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Blog: Traveller madness on Transfer Day

In the first of a regular blog for Destinations: The Holiday & Travel Show, award-winning photographer and Exodus guide Paul Goldstein lets loose on the temporary madness that possesses travellers on 'Transfer Day'.

"Very recently a British Airways plane caught fire on a Nevada runway, with many of the fleeing passengers roundly criticised for taking hand luggage with them. ‘You are putting lives at risk by this selfish action’ was one of hundreds of tweets and disgusted messages. The day before these perfectly sane people were probably enjoying cocktails by their Las Vegas pools, the following one they delay terrified people trying to exit a burning Boeing, because they needed their tablets, duty free and flip flops from the lockers above. People are outraged - they should not be, it is ‘transfer day policy’ and it is very common.

It has now been thirty two years since I sold my first holiday – a package to the Sindbad hotel in Malindi, if anyone is remotely interested. Computers have changed, flights have changed, hotels also. Prices, quality and even duty free have undergone transformations too. One thing has not; something that has caused me frustration and humour in equal measure and something that also appears never likely to: transfer day. Why do normal people turn into ogres?

There is a very good recent film with Kevin Costner (not a common phrase I realise) called ‘Draft Day’ – which takes an almost real time look at the NFL’s day of transfers. It is utter acrimonious chaos. Much like anyone’s final day of their holiday. Anywhere. I have used this statistic many times: ‘on the last day, 90% of people lose 90% of their I.Q.’ – they often lose a fair chunk of their humanity too. Well-adjusted individuals who have enjoyed pleasant weeks anywhere from Tuscany to Torremolinos, or Zanzibar to Zagreb turn into selfish, hyper-sensitive monsters. Apologies if you are in the 10%.

When it says ‘one bag’ carry-on, it means one, not three. Check-out times are not specifically chosen to cause the most amount of trauma, they are just necessary to get your room, apartment or tent clean for the next arrivals. Someone pays £200 for a week full board in the sun and expects to be treated like royalty. Especially on transfer day. When they finally get to the airport for their flight home they are in a right state. They are angered at having to visit four other hotels to pick up other tourists: obviously a separate air-conditioned stretch should have been laid on for them. Then they join the nearest queue to find it is the wrong one, then they become incensed that they are not given bottled water to convalesce them through this time of purgatory and finally they are told their flight will not leave as scheduled. ‘A technical delay’ – i.e. the engine needs repairing – why would anyone make this up? But these pilgrims are spitting industrial quantities of travel dummies now and in compensation overdrive, demanding ‘a hotel night, meal, Chateau Laffite ‘54 and that stretch again.’ Here’s a clue knuckleheads, you’ll get none of it, nor the piddling amount of money you paid for your holiday, however many lawyers you threaten the company with. They are cut from the same cloth as the tightwads who wear a polyester suit for check in and are put out that they do not get upgraded (they inevitably end up sat next to the toilet). Incidentally outbound ‘transfer policy’ is rarely as bad as inbound. Also, flying to developing world backwaters is a means to an end – there may be some hardship but the final unspoilt destination is the reward, so do not expect marble and glass terminal buildings and much fawning by crisply uniformed staff.

Here’s another thing: when you are on a flight or in a departure lounge make a few sandwiches before you arrive or don’t complain about being ripped off. Recently in Oslo airport I paid £27 for a lasagne with tired green leaf and a coke. Astonished at the price I asked the young man at the till if he thought this was robbery, ‘yes, indeed it is, but what can you do about it?’ he laughed. So did I, at his candour, but also at my own stupidity. So next time you pay too much for a bagel and Sprite, or get charged £11.00 for an anaemic ciabatta roll on board, don’t crackle and hiss as you only have yourself to blame. They have a hermetically sealed seller’s market so don’t expect any favours. Oh and by the way, have you ever seen anyone smugger than the urbane travellers tucking into salmon, oysters and champagne at those posh departure lounge fish bars, their hideously stacked carry-on luggage ‘system’ resting against their designer threads and shoes? No, didn’t think so.

The plane has landed but is there any proper reason for the ludicrous leaping up for baggage followed by the sprint through the concourse. You are not high powered executives off to sign a huge contract in the big smoke, you are a holiday maker. Not only is fleeing the aircraft like panicked, plague-infested rats horribly unseemly, but you are likely to find the suited executive waiting at the carousel, just like you will. Everyone always seems in a hurry….. to wait.

You are in the terminal now and already at boiling point over the passport queue. You have strong views on migrants but still want to breeze through, you can’t have it both ways. However that £9m Heathrow spent on the iris scan avenues was absolute bollocks as anyone who has limped through will testify to. Why bring in machines that you still have to staff. Oh and another thing, have any of you travelled to the U.S. recently? Tight connections are probably unwise. Seattle airport took two hours to let me through and the line was only a few metres long. The officers were somewhere to the right of Dick Cheney and shamefully rude. Ever since George Bush’s government destroyed just about everything that America stood for, the immigration departments have seemingly employed his cronies acolytes to staff these booths. Did I have a Palestinian, Yemeni or Iraqi stamp in my pages or did I smell of Semtex? Did I f*** but it did not stop them reaching for the marigolds.

The denouement: the baggage carousel. PLEASE relax. You may have even slept a little on the flight, your I.Q. making up ground from the points lost during your traumatic transfer day, but please remember: YOUR BAGGAGE GOES ROUND MORE THAN ONCE.  Too often I have seen old ladies, young children and even baggage officers swept aside in the savage sprint for luggage. Clearly there is a lie permeating the airport ether that if you miss them, they will be instantly vapourised in the burning hell behind the black curtain. I have seen families approach their quarries in pincer formation, spreading out along the belt to ensure the prizes are picked up. ‘Life is a carousel’ ….. my arse, a carousel is seemingly life or death.

Perhaps the most corrosive thing is the way this malaise can creep into a holiday un-noticed with still a few days to go. The pinched faces, the constant glancing at the watches, the counting of final Euros, Pesos or Kwacha and the absurd checking of work emails. Then suddenly transfer deadline day has arrived. You know when it has kicked off, when, that morning some retard says ‘I’d just like to be home now’. Really? You mean you don’t like all of the above?

Next time you travel do two things: firstly, turn that phone off and keep it off, secondly when you feel any of the transfer symptoms kicking in take a breath and laugh, we all go through it and it is a far better illness when viewed as a spectator sport."

Also published in The Independent on Sunday, 20/09/15