Washed Up, by Sarah Juggins, Tuesday, May 14, 2019: Britain shows its snarling face to arriving foreigners
As I rushed across the airport concourse heads turned and people stepped smartly out of the way.
I was desperately running to catch a connecting flight between Doha and Kuala Lumpur because if I missed it, I would be in for a long wait.
As I reached security I was met by a smiling-faced air steward. “Woah, relax, slow down,” he said. “Where are you heading?”
I feverishly thrust my ticket at him. “I’ve only got a few minutes before boarding closes,” I said as the sweat poured down my cheek bones.
“Come with me,” he said, still smiling. My saviour took me to the front of the queue past the entire line of patiently waiting passengers.
He helped me load my rucksack into the tray and gently suggested that I remove my belt so I wasn’t stopped and body-searched.
I made my plane and as I sank into my seat I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Thanks to that man and his kindness I was saved a long wait and a anxious start to my two week work stint in Malaysia.
Two weeks later and I was on another Qatar Airlines flight sitting next to two men: a Kurd from northern Iraq and a Turkish man who was heading to Italy.
It could have been a very tricky encounter. I’m not sure that Brits are viewed favourably in either Iraq or Turkey at the moment.
In fact, I am not sure how people from England in particular are viewed anywhere at the moment. But, on that flight I discovered that three people travelling on a plane could transcend national identities.
It was a seven-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Doha and in that time we covered every topic imaginable. We knew we would never see each other again but we all disembarked feeling better for the interaction.
And then I arrived back at Heathrow. Ahead of me as we approached immigration control was a family comprising an elderly women with three young girls.
All four wore the Niqab (face and head covered but eyes uncovered). All three were visibly nervous and unsure of where to go and what to do.
Their first interaction with anyone as they entered our country was to be shouted at by an aggressive airport official.
They were told loudly and brusquely that they were in the wrong queue. The family all looked confused so she shouted even louder, “go that way, you are in the wrong queue”.
As the family stumbled off, the uniformed woman scarcely missed a beat as she turned to me, smiled, apologised for any wait I had been caused and said “welcome to England”.