Simon Calder: Off to the departure gates of hell

Some dawdler in duty-free could cause the flight to miss its slot, and jeopardise your onward connection

Airport stress, and for that matter jet lag, is never an issue with flight LOG328. When I checked in for the flight in the summer, there was no queue for security, because there was no security search point.

Seat allocation was handled by the captain himself, who shrewdly decided that the prize seat – next to him on the flight deck – should go to the youngest traveller. The inflight entertainment comprised glorious views of some of the world's finest maritime scenery. And the catering? Well, as I stepped from the aircraft, the captain handed me my bag, posed for a photograph and then presented me with a miniature of Scotch.

The gift reveals the location. This was no odd little corner of the developing world, but Scotland. The Loganair flight in question connects Kirkwall, capital of the Orkneys, with the islands of Papa Westray and Westray – and the flight between the last two happens to be the shortest in the world, taking all of two minutes, which is why you get a souvenir thrown in with your £35 fare. That, for eight lucky passengers a time, is 21st-century aviation at its best; for all the rest, air travel involves stress way beyond that created by other forms of transport.

Being stuck on the M6 for 12 hours last Friday night was an awful experience, but at least those motorists were (mostly) safe and warm within their automotive cocoons. Amid the crowds at London St Pancras station yesterday seeking trains to Paris and Brussels, there was something of the Dunkirk spirit (albeit geographically reversed). But air travel has evolved to engender anxiety of a breadth and depth unmatched elsewhere.

Even in normal times, the word "confirmed" on a ticket conveys an unwarranted degree of assurance about the traveller's prospects. Because aviation is far more complex than relatively closed systems (such as the M6 or the railway to Paris), the potential causes of disruption are as wide as the sky. "Will depart 15.30" should carry an asterisk that translates as "We'll aim for 3.30pm, but not if an unhelpful Icelandic volcano erupts, Spanish air-traffic controllers walk out or what would pass as a light afternoon snow flurry in Moscow or Montreal settles on Heathrow".

The uncertainties multiply as you approach the airport. How much time should you allow for traffic or trains? Will the "Fast Bag Drop" live up to its adjective this time? And how horrendous will the queue for security be?

Airline security, as augmented following a series of actual and attempted terrorist attacks, bristles with all kinds of stress-inducing possibilities. Shoes on or off? Laptop in or out? Above or below 100ml? Any remaining sense of self-esteem is likely to be removed by the realisation that you (and, if you happen to have some, your children) are assumed to be international terrorists intent on mass murder until you jump through the necessary hoops.

Then the airport and airlines connive to raise the stress levels with signage. They exaggerate the walking distance to the gate, and warn that the flight is "closing" when boarding has not, as you discover when you get there, even begun.

Having made it to the gate, your problems are only just beginning. Some dawdler in duty-free could cause the flight to miss its slot, and jeopardise your onward connection; your bags may be heading for LOS (Lagos) while your boarding pass reads LAS (Las Vegas); and that's even before the occasionally cruel and unusual punishment that United States immigration involves.

Happily, there is one outcome you need not stress about, because it is so rare: a crash. But you may still feel you need a whisky to steady your nerves.

Simon Calder is The Independent's Senior Travel Editor

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam