An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Monday, January 05, 2009

Lounge lizard

I've forgotten how bad airports can be.

The Australian Army, QANTAS and VISA Card and I have a strange, symbiotic, love-hate relationshio with each other. Like parasites on a host animal (I'm, not sure who is who in this relationship) we feed of each other and we sustain each other.

One of the few benefits - perhaps the only benefit - of continuing to serve in the Australian Army (albeit in a very part time, part time manner) is that I get heavily discounted membership fo the Qantas Club and, by extension, the Qantas frequent flyer program.

Because I am a Qantas frequent flyer, and because I have access to Qantas and affiliated lounges in airports around the world, I tend to always fly with the flying kanagaro (well, hopping, as the 'roo logo lost its wings years ago) or its partner airlines.

Another strong incentive to stick with the national carrier is the fact that Mrs Blog and I both have ANZ-Qantas Visa Cards, which means that every dollar we spend earns us a frequent flyer point. As a result, we do a lot of flying for free, but when we do have to pay, we either go with the national carrier, or a partner airline.

The airlines and credit card scall it call it a Loyalty Program. But in reality, it is, of course, blackmail.

The Visa Card thing works well, but I'm sure if I sat down and worked out the number of points I actually get from paying to fly economy, versus the price difference between Qantas and Co and the many other cheaper (and often better) airlines plying the route between Australia and Africa, that it may not make much sense to stick with Big Red.

I realise now, however, the true, extortionate hold that the Army, Qantas and Visa have over me, as I sit here in the tastefully named but truly unpalatable Ekaya Bar in the international terminal of OR Tambo International Airport (the airport formerly known as Jan Smuts).

The unspoken, but ever present threat from Qantas and the Army is this... if you try to walk away from us, you will have to drink in the public bars in departure terminals around the world...

"Don't you remember, Tony Park," says the distorted blackmailer's voice down the telephone line to my mildly inebriated mind, "what it's like to pay AUD$8 for a warm beer?"

Gulp... "Sort of," I might meeklky reply.

"Don't you remember... traitor... what it's like to stand in a queue three deep, amidst Germans in safari suits, poms complaining about exchange rates, and South Africans wearing plastic clogs, in the hope that you might get a flat (or overly frothy) Castle draft in a dirty glass...?

"No!"

"Yes, Tony Park," says the voice... "and don't you remember the time you and Mrs B got food poisoning from a curry in the departure terminal restaurant?"

"Stop it, please...."

It's like a nightmare, Legion of Fans (LOF). No, it is a nightmare! NO! It's not a nightmare... it's happening to me. Mrs B and I are paying 60 Ronts for one glass of bad wine and one beer! EEEEEEEEEEEEK.

Why, you may ask? (If you've gotten this far).

Why, because we are flying to Mombassa, Kenya, and the only flight we could get on was Kenyan Airways and, honest guv, if I could have I would have flown British Airways...

Little did I remember, LOF, how great was the gulf was that separates the classes between the sticky-floored public departure bar and the cool, funky, moodily lit peace of the aiport lounge.

I'm sitting in the only free seat, under the widescreen TV that is beaming an English Premier League soccer match above my head (as if that isn't bad enough), and next door to the smoking lounge. The beer is expensive and the food is inedible. A bunch of de-miners are doing their best to toxify themselves with enough booze to last them through the next four months in Iraq or Afghanistan or somesuch hell hole, and a Kenyan family of five at the next table has just erected a shanty of hand luggage on Mrs B's foot.

It is, to lift a phrase from my fellow blogger Murier, like living in an Heironymous Bosch painting.

But I know that just one floor above me people are sitting in deep comfy armchairs by the quietly gurgling water feature, leafing through glossy coffee table books and eating smoked salmon sandwiches while sipping on complimentary bloody marys and chilled Windhoek Lagers.

Just above the billowing orange fabric mushroom-like fittings that adorn the ceiling of the Ekaya Bar is elevator music and free internet access; people wearing chinos and blue blazers; ladies in silver thongs (sandals, that is... and maybe thongs); and well behaved, if slightly precious children called Zoe and Jack, silently exploring and marvelling at the paradise that one day will be theirs.

"If you leave the Army... Major Park..." the computer scrambled voice resumes, "your Qantas Club membership will lapse and you know you don't make enough money from your books to pay full price..."

"NO, NO, NO..."

A seething crush of humanity mills and lurches around me. People stand wide eyed and slack-jawed at the bar (mostly because the barman has just told them how much a coke costs), and the tannoy almost uncomprehendingly beckons drunken passengers Hookermonger and Plasticheclogger, who are delaying the KLM flight to Amsterdam.

Upstairs in the lounge a lady with precise diction is suggesting that it's now time to make one's way to the gate because most of the poor people are already on board and tapping their collective, smelly Croc-clad feet while they wait for the richies to grace them with their belated presence.

I'm sorry. I'll never be disloyal again.

I'll never fly with a cheap airline again. I can't afford the bar bill.

5 comments :

ali g said...

Way to go!
Having sat with the swill at Oliver Tambo airport swilling outrageously priced warm wine with Mother blog and the Lt/Cnl, Park style lounge lizarding sounds much more civilized and relaxing!

Java said...

Been in that Ikaya restaurant when my plane got delayed for 5 hours, at least then the food was for free.
Here's a link to my photo of it:
Ikaya restaurant and Tony in a post

Anonymous said...

Why don't I get those benefits from being in the Permanent DF (lol)?

A funny read Tony :)

Muriel said...

Flying ain't fun - if it were, god would have given us wings. (And I want no smart-alec comebacks from magic mushroom munchers or manufacturers of sanitary towels.)

tonypark said...

Anonymous, shuuuussshhh. If the ADF has stopped offering cheap membership of the qantas club for all, then perhaps no one has told Qantas. Keep it under your hat and I'll get you in as a guest.