Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Mining boom commuter lounge

The destinations on the departure board are unfamiliar - Karratha, Cloudbreak, Solomon Islands - and I am the odd person out, not dressed in navy blue work pants, a high-visibility vest (orange or yellow) and heavy work boots.  The women are dressed like this too, but they wear thongs on their feet.  It's 5am on Wednesday morning in the departures hall of the Perth domestic airport and it's peak hour.

The crowds of people waiting to check in at the kiosk make me very pleased that I've checked in online and that I have electronic bag tags.  I still have to queue at the bag drop, but I'm ready to join the next line in a matter of two minutes.  Modern travel is the experience of waiting in a succession of  lines.  No thrill or glamour there.

The queue to get through security is long, but it moves swiftly.  There are few delays as the people going through are experienced.  The routine of undoing belts, removing jewellery, taking coins and keys out of pockets doesn't happen here. The experienced travellers have come dressed so that they can just walk straight through.  I realise that this is why women are wearing thongs - it saves them having to take the their boots off at the security screening point.  The men wearing boots have already got the laces undone and slip them off like slippers when the time comes.

For once in my life, I am not randomly selected for random explosives screening.  They are too busy with everyone else.

Once in the waiting area of the airport, I notice some new retail shops have opened - surfwear and handbags.  I wonder how business is.  Yes, there are more people coming through the airport, but for most of them it looks like the same experience as catching a train to work - a regular routine that gets them to where they're going.  The lovely handbags look out of place in a world of heavy duty back packs.

Extra banks of chairs have also been installed and they are filled with people waiting for flights.

My journey to the airport was unconventional - a taxi screeched to a halt and the driver got out and said he would take me too to make sure I didn't miss my flight.  He already had a passenger on board, but there were 60 jobs waiting and not enough taxis to go around.  I appreciated his initiative and he explained that he manages cabs and sees things differently from the average driver.

My fellow commuter was flying back to Brisbane and works for a mining company.  He had previously worked in the mines themselves, but now is happy to have a desk job.  I learnt all about "hot shifts" (where the mine operates continuously, workers arrive and pick up where the last shift leaves off) and we talked about how the world could be better organised.

Our driver was intent on efficiency and proudly pointed out the areas of traffic congestion which he had neatly avoided for us.  As they dropped me at the kerb, both the driver and fellow passenger wished me a safe journey home.

You never know who you'll meet and what you'll learn.  That is the true joy of travelling even the shortest distance.

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