The most stressful part of air travel? Has to be the car parks

Trevor Laffan looks at the things that stress people out when travelling.
The most stressful part of air travel? Has to be the car parks

A recent survey identified the main concerns for air travellers, which included packing and fear of being delayed. iStock

MY mother loved to travel. She never complained about going long distances, delayed flights, or hanging around airports waiting for connecting flights.

She considered that to be part of the holiday experience and took it in her stride, but I reckon the chaos in airports at the beginning of last summer would have tested even her if she were still with us.

Fortunately, I have inherited some of her tolerance so I’m usually very patient on my travels, except for long haul journeys.

I’ve been to Australia twice and there won’t be a third time. My body isn’t designed to be strapped into a confined space for 30 hours and jet lag is bad for the system.

Short flights are fine, and I like being on my own, so as long as I have my Kindle with me, I’m happy.

Flying isn’t for everyone though and for many people, air travel presents a major challenge. Take-off and landing are a particular problem for nervous passengers. The thought of that alone can be so stressful, they would rather not bother, and that’s a pity because it limits their travel options.

Air travel has become more straight forward over the years, with the introduction of online booking, online check-in and paperless boarding cards.

It’s usually seamless, although things did get a little bit complicated during Covid-19. Requirements for PCR tests, flight passes, passenger locator forms and proof of vaccination meant there was lots of documentation.

The PCR tests were tricky because they had to be taken 72 hours before arriving at your destination, and it wasn’t always easy to get the timing right, particularly where connecting flights were involved, so there was a little anxiety when the paperwork was being checked.

Those requirements differed from one place to the next, and often changed during the course of a holiday too, which didn’t help, but we survived.

With Covid now hopefully out of the way, restrictions have been eased, and we were happy to take to the skies, until we were hit with more obstacles.

A shortage of ground crew in airports meant delays with check-in, long queues for security checks, cancelled and missed flights, and lost luggage.

Cancelled or delayed flights are inconvenient at the best of times, but again, when connecting flights are involved, things get even more complicated. It can also result in added expense.

As if things weren’t bad enough, the manpower issue forced some airports to introduce restrictions to the number of daily flights they could accept, and that created more uncertainty. The talk of potential strike action raised our anxiety further.

These setbacks are out of our control and no matter how organised we are, our plans can sometimes be scuppered and that fear of the unexpected can cause a rise in the blood pressure.

But these aren’t the only things we worry about when getting a flight.

Airport Industry Review magazine published the results of a survey which identified the main concerns for air travellers, and packing for the holidays ranked amongst the five most stressful stages of travelling through an airport. Particularly for women.

That didn’t surprise me because I know certain people who find it difficult to pack a suitcase for a two-week holiday in the sun without bringing outfits for the cold and the rain, even when travelling to countries that haven’t seen either in years.

They have day wear and evening wear and something extra in case of unexpected births, deaths and marriages - but by the time they come home they haven’t used a fraction of what they brought.

The survey also found that travellers often fear they have forgotten something and left it at home.

Apparently, this causes a huge amount of stress, which is completely unreasonable because unless you are travelling to the heart of the Amazon, you can buy whatever you need in most holiday destinations these days.

So, even if you have forgotten something, it doesn’t really matter. As long as you have a passport, credit card and your boarding pass, you’re good to go.

Getting to the airport was also listed as a challenging part of the travelling experience.

Fear of being delayed by traffic jams or lengthy check-ins at the airport reached the top four of the list, especially for large families.

Security checks, baggage reclaim and being on time for a connecting flight also ranked highly.

One thing that was missing from the list, though, was airport car parks.

I was returning a rental car to an airport last year and the electronic barrier refused go up. I was sitting there while a queue built up behind me. I tried to summon assistance, but nobody answered.

Pressing buttons and cursing at the machine didn’t help either, so a few cars had to reverse to allow me get out of the way, leaving me red- faced and sweaty.

On another occasion, I was collecting people at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus and ended up at a barrier that wouldn’t let me out. Thankfully it was quiet, so I was able to escape without much of a fuss.

It was my own fault this time for taking a wrong turn, but in my defence, it wasn’t clearly marked either.

I went to Edinburgh for New Year’s Eve and decided to leave the car in the long-term car park in Cork. When I returned, I hurried to collect it because it was raining. It was dark when I parked it and the place looked different in the daylight and I couldn’t find it.

After 15 minutes, I was drenched, and as a last resort, I looked in an area I though it couldn’t possibly be but, lo and behold, there it was.

I have no issue with packing, security checks or flying, but the car parks always seem to cause me problems.

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