Edinburgh Airport expansion to turn Castle into duty-free shop – Susan Morrison

Edinburgh Airport’s ­relentless expansion makes me fear for the city itself. It is an impressive feat, but just where will this construction stop?

Friday, 29th March 2019, 6:00 am
Susan Morrison blames the racket of construction and a long, long walk for missing her morning flight. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Will we wake one morning to find the ­Castle ­repurposed as duty free shops, Wetherspoons and a branch of WH Smith, with a moving walkway down the length of the High Street to take people to Gate 397b, just outside ­Holyrood?

The scale of the construction there seems colossal and constant. The sound of drills can drown even the thunder of jet engines and gangs of workers in ­hi-vis jackets, hard hats and safety boots suddenly appear and disappear behind veils of translucent plastic sheeting.

There’s a Gate 28 now. There wasn’t in my young day. Back then, the ­airport was basically about the same size as a successful department store with a plane parked outside. For a memory jogger, visit Prestwick ­Airport. On ­second thoughts, don’t. It’ll just ­depress you.

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Three of us were going to Belfast on the 7.20am flight. This necessitated an early rise, 4.15 to be exact. I’m never at my best before lunch, so that might explain what happened next. That, and the magically expanding airport.

We huddled in the departure lounge gulping coffee, nerves already shot by coming through security. The gate appeared on the board. We upped and started walking. And walking. And walking. We hit the travelators and played at being Usain Bolt. C’mon, who doesn’t? We got briefly lost. We started to think we were just outside North Berwick, or they were actually building the airport just ahead of us.

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Our ­water and food was running ­dangerously low. It was starting to look like a quick diversion into Pret might be in order, but suddenly, up ahead, in the distance we three saw the sign and like those kings of old, followed it to Gate 28.

Which was shut.

The young woman was very apologetic. She said, in a soft voice all but drowned out by the general noise of the airport, the planes and those darned drills, calls had been made. ­Announcements had been tannoyed.

We had been sought, but Row 14 to Belfast was flying empty.

Perhaps my poor old brain had been discombobulated by the sudden shift from driving through a silent sleeping city to suddenly plunging into what seems to be the shopping mall from hell with a young woman holding out a tray of samples of gin and tonic.

Gin. At five in the morning. ­Airports are a weird bubble of permanent ­day time, where it’s never too early to drink gin or too late to buy Chanel.

Generally speaking, I have a rule that alcohol and breakfast do not mix, but it would seem I’m a bit of a fuddy duddy on that one.

The champagne bar had flutes aplenty flying out, and Wetherspoons was doing a roaring trade in full ­English fry-ups washed down with beer, lager and chardonnay.

To be honest, I’m not sure chardonnay is a breakfast wine. I suspect something lighter, like a rosé, might be a better match for the baked beans and fried eggs. Or orange juice.

There were three of us, remember, and not one of us heard these heart-rending appeals. We’d have to go and arrange another flight. We would have to go back downstairs.

“How do we do that?” we asked, but too late, ­because our regretful ground crew had managed to vanish as we were looking about for the door marked Exit.

Airports are specifically designed to flow their passengers through the shops, past the food and drink, to the gate, then the plane. Suddenly, three of us were walking the wrong way round like little clots in deep veins looking for a door we couldn’t find.

A gentle panic began. Were we trapped in the departure lounge ­forever? It happened to Tom Hanks in that film. Would we have enough food? Water? Sara cracked and began to eye up discarded half-empty water bottles. James was looking at leftover burgers. I hunted that smiling girl with the gin and tonic.

A nice man found us wandering about and took us to the door marked Exit.

We caught the 10.55.

Speak – and ye shall find

Did the young lady make those plaintive calls for us? Well, I assume she did, but three different people didn’t hear her.

A couple of things became apparent once we’d fought our way through security for the second time.

The construction racket does a great job of drowning out announcements, especially from the more softly spoken.

Secondly, jeezo guys, learn to project those voices. Muttering into a microphone like a terminally embarrassed minister’s wife being asked to introduce a speaker talking about sexually transmitted diseases is not going to cut it.

If the only word that flies out of the mumbled wreckage is “airport”, expect a lot more lost souls in the departure lounge.