Passenger Control by Anne Summerfield

Her summer job was to check off names on airplane boarding dockets against hotel rooming lists. This was so long ago that all documentation was on scraps of paper, often handwritten, sometimes smelling of jasmine or cinnamon, stained with coffee or nicotine. Even when sheets were typed, they would have frequent crossings out, corrections made to corrections, architectural layers of ink. 

Many things mystified her about the job. Aside from why it was done at all, she struggled with the contrast between attention paid to the outgoing trip, from Gatwick to the Amalfi coast or Heathrow to Costa del Sol, and the total lack of interest in journeys home. Did people come back? Why did no one care if they were left stranded? What kind of control only sent people away? 

In the months she worked there, no answers came. She discovered which hotels specialised in the worst writing and most eccentric spellings. She got to know her fellow workers a little, and learned who to avoid in the coffee room. She became skilled at pacing her work so she was spared the horror of being sent to help in Air Coach, whose room was even stuffier and stank of futile sweat. She became so familiar with the names of hotels in places she’d never been that in her dreams she dived into their heated pools, made toasts in their cocktail bars and hired a Lambretta to explore their coastal scenery.

But still she wondered how many people roamed the streets of Portofino or Benidorm instead of catching their allocated flights.  She imagined the lost, sunburned and dazed, yet strangely content, sleeping on sun loungers, watching the sun rise between swaying palms. That summer, trapped in a stifling room performing a pointless task, she lost count of the number of times she wished she could stow away and join them. 

Biography: Anne Summerfield is based in Hampshire, England and writes long and short fiction. She’s been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize, and has work published online and in print, most recently in the 2023 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology. She tweets erratically @SummerWriter