The next step in the evolution of sky travel seems to have resulted in the partial dispensing with the check-in staff.
Booking online, checking in online and printing out your boarding pass at home, to avoid the queues at the airport, has become standard procedure for most people, but at Schipol Airport they’ve taken it one step further at the baggage drop.
I am ushered by KLM ladies, impeccable in their bright blue uniforms and practiced smiles, to an area with a series of short queues of fellow travelers. It is here we wait for our turns at a row of waist-height white and silver cabins, each with automated, latticed metal mesh fronts that open and shut at intervals, like hungry mouths.
My first reaction is that I’m about to be enjoy a new kind of treatment at a wellness spa, but the surroundings quickly put that idea to rest. The cabins look reminiscent of the decor from a set of the popular sci-fi series, Star Trek of the 70’s, and, as I suppress the urge to shout “Beam me up Scotty” at the top of my voice, I can’t help wondering if they have finally mastered the art of moving objects from one place to another, through space and time.
I realize I’m not the only one who’s new to this procedure, as I listen to the whispered anxieties of the Australians behind me, who then proceed to watch what I do, eagle-eyed. Blind leading the blind, I’m afraid, but, when the illuminated screen to my left requests that I heave my suitcase into the cabin, handle upwards, I oblige. A quick scan of the boarding pass and all your details appear along with the suitcase’s weight, and your allowance of 23kg. You are then asked, if this is you – ‘Press yes’. Momentarily, I wonder what kind of devilish chaos I could create if I chose ‘No’, but decide not to piss-off my fellow travelers by holding them up for my own amusement. ‘Did you pack your bag yourself’, is smile-worthy, but the potential ensuing sarcasm would be lost on a machine, at least in this century. And yes, I did omit: sharp objects, bombs, and nerve gas…this time!
All correct so far, the baggage label is printed out with the idea of being attached to your bag’s handle. Seen it done a million times, it should be easy you’d think. It’s not – the sticky part is very sticky indeed, and if you don’t get the ends attached to each other in one go, you run the risk of adding long tresses of hair, the machine wall and any rogue small children into the equation.
Final ‘Yes’ pressed and the metal mesh descends, partially obscuring the visibility of the luggage. When it opens again, abracadabra! The suitcase has vanished. Good to go, I turn on my heel and throw a parting comment to the queue behind me: ‘And, your luggage is never seen again!’
Ok, now to spoil the magic. It does not de-materialize, the floor does not open up and swallow it, nor is there a vertical wind tunnel to dramatically suck it out of sight. If you peer through the mesh, you will see the floor rise to an incline, knock over the case onto a conveyor belt, which then carries it off (hopefully) to the loading bay.
With time to spare I trot through passport control, and decide to opt for a drink at a bar and a spot of people watching. A different one to last time’s rip-off experience, where to my surprise a glass of white wine cost me € 9,25. Gob-smacked, I gave the woman behind the bar ten euros, and said ‘Keep the change’. This time, however, an ice cold, glass of Heineken and bag of Doritos came in at a saner cost of € 5,60.
So, with this new development in sky travel, and avoiding scary scenarios like the one out of the 1986 film, ‘The Fly’ (David Cronenberg), in which Jeff Goldblum accidently merges with a housefly during a teleportation experiment, I wonder how long it will take before I will be able to step into the cabin too and be ‘beamed’ to my destination.
Hear an excerpt of this story read by Alison Day: HERE
First published in the Connections magazine, Spring issue #35, 2012