No airport boarding calls? It’s all up in the air now

14 November 2017 - 07:15
FLIGHT RISK With no more boarding calls, will a new peace descend? Picture: iStock
FLIGHT RISK With no more boarding calls, will a new peace descend? Picture: iStock

It's not state capture or the president's next trick where he pits the Treasury against the aspirations of students and sits back and giggles.

It's not invertebrate politicians urging us to buy Jacques Pauw's book in a wretched attempt to prove that they were never a Zuma enabler. It's not the Springboks or Toetie. It's not even Idols. It's a very small thing. But for me, it's a big deal.

OR Tambo is phasing out boarding calls for domestic flights.

When I read the headline this weekend, I assumed it was a ploy to foil the resident highwaymen who now rob you the moment you leave the airport. A completely silent terminal, I thought, might give arriving passengers a chance to listen for danger and time their escape, running hard, bent low, for the safety of the hedges and fields beyond the airport.

Then again, I wondered, perhaps it was a way to ward off the social unrest that would erupt should they ever accidentally make an announcement for passengers boarding at the Oppenheimer's new private terminal.

After all, when you're queuing to be beaten with mallets into a child-sized seat on Deep Vein Thrombosis Air, it's bad enough to look down at the apron to see a gilded pleasure-barge being harnessed to a team of winged horses. You really don't need to hear their announcements, too: a mellifluous voice murmuring: "Air Bliss passengers, your baggage is now being loaded, except, of course, your historical baggage, which you discarded the moment your net worth reached nine figures. Please proceed serenely to the Boarding Spa from where our team of models will carry you to your sleep cocoon."

Both of my theories, however, were wrong. According to airport spokesman Leigh Gunkel-Keuler, the decision was taken to help reduce ambient noise and make the whole ordeal slightly less stressful.

This makes sense. There are, admittedly, far too many announcements in airports, the chief culprit being requests to pay attention to "an important security announcement".

The first time you hear it, you break out in a sweat, ready to be told that a super-virus has been released into the air-conditioning and you need to assemble in the main concourse to be sprayed with Jik. But by the time you've heard it for the 483rd time, half an hour later, you know they're really just reminding you to maintain a level of awareness about your belongings that you might expect from a five-year-old.

No, the safety announcements can go to hell. But the boarding calls, ah, those I will miss.

Not that they ever helped me, of course. They never helped anybody. No human can understand the series of whoops, crackles and sinus-clearings that is the average boarding call. But I am sorry to see it go, that little boong-boong-boong chime followed by: "Final aw fa wa-wa eh-crr, ah ow geh 23 wa oo immediately."

That's because I'm a slightly nervous flyer; and when you are a slightly nervous flyer, the boarding process becomes unmistakably, soul-sickeningly bovine. As the herd forms, lowing gently, and then begins to shuffle towards that distant ramp, you can no longer ignore the parallels with a cattle truck or its implied destination: mechanised, impersonal death.

This is why the boarding call is so soothing: behind those nasal, arbitrary vowels, there is a real live person.

I don't care that their job is basically pointless, or that they're holding the microphone too close to their mouth and the whole thing just sounds like a beluga whale chewing sonar equipment.

And the reason I don't care is because, in that terrible moment when I am being marched into a gleaming death-machine that runs on a relentless schedule dictated by computers, that human voice is like someone holding my hand and telling me: "You're probably not going to die." Or, as they'd actually say it: "Oo obly nawgonguy."

They say that silence is golden. I'm sure
that a new peace will descend over OR Tambo, broken only by the distant bangs of highwaymen welcoming some new visitors.

But next time you're there, and you see a very tall guy wiping the sweat off his palms, please come and say hello. I beg you.

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