I should have known things weren’t going to go smoothly when I arrived at Heathrow on 23 December and it took two hours for our luggage to be unloaded from the plane. I’d had qualms about checking bags in with Alitalia (just google ‘Alitalia luggage’ and you should find plenty of reasons why), but in the event couldn’t get round it because of the Christmas presents I’d bought. What’s the worst that could happen, though …?
To be fair, I don’t think the blame can be laid entirely at Alitalia’s door on this occasion. When we arrive in the baggage hall at T4 (no, not Terminator; Terminal), Heathrow is in pre-Christmas chaos. Abandoned luggage is piled high at every turn and there is no sign of ours appearing. I’m all set to leave my suitcase and get it delivered to me another day, but the Italians are made of sterner stuff and are busy creating merry hell at the Alitalia desk.
While the Italians are bellowing, I have a quiet word with one of the ground staff about what is going on. I discover that if planes don’t have to turn straight round and fly somewhere else (as ours doesn’t) they are considered low priority. They are therefore unlikely to be unloaded until the following day, when the new baggage staff come on duty. Luckily for me, however, Italians can all shout and gesticulate for – well – Italy. They aren’t going anywhere until they’ve had a good old row about it. At one point, it even looks as if it’s about to turn into a fight. Thrilling!
The staff at the desk make frantic phone calls. A member of the airport police arrives to defuse the situation. He puffs his chest out and moves people back six inches. Using his best Very Important Voice, he makes an announcement: “Your luggage will be in the hall in 15 minutes!” Somebody – it *might* have been me, but I couldn’t *possibly* confirm – shouts, “Is that a promise?!” There are titters from the other English-speakers. He rises above it and ignores the heckling, merely gesturing in the direction of the conveyor belt. Sceptically we look and see that, far from there being a 15 minute wait, luggage is arriving now. Hooray! We stampede towards our bags and out into the freezing cold sleet of a late-December night in London. Home at last.
Fast-forward three weeks, and I’m on my way back from England to Italy. Due to some serious shopping, there’s no way I can travel carry-on only, so once again I reluctantly check my luggage in. Being a good girl, I’ve followed airline guidelines and put my laptop and handbag into my hand luggage, which is regulation size. I’ve also packed a couple of pairs of shoes and most of my new books in there, so it’s h.e.a.v.y.
When I first flew out to Italy, the guy at check-in weighed my bags, lost his eyebrows into his hairline at how heavy they were, but let me take them on board anyway. However the po-faced woman at the desk this time isn’t having any of it. I therefore transfer the shoes and books into my checked bag. She reweighs my hand luggage. It’s still far too heavy. With barely-concealed disdain she looks at the contents of my little suitcase. Waving an imperious finger she tells me that I’ll have to carry my handbag and laptop separately. Christ. If I’d known that was allowed I’d have done it anyway. It’s a brand new Mac and I need no excuse to cradle it to my bosom.
Clutching my laptop and hauling my now rather lighter carry-on bag I head for Security, anticipating all sorts of faffery. In this, I am not disappointed. There is, of course, the usual plastic bag farce. I’m prepared for this, and have already extricated my make-up bag from the tangle of cables in my suitcase. However, unlike when I first flew to Italy from Terminal 2, when the nice lady at Security had a good old chat with my mum and me while she decanted all my make-up into the plastic bag for me, the chap at Terminal 4 just shoves a bag in my direction and points me to the side while I sort myself out. I spend the next ten minutes juggling laptop, handbag and suitcase while giving him death stares.
Given Gordon’s blustering about the immediate installation of X-ray scanners, I’d half expected to see them here. However, it seems it’s still just the standard metal detectors. We have to remove our shoes and every single layer of outer clothing, though, so the queue is moving tooth-grindingly slowly. I’m sweltering, having dressed in about 100 layers when I’d left home in the snow that morning. Every time I think about taking my coat off and shoving it in my bag, though, the queue moves forward and I’m left desperately trying to rezip and pick up everything that I’ve just dropped while kicking my suitcase along in front of me. I give it up as a bad job, and continue to sweat.
When I reach the front of the queue I remove my shoes, remembering just too late that I’m wearing stupid, garish socks. Damn. I shuffle through the metal detector. It beeps. A serious-looking woman beckons me over and asks what I think might have caused it. I assume it’s my belt, so remove it. She suggests that it could have been my necklace, which I’d forgotten about. I shrug and smile. She glares at me. Oops. She gestures that I should assume the position, and pats me down almost indecently thoroughly. Thank goodness she’s wearing gloves, as the sweat patches under my arms are, by this stage, less patches and more rivers. The Italians would be scandalised. Not finding anything obviously bomb-like, she scowls and fetches the mobile metal detector, which she proceeds to run over me. Sure enough, my necklace sets it off, as do the rivets on my jeans. She runs it down my right hand side. It beeps. There is a moment of confusion. Then I realise what has caused it and burst into laughter. “It’s my bra! It’s the underwire in my bra!” She gives me a death stare to beat all death stares. I can’t stop laughing, though. I continue giggling helplessly as she pats me down yet more thoroughly. Security lady is, like Queen Victoria, unamused. I, however, chortle all the way to the boarding gate.