The 15 most annoying things about airports

It’s that time of year again when millions of us head to the departure lounge, bound for sunnier climes and a beachside hotel. But before we can board the plane, we must undergo the ordeal of fire that is the Airport Retail & Entertainment Experience; the modern equivalent of that great medieval test of truth, only with slightly less fire, swords and torture – and a few overpriced perfumes with names like Ambience! and Vanilla Ghost.

For some, it’s a source of joy, for many, a source of copious irritation. Why? Here are 15 of the many reasons why the duty-free section and its various allies might be getting on your nerves…

The windowless maze of despair

In the annals of Greek legend, Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of golden thread to mark his path through the labyrinth. You’ll pretty much need the help of a mythological Minoan princess to navigate the maze that now lies before every passenger immediately after security. Want to catch your flight on time, sir? We’re glad you’re up for a challenge! Do 14 laps around the Temple of Perfumed Vodkas, and if you get lost at the Wall of Insanely Priced Brandy, head back to the Towers of Identical Sunglasses.

The perfume ambush

Theseus only had to fight the Minotaur. He would have been no match for the army of grinning young men and women who stepped forward at every turn to distract him with cardboard strips soaked in the latest “lifestyle fragrances”. A fearsome man-bull is one thing. The combined aromas of jasmine, apple blossom and whatever it is Johnny Depp is trying to sell in that ad with the guitar and the CGI wolves are quite another.

Many travelers head straight for the perfumes in the duty-free shops

Many travelers head straight for the perfumes in duty-free stores – getty

“Cheaper than the prices in the shopping street”

Yeah. Which shopping street? Rodeo Drive?

Water torture

We are a sustainable airport. We believe in responsible travel. That’s why we’ve installed water fountains in our terminals. Where? Enter the gloomy service corridor, take the freight elevator to the fifth floor and ask for Nigel (Tuesdays only). Or choose from 77 brands of bottled water in these giant fridges. Something something, 20 percent recycled plastic.

Having to listen to music at the recycling bins

Brilliant idea, this. Last month, Heathrow announced a series of summer concerts giving young hopefuls a stage in Terminal Five – and a chance to impress high-flying record label executives who happen to be flying into the UK for the festival season.

Because that’s exactly what a suit guy wants, immediately after disembarking from an 11-hour flight from LA, and just before heading to Glastonbury or Reading – the opportunity to listen to “the next Ed Sheeran” amid the hum of coffee machines at the nearest branch of That International Sandwich Franchise, just two metres away.

And that’s what the passengers want too.

“Is our flight to Athens delayed – or is it leaving from a new gate? I would hate to miss it because we weren’t paying attention.”

“I don’t know, my dearest darling. I couldn’t hear the announcement – ​​because Jeff was beatboxing over there. Never mind. Let’s just stay here and watch “the new Dua Lipa” lip-sync a bit.”

Having to play music for bored passengers at the recycling bins

Brilliant brainwave, this. You’re a young hopeful with serious plans to make it in the music industry, and a whole bunch of original songs to go with it. Unfortunately, your agent has signed you up for an “impromptu” gig at Heathrow in the middle of summer.

Thirty years from now, you’ll still wake up screaming in the middle of the night, remembering the day your personal music died when a four-year-old smeared ice cream all over your amplifier.

Epic data collection

“Hello. I would like to buy this one pack of old-fashioned candy for my short flight.”

“Excellent sir. Scan your boarding pass, give us the names of all your family members, living or deceased, from the last four generations and add an email address for each.”

Data collection is very common in airport duty-free shops and cafesData collection is very common in airport duty-free shops and cafes

Data collection is commonplace in duty-free shops and airport cafes – getty

“Competitive exchange rates”

If Charles Dickens had written A Christmas Carol Today he had Scrooge at an airport currency exchange counter. And completely unrepentant. “I don’t care if you’re the Ghost of Christmas Future. It’s 92 cents to the pound. Do you want the buyback option?”

Traditional regional souvenirs

Nothing says “I had such a good time away that I didn’t think to buy you a present before I got to the airport; will this be enough?” than biscuits in an overly stylised tin with Victorian illustrations of seven villages you’ve never been to. For £2.25 a slice of shortbread.

The giant chocolate bar

Only seen at airports. Sponsored by your nearest private dentist and his fillings provider.

Seafood roulette

You are about to be locked in a metal tube for the next nine hours. What you Real what i need is a shellfish breakfast at the oyster counter at an airport 75 miles from the ocean.

The restaurant of the famous chef…

The blurb: “Here at Angelino’s, we serve delicacies with all the finesse that two-Michelin-starred culinary supremo Massimo Angelino brought to his restaurant empire. Gourmet dishes inspired by his Sicilian upbringing. Paradise on a plate.”

The translation: “Chef Angelino’s 21-year-old sous chef in training called in the menu about six years ago. Angelino hasn’t been within 500 miles of us. We do mostly burgers.”

For some, the airport maze is almost too much to bearFor some, the airport maze is almost too much to bear

For some, the airport maze is almost too much to bear – getty

…with restaurant quality service

“Thank you. That was sweet. Can I pay, please? I have a plane to catch.”

“Absolutely. I’ll be back in 25 minutes with the bill, and another 50 minutes with the credit card reader.”

The incongruity of the whole

Perfume bottle in the duty free maze: Damask Rose. A hint of citrus and spice. A-list actress-model parrots a slogan. #LivingYourBestLife. Only £129.99 for 100ml.


The exception to the hand luggage rule for duty-free baggage

Airlines: Only one piece of hand luggage; 3mm by 5mm by 6mm. If it doesn’t fit under the seat it has to go in the hold, with an administration charge of £60. If you complain you will be thrown off the plane and have to walk to your destination.

Airports: Buy all our amazing duty free stuff. Buy as much as you can carry. Then stuff it in the overhead bins, squashing everyone’s luggage. We don’t care. Ker-ching!

This article was first published in August 2023 and has been revised and updated.

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