, but at least I felt better that they were screening shoes under this tight security process. By the time I retrieved my shoes and walked away, I felt as though I had walked a sort of gauntlet and come out triumphant on the other side.

    They say travel is broadening. I think in today’s world it is just a trial you have to endure to achieve your final destination.

  3. penprickle on June 7, 2008 at 10:25 am

    The only reason I can think of to buy a suitcase at that point is if one’s own has blown out or collapsed from overwork or age…

  4. ladonna on June 7, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Or perhaps you have to buy a suitcase because you found the wares too interesting in all of the shops that you went through to get to the departure lounge disguised as a food hall?!!

  5. corgimom on June 7, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    I can’t make sense of that last paragraph, but do so get the rest of the post!

  6. Kerry on June 9, 2008 at 9:15 am

    “The only reason I can think of to buy a suitcase at that point is if one’s own has blown out or collapsed from overwork or age…”

    When I took my daughter to England, we came close to this ourselves. We were waiting in an upper-level part of the station waiting for our train to Heathrow. When it was time to head down the escalator, an exuberant Dutchman volunteered to take our biggest, heaviest bag. He swung it up and – snap! – the handle broke, flinging the suitcase down the escalator. Fortunately, that was the only part that broke, saving us from needing to buy new luggage 🙂

  7. tangential1 on June 9, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Ug. I hate Las Vegas airport. The last time I had to be there was on a stop over on a flight from Ohio. I had gotten a free ticket on Southwest Airlines, which bounces all over the country in one or two hour hops. By the time I had gotten to Vegas for a one hour lay-over I had already been traveling for several hours and the sight of flashing lights and smoke clouds on top of the long trip literally pushed me to tears.

    I really like flying into SeaTac in Washington. That airport also seems to be a hybrid shopping mall, but they have really awesome food=)

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