Israel’s main international airport is superior to most in the distance you have to walk to get to your plane. That’s because the gates in the passenger terminal, designed by Moshe Safdie, are arrayed along spokes that radiate from the central passenger lounge.
And now for a few quirky aspects your guidebook won’t mention.
One: Natbag sounds more like a synonym for a jock strap than the moniker
of a self-respecting airport. It’s not the full name, of course, but rather a transliteration of the acronym of the airport’s Hebrew name. Nevertheless, some wag (or idiot signmaker) put this name in English on road signs on the way to the airport. The Jerusalem Post thought this was so funny it published a photo of the sign.
Two: No matter how short the line is at check in, it will take longer for you to get your boarding pass than if you were standing in the long line at the next counter. Seems to be a law of nature that the guy in front of you will have suddenly discovered that his bags are 47 lbs. overweight and he needs to repack them.
Three: Once you’re in the passenger lounge, you’ll need a passport and a boarding pass to buy chewing gum. You’re in duty-free land and must prove you’re entitled to the break on customs and VAT—even though you’ve already had your papers checked by half a dozen security officials. Luckily, you don’t need any documents to buy coffee or a meal.
Four: The toilet paper is very fine-grade sandpaper, the kind that was standard when the state of Israel was established and everyone was a pioneer but which you won’t find in any supermarket these days. Even in the kibbutz they’ve upgraded to softer stuff. Some sociologists believe there is an inverse relation between the scratchiness of the paper and the hardiness of the communal rural sector (the kibbutz), which was a major tenet of the Zionist vision.
Five: Finding an electrical outlet to charge your computer is like finding a gas station in a desert. Even if you find one, it’s likely to be out of service. (To be fair, this is true of all airports I’ve seen.) Look for a lone outlet under a phone bank. In a pinch, spy out a deserted gate desk. It will have lots of functioning outlets, more than any gate clerk will ever need.
Six: I always wondered how the cleaners polish the bottom rails on the inside of the people movers. Now I know: They hop on the people mover, position a Swiffer-like gadget on the edge, and just go with the flow. I never knew cleaning could be such fun.
Seven: El Al tries harder. Our El Al flight was delayed 2.5 hours, as fallout of the wildcat airport strike the previous day. At 6 a.m., an hour before the new boarding time, the PA announcement of free beverages at the gate quickly drew a dozen people, some of whom said they’d been at the airport since the previous morning. There was coffee *and* cake. Under similar circumstances in Geneva, a dour British Airways clerk made it clear that the airline had no responsibility to the passengers.
And now a word about El Al planes:
A sign in the toilet of our 737 said in Hebrew and English, “Noisy flushing is normal.” I asked flight attendant Yigal Levy how many little old ladies had tapped him on the shoulder and said in a worried voice, “There’s something very wrong with this plane. The toilet makes a terrible noise.” Levy said the 737’s toilet wasn’t that noisy and that the idea for the sign came up on another model, where the toilet flush is really loud because of the sucking mechanism.
Finally, the row numbers on the 737 skip from 26 to 44, an oddity that flight attendant Michal Zaiontz was unable to explain. It looks as though the middle part of the plane just fell out somewhere in transit—a very scary thought.
Text copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.