The long-haul departure lounge is a Christmas misery

The departure lounge at this time of year is more like Hate, Actually.
The departure lounge at this time of year is more like Hate, Actually. Photo: Supplied

“Whenever I get cheerful about the state of the world and I need to pull myself together and remember how much terrible misery there is in the universe, I remind myself of the Departures Terminal at Sydney’s International Airport.

“General opinion makes out that we live in a world of hatred and greed. One hundred per cent. Nowhere is that plainer than when 330 anxious people are trying to get on to that Dreamliner before the gate closes.

"Seems to me that misery, anger and sheer frustration are everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified, or newsworthy – but it's always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends, the lovely ground crew who tried to take this week off but head office said no.

There are thousands and thousands of people leaving Australia at this time of year, and they all have to get through a ...
There are thousands and thousands of people leaving Australia at this time of year, and they all have to get through a scene from 'Hate Actually' to take off. (This, of course is a still from Love Actually.) Photo: Supplied

“lf you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion that the departure terminal you'll find that hate is all around.”*

That was the opening sequence of Hate Actually.

Yep, the prequel to Love Actually, the movie made in the departure terminal of the international airport closest to you in the two weeks before Christmas.

Starring you, me and everyone else getting on a long haul flight. No Hugh Grant, Chiwetel Ejiofor or Emma Thompson in sight. In fact, everyone looks remarkably plain. They are also exhausted.

There are thousands and thousands of people leaving Australia at this time of year. This is their unhappy story.

Now, movies like Love Actually want to show you the warm fuzzies of Arrivals terminal. Fresh off the plane, smiling and radiant, lovers finally reunited. Mums and dads returning from work trips, embraced by their unlikely clean and perky children, ready to give their parents a loving hug.

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But there are many hours to go before that happens. I’m here to give you the other stories, ones of misery and tears, of queues and baggage weigh-in, of crying and snot (and that’s only the adults). Of brilliant airport staff and, ahem, some less than brilliant.

When you arrive at departures, you are already exhausted, trying to complete all the work you are trying to take a break from in the first place.

Second, the new system of overflow traffic means you got dropped in the car park and a cadre of over officious guides are using overenthusiastic hand signals to show you where you can and can’t go. This frightens an overexcited toddler so much she starts sobbing in her stroller.

Not good preparation for what happens next.

Three hours before boarding time and a family of six has more baggage than I have ever seen in my life. They tell the patient woman at check-in that the bags could not possibly be more than 23kg each.

The mum of the group says she weighed them at home. One terrible terrible busybody queue jumps for a sticky beak at the scales. Between home and check-in counter at the airport, I see those bags have put on 12 kilos each. Only answer is the Krispy Kremes in the boot of the car.

The person behind the counter is kind but resolute. The mum of the group starts howling. I don’t know how this will end because I had to head off to join my next queue.

The next queue is worse than the 39-week prenatal check up. Everyone is anxious, waiting, impatient and wondering whether their liquids, aerosols and gels will get through in one piece. Yep, security.

My 120ml tube of Colgate gets tossed and my newly developed deltoids are now subject to the attention of Border Force. I know this because that’s the area highlighted on the screen. Only my left shoulder though. Must work harder on the right.

Should be good now, right? Checked-in. Secure.

Departure imminent! Stop right there. You have now entered the unimaginable limbo of the boarding gates as Australia enters its ten plagues season.

There are no visible wild animals or frogs but I fear lice and worms from the kid two seats up, scratching head and bum alternately.

As for thunderstorm of hail and fire and darkness for three days, why do you think we had all those cancelled flights?

Last week, thousands of people had their flights delayed, postponed, confused.

There is no misery in the departures terminal greater than the cancelled flight. To further extend my tortured Love Actually appropriation, nothing you can do but to learn how to play the game.

It’s easy. All you need is a confirmed flight which might get you to your connection with 90 minutes to spare. Please. Please. Otherwise be consigned to 24 hours wandering aimlessly around Abu Dhabi International Airport looking for a cup of tea that costs less than ten bucks.

Not done yet. Boarding. Boarding. Cabin doors crosschecked. Another queue before take off. The only reason you’d do this is to get to the arrivals terminal.

I feel it in my fingersI feel it in my toesLove is all around meIf you really love Christmas,You’ll stay at home.

*With thanks to the lovely scriptwriters of Love Actually.