One of the worst concepts ever invented must be the airport layover.

As if sitting in a cramped, uncomfortable, poorly designed seat for over 12 hours (Whoever designs airline chairs should be forced to sit in them. It's like the seats are straight from a prisoner-of-war camp), being force-fed "food" with the culinary appeal of styrofoam and sawdust (Whoever dreams up the awful menus on some of the airlines should be forced to eat the damn stuff. It's like the "food" is straight from a prisoner-of-war camp.), then being herded like cattle and being subjected to shoes-and-belt removal for a customs search (Truly a prison-of-war-camp-like experience)...isn't terrible and degrading enough, long-haul trips often involve painfully long airport layovers.

I've just commenced my 6.5-hour airport purgatory in Atlanta, after the nearly 17 hours it's taken me to travel to this little seat I've claimed at the airport (involving car, bus, airport, customs, immigration, airplane, immigration, customs, ATM, nearest coffee shop to load up on caffeine, fighting off other weary travellers to grab a seat near a power outlet).

Of course, I should probably consider myself lucky. I know what I'm doing (only because I spend waste far too much time suffering the indignities of modern air travel), and I speak English (I feel so bad for travellers who don't speak English and have a difficult time navigating the various bureaucratic hurdles), so I probably made it through the entire process in much less time and with noticeably fewer emotional scars than most.

While I sit here and stare at people strolling among airline gates, I feel the need to kvetch (what a wonderful word) a little about the various annoyances I've had to put up with...

  • Money-changing thieves: As soon as you make it through the meat-processing line of immigration and customs at Atlanta Hartsfield airport, there's a currency exchange booth. I needed some US currency, so I got in line, along with many other people in need of local tender. Fortunately, I noticed the exorbitant commission they were charging. Yen, for example, currently trades for around 124 to the US$. The money changer's rate? 135 something. That's around a 9% commission...daylight robbery by another name. I walked a few hundred metres to an ATM instead, where I still got charged a fee, but less than the ridiculous rates at the currency booth obviously set up to prey upon weary, dazed travellers.

  • Airline "food": Why is it so impossible for US airlines to have palatable food? Airlines in Asia generally have good food. Air New Zealand has good food. My meals on Delta were %*@%(@#$()!! awful, as usual. Soggy rice, cardboard-like chicken (at least I think it was chicken), cucumbers and lettuce frozen so solid that the salad nearly cracked my teeth...aiyah. The times I've flown on Continental, United, and Northwest were similar.

  • Airline seats: Why are seats on commercial jets shaped precisely opposite the contours of human spines? Normal human S-shaped spines have a pronounced curve torward our bellies at the base of the spine, and toward our upper backs at the top of the spine. Airline seats have exactly the opposite curve, providing zero lumbar support and forcing your neck forward to create horrible posture, seemingly designed for the sole purpose of generating patients for the chiropractic industry. Why, why, why?

  • Toilet breaks: It's just difficult to go to the bathroom when you're travelling alone. You have to schlep all your hand-carry luggage with you, and by the time you get back, your prime seat next to the electrical outlet will inevitably have been snagged by another power-starved traveller.

  • People who stop at the top of an escalator.

  • People who stop at the bottom of an escalator.

  • People who gab incessantly on mobile phones, inevitably loudly enough that you can hear them throughout the entire air terminal. (I really don't need to know whom Jenny is dating now or what scandalous dress she was wearing last night.)

  • Internet access, or rather, the lack thereof. Ok, I could've gotten on the net at Narita in Tokyo and Hartsfield in Atlanta, had I elected to pay. I don't see the point of paying for 24-hours or 1-month of access when I'm only going to be at the airport for a few hours though. Singapore provides free access for travellers, who realistically are not going to subscribe for a day, a week, a month or more of internet access just to get online for a few minutes. Bangkok has an open wifi connection. Why can't other international airports?

  • Malfunctioning inflight entertainment: I had high hopes for the inflight entertainment system on the Delta flight. It was a cool touch-screen system, not as fancy as the pinch-and-slide system on the iPhone, but nice nonetheless. I had it working just fine, and was watching an episode of Scrubs, when the flight attendants announced that they had to reset the system...and that was the end of my inflight experience for the journey. I watched the screen go through reboot (finding out in the process that the inflight system runs on Linux and was installed in 2004), then watched as the screen cycled perpetually through a polite greeting ("Glad You're Here"), and then invitations to "Relax. Unwind.", "Just Ask." and "Plug in. Zone Out." The irony is that had they left the system alone, I actually could have plugged in and zoned out. Of course, I didn't have a book with me to read, but my video iPod saved me. Thank you Steve Jobs.

There's more, but I feel better now having gotten that off my chest, and I've managed to kill an hour or so of my layover time, plus I really need to go to the bathroom, so I've got to unplug. Only five more hours to go...