I am no Captain von Trapp, but I do appreciate order and efficiency. Years ago I travelled from London to Oslo for a meeting about a job, and I was terribly impressed with the express train taking me from the airport into the heart of Oslo. It was fast, clean and all-around convenient. I was ready to move to Oslo in a flash.
Given my love for all things speedy and efficient, you might think I am a great fan of self-check-out tills in the supermarket, self-check-in at the airport and automated services on the phone. I am not.
I emphatically detest self-check-out tills because more often than not they fail at the one thing they’re supposed to be good at, efficiency.
Having only scanned the first few items in my shopping basket, a red warning sign invariably lights up on the screen, and an automated voice calls out: “Unknown item in the baggage area.”
Except there is no ‘unknown item’ there at all, but I still have to wait for a shop attendant to come and punch in a code to allow me to continue scanning my items. By the time I’ve finished, it’s taken me twice as long as it would have if the till had been manned by something as old-fashioned as a human cashier.
Similarly, flying is supposed to be more efficient now with online check-in and various self-service stations at the airport, and if you travel alone and with nothing but hand luggage, that may be true. But when you’re flying with family and a host of suitcases, self-service invariably results in delays and frustrated exchanges with your spouse and children.
When I recently travelled abroad with my husband and children, I checked in online the day before and printed out the boarding cards at home. That way we’d only need to drop off our suitcases before heading to security. But oh no.
On arrival at the airport, we were directed to a self-service kiosk to print out luggage tags before queuing up for the bag drop. Once there, we still had to produce all our documents and I couldn’t help wondering if it would have been a much speedier process if the man at the bag drop counter had printed our luggage tags in the first place. At least he didn’t object to the fact that one of our suitcases was heavier than prudent, so long as the other suitcase didn’t weigh as much.
Last year, when flying to Tenerife from Gatwick, there was no human to receive our luggage at the airport, but a self-service bag drop that was programmed to refuse any suitcases weighing an ounce more than the 23kg limit. We weren’t the only ones flinging our bags open and frantically redistributing the weight between our luggage; there was mayhem all around us, chaos that could have easily been avoided if the bag drop had been staffed by human beings.
The ever-expanding areas of self-service have, somewhat ironically, has made me appreciate the fleeting human contact that food shopping and travelling once required. I quite miss exchanging a few curtesy words with the cashier, and that’s saying something since I’m not the talkative, sociable type.
It may seem I’m grumbling about trivial matters, but I believe there is a bigger issue at stake here: what kind of society are we heading towards as machines and robots increasingly do the jobs that once provided employment for people? And what will humanity look like when the most basic human tasks are taken away from us?