Short break. South of France. At Nice airport, heading home to Heathrow. It’s hot.
The airport is busy and as we tango past stray travelers with heads tilted towards distant departure boards we see what no traveler wants to see – a mammoth queue at Gate D. Armed with our Priority boarding passes we stride confidently to the front of the queue to exercise our privilege where the grim realisation sets in: this queue IS the priority boarding queue. We cross-check with another traveler already queueing and in a broad Scots accent the worst is confirmed.
So with a comfortable two hours until take-off we resign ourselves and stand in line behind Scotty who is now muttering about disgraceful service and the diminishing minutes he has until his flight is due to leave to anyone who can listen or understand.
We watch as fresh arrivals make our mistake. They slow to scan the queue, raised eyebrows, dropped jaws, head to the front, are appraised of the situation then shuffle despondently to the ever-receding back of the growing snake. Their assumed superiority deflating visibly as they do.
More fresh arrivals gather at the head of our queue and start to form their own queue. Priority-priority status is catching on. The new branch grows and the arguments start. Scotty is having none of it. He strides over to the super-privileged, his Crocs squeaking on the marble floor and his baggy cargo shorts swinging generously around his pale legs and he lets them have it. He explodes, pointing to the back of the queue, waving his gold card and the new queue mostly dissolves.
But the fight is not over for one Well-Heeled Couple and we watch as they enter negotiations with the front of the queue. This couple are not giving in without a fight and against all odds we see them merge and finally disappear into the top of the line.
Scotty is now on the phone to British Airways, his glasses balanced impossibly on his sweating snout which he wrinkles to keep them there, baring a cargo of yellowing teeth. BA, who are a thousand miles away promise unconvincingly to look into the matter.
So, finally, we are ten check-ins from the front and Scotty is looking happier. But the cruelest cut is yet to come. The desk attendant raises an arm and asks the queue for Gatwick passengers who break out from behind us like lottery winners and charge past to the check-in desk pushing us from 10th to 30th in a flash.
When we get through (an hour later) we see Scotty and well-heeled couple standing eagerly among others at the boarding gate. The flight is announced, their tickets torn and they head towards the bus. Now, arriving first on a bus puts you at a disadvantage. You get a seat, yes but when it comes to disembarking, it’s first on, last off.
Scotty and Well-Heeled Couple only realise this when the bus is full and lurches towards the plane. After what appears to be an eternity, the closed doors hiss open releasing many passengers who checked in way later than them. They burst from their seats, necks craning towards the now fully-stacked boarding steps as if unwilling to accept their very public relegation.
On board, we all settle in, bags are loaded and we are embalmed with a cocktail of humid air and perfume. Karma is served in the form of a 90-minute delay on the scorching tarmac. Some read, some chat, some drink and kids scream. Scotty, meanwhile, is back on the phone to BA.
But we do leave, albeit late, and the waiting becomes history. Priority boarding queue issues blur into the pleasure of returning home. Tired but on terra firma, we collect our bags from the carousel.
As I leave the baggage collection area I smile at Scotty and Well-Heeled Couple, who, hot, cross and expectant, are still waiting for their bags.