Monday 20 January 2020

Probably the nicest encounter I've ever had at an airport

Travel planning with a map

It was 5pm at Sydney Airport and, having just checked in my bag for my flight back to the UK, I was aimlessly wandering around the departure lounge, steaming about the universe's most first-world problem ever experienced: Joe & The Juice didn't 'do' chai lattes.

Minutes earlier, I was staring in disbelief at the upsettingly aloof barista (are they called baristas if they primarily serve juice and apparently no chai lattes?) who had issued the blow. I had scouted out the most hipster cafe I could find in terminal 1, only to find that they had. no. chai.

What was I going to do on an excruciatingly long flight to Changi, and then an even longer flight to London? In total, the journey was going to take around 24 hours, not including the two-and-a-half hour transfer I was to undertake upon landing, bleary eyed and barely able to stand. I had no sleeping pills, my row in economy was packed full, and I had lost my eye mask somewhere in the murky depths of my rucksack. The chai latte was my only salvation; I longed for its creamy, hot, spiced milk (sorry, mum, if this sounds overly sexual) to slosh down my esophagus and lull me into a peaceful slumber. But the chai was nowhere to be found.

I ambled past a few more cafes, squinting at menus like an old dear at the chippy, before deciding that I probably wouldn't find what I was looking for, and instead resigned my gaze to the departure boards, where my gate had just been announced.

Being the unreasonably eager person I am (I once showed up to a job interview an hour early), I dashed to the gate, avoiding a gaggle of young children on the way and secretly hoping that they weren't sat behind me on the flight. The first one to arrive at the seating area, I plopped my hand luggage down, and was about to take a seat when a man approached me.

He was only a little taller than me, with greying hair and a smart outfit (not excessively smart, but an appropriate level for travel). I didn't notice much else about him - he seemed quite unassuming and generally non-offensive - but I remember that he reminded me a little of my dad.

"Do you know what the lounge is?" he asked.

I looked around me, confused. And then it clicked. He was lost. Maybe he hadn't been to an airport before and this was his first time flying. How exciting! "Yes," I said, confidently. "We're in it!"

"No, no," he shook his head. "The business class lounge."

Disappointed I couldn't help him, I shook my head apologetically. I thought that would be the end of a run-of-the-mill airport encounter, that he would head to the help desk for a non-moronic response to his query, but he continued.

"I've got a business class ticket," he explained. "I can take one person with me to the business class lounge, and I wanted to ask if you would like to come with me. There's no obligation to talk to me, and there's free food and drink and a comfortable place to relax."

I hesitated for a second. If this were a scenario in any other location, I would refuse. The phrase 'stranger danger' would come to mind, and I'd quickly make an excuse and run away. However, there was something about the safety and security of an airport, plus this slightly elderly man's kind appearance and gentle demeanor, that made me agree to go with him.

Sunset out of a plane window

He introduced himself and explained his actions: "I want others to be able to experience a slice of business class, so whenever I travel I ask someone to come with me to the business lounge. Sometimes, people get a bit worried when I ask them, and think I'm up to no good, but I'm just trying to be nice!"

I immediately warmed to him, thinking that I would like to do the same, if I could afford to travel business class. I asked where he was from. "Switzerland," he said. We rode up an escalator and arrived at the desk for Singapore Airlines' SilverKris Lounge.

"I've found someone!" He told the check-in lady, with genuine delight. She looked at my ticket and passport, before allowing me to enter the lounge with my new aquaintance.

"I've never been in a business class lounge before," I revealed. He smiled and told me that I'd enjoy it, as we walked straight into a well-appointed cafeteria area, with hot and cold food, desserts, cheese, and, to my excitement, a coffee machine complete with a chai latte option.

"Help yourself," he said. "Everything is free, so make sure you take advantage of it. I'll be sat just over there," he pointed to a booth in the corner of the lounge, "and as I said, there's no obligation to sit with me."

I thanked him profusely, taken aback by such a random act of kindness. Before sitting down, I immediately helped myself to a cup of chai, and a few small pastries. I looked over at his booth, and couldn't tell whether he was reading or working at a laptop, but I decided against sitting with him in case he was busy. I guess this was the Britishness in me; we generally don't want to talk to people if we can help it, which means that we think other people don't want to talk to us. He might have enjoyed a conversation with a wide-eyed first-time solo traveller, he might not. I'll never know.

He did, however, look for me when we were called to board, telling me that he might be able to get me through the boarding queue quicker. I told him that I wasn't sure it would work, as they seem to want to check your pass every five paces; however, he explained that, if you look like you know what you're doing, you can get away with anything. Sage advice, which I've since then found to be hilariously true (with the right privileges, of course). Sure enough, I bypassed the economy queue and we parted ways with a handshake; him, off to a comfortable business class seat, and me, off to my sardine tin row with a belly full of chai and a warm fuzzy feeling.

Chai latte with powdered pattern saying 'I love chai'


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