Travel is a wondrous thing, until you're stuck in an airport

THE toddler walked past as toddlers do - dragging her feet, bored, trailing a little bag.

Her mum and dad were slightly ahead with what looked like the toddler’s older sister. They were walking slowly, also trailing bags.

Everyone was trailing bags that night a few weeks ago, or sitting beside bags, or on bags, or dozing with their heads on bags, because we were all stuck in an airport and most of the departure boards carried one depressing word - “Delayed.”

Everyone was trailing bags that night a few weeks ago, or sitting beside bags, or on bags, or dozing with their heads on bags, because we were all stuck in an airport and most of the departure boards carried one depressing word - “Delayed.”

The message beside my flight was slightly different. It said “Delayed for 79 minutes but probably for heaps longer”, or something like that. I started taking notes during those hours of sitting around but I lost them, or ate them, or made paper planes out of boredom with them because I can’t find them anymore, so the exact detail comes from memory. But I remember the toddler.

She first came to my attention while doing the circuit. She and her little family walked slowly past the cafes and food outlets with their cold, dry $13 sandwiches in crinkly plastic, or their giant fizzy confections for $12, or coffees – good, mind you – that set you back $7 or so.

They walked slowly past the shops with the koala souvenirs, Australian flag t-shirts and ugg boots. They walked past the toilets and the luxury cosmetics shops where the beautiful assistants leant languidly and elegantly against the shiny counters, because customers were thin on the ground.

People like me who’d already walked the circuit of the airport’s shops about 20 times, and checked out all the books and magazines in the newsagents, and tried on a few lipsticks, had settled with our bags by then. All except the people with kids who kept circling as a way to hold off tantrums.

So the toddler went past.

Her father trailed his carry-on bag with its little wheels slightly ahead of her.

As I watched from a stool at a cafe the toddler - bored and possibly tired - decided she’d hitch a ride on her dad’s bag but he didn’t know.

She started to climb, he lost his grip, and toddler and bag fell down with a thump.

It took the toddler a second or two to respond but when she did it was wonderful.

She was tired and bored and three or four years of age and she’d just had a shock and a bump. The wail went up and even the sound from the overhead advertising big screen that had been droning on about “Travel to Tahiti” for hours was suddenly drowned out by a toddler’s outraged howls.

And because I related to her tired, bored, I’m-stuck-here-in-an-airport-and-this-is-so-unfair-because-I-just-want-to-get-home mood, I shared her pain. If I could have got away with it I would have rolled around on the floor and thrown my arms around dramatically, too, out of the sheer injustice of having to wait for a plane to fly.

But I didn’t. I was wearing a frock.

Look at any travel brochures or advertisements and everything’s glossy and gorgeous. People are smiling. Every destination looks fantastic. Every experience is photographable.

And it’s true up to a point. I love travelling. I love the thrill of arriving at any place that’s a long way from where I live and a lot different. When the plane door opens and you get the first whiff of a new country, or the first feel of its weather even before you step off the plane, it’s exciting.

And then there’s the reality of travel – the queues, the cost, the petty bureaucratic hassles, the delays and cancellations. But we keep doing it.

I love travel stories. This week a story popped up from China about the elderly passenger who tossed coins into her plane engine for “good luck”. True.

The airline even put out a statement to confirm the woman, 80, was seen tossing coins into the engine of the Airbus 320 before her flight from Pudong to Guangzhou to “wish a safe flight”.

Everyone had to get off. The engine was inspected. It took hours and hours. The airline helpfully stated that the woman had no known mental incapacity. She just hadn’t flown before and thought a positive gesture was called for. 

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau sends me regular bulletins about all the plane crashes and near misses it’s investigated in the previous few months.

On Thursday it sent me a report about the flight from America to Sydney in October that experienced abnormal vibration and noise above the left wing after take-off, and what the crew and airline did in response.

It wasn’t until the plane touched down in Sydney that the source of the trouble – a birdstrike that “sheared a landing gear door strut resulting in the door not closing” – caused “turbulent airflow and in‑cabin vibration”. Good to know.

The ATSB seems to leave its regular reports about birdstrikes at Australian airports until I’m just about to get on a plane to fly a long way away.

Between 2006 and 2015 there were 16,069 birdstrikes reported to the ATSB, most involving bigger passenger jets. And just so that you know, both the number and rate of birdstrikes per 10,000 movements of bigger capacity jets “have increased markedly in the past two years”, with Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, the Gold Coast and Sydney recording the biggest increases.

But have a nice trip anyway. And don’t read the book Sully, or watch the movie of the same name about the birdstrikes that put a passenger jet into New York’s Hudson River.

We eventually got onto the plane that night a few weeks ago, after Sydney airport was hit by a thunderstorm that knocked out a lot of its systems. We flew thousands of metres above the ground and safely down again and thought nothing of it, despite how wondrous that really is. 

This story Things that go bump first appeared on Newcastle Herald.