28 October 2007

A story about Heathrow (a Third World Airport)

"As any English person will tell you Heathrow is one of those places that you simply detest, and is on par with Milton Keynes.....However, with my Lewis Hamilton driving skills, I managed to get to the check in counter really quickly"

The time had come for me to head back to Australia after my 5 week stay in good ol' Blighty. The downside to this, aside from saying goodbye to family and friends, was the fact that I would have to head to Heathrow to catch my flight.

As any English person will tell you Heathrow is one of those places that you simply detest, and is on par with Milton Keynes and, for the Aussies, Canberra in the 'detesting stakes'. The reason being is that Heathrow is always hard to get to if there are traffic delays on any of the connecting roads and, once inside one of the 4 huge terminals (number 5 is nearly operational), it is always quite difficult to get to your departure gate on time.

Naturally my trip to Heathrow was always going to be stressful with a capital 'S'.

We had arranged for a taxi service to take my Mother, Sister and I to the airport. This is a service that we have used many times before and we have got to know the driver quite well. The idea is that you are picked up, with ample time to allow for any traffic delays etc, and arrive at Heathrow in time to check in, say your farewells, buy your London fridge magnet, purchase a box of Tolberones and board the flight on time.

We were advised that the taxi service would be picking us up at 6.30pm. However, when it got to 6.45pm we rang the cab company and was informed that the driver was running about an hour late due to traffic delays on the infamous M25. When I heard this I started to feel the first pangs of worry!

For the uninitiated, the M25 has been called, rightly at times, the world's biggest parking lot. It is a ring road that circles the outskirts of London and is connected to all the major roads allowing drivers to get to, for example, Manchester without having to drive through the centre of London. I suppose it is like a glorified roundabout!

The driver arrived at 7.35 and with my calculations I would have 30 minutes left to check in and say my goodbyes before heading to Gate 456 or whatever the gate number would be. However, if there were any more delays then I could be trying to re-arrange my flight!

To be fair to the driver, he did drive extremely quickly (given the nature of the M25) and we got to the airport with about 45 minutes to spare. I rushed off with my suitcase to find the Virgin Atlantic check in desk. Naturally, it was at the opposite end of the airport. However, with my Lewis Hamilton driving skills, I managed to get to the check in counter really quickly (but I failed to take out the Formula 1 championship just like Lewis!).

I checked in and was told that as my suitcase weighed 28 kilos I would be charged excess fees. However, if I took some of my items out of it and put them into my backpack then I would be ok. So for the next 10 minutes I was frantically taking items out of the suitcase and putting them into my backpack. All the items that I took out were for my daughters. These items included a number of Fifi and the Flowertots books, Lazy Town magazines and, of course, some Dora the Explorer magazines. Finally, despite not getting my suitcase to the correct weight, I was allowed to lock my case and proceed upstairs to Departures.

When I got upstairs my jaw literally hit the ground (thankfully it didn't and I am able to eat and talk fine). There was a queue the length of the terminal with hundreds of passengers waiting to get through the x ray machines and customs. It reminded me of being at a Third World airport rather than at one of the world's biggest and best. I looked at my watch and broke out in a cold sweat. How on earth would I board my plane on time?

Slowly the queue moved forward. I said a quick farewell to my Mother and Sister and continued to slowly shuffle my way to the x ray machines. I spoke to an official and said that my flight was due to leave very soon. Fortunately he let me queue jump a few rows. Suddenly, I was confronted with a plethora of passengers trying to get through the limited number of x ray machines. Finally, it was my turn. To compound my experience I set the x ray machine off and had to be frisked to see what had set it off. Actually, the official couldn't find anything and let me proceed.

By now I had 15 minutes to get to my flight. However, the call of nature was calling me very loudly - in fact it was shouting! So I tried to find a toilet. You would think this would be a simple thing to do. Wrong! For some reason all the toilets were closed for 'cleaning'. After coming across this for the third time, I asked the toilet attendant "if I should piss on the floor" seeing as there was nowhere else I could go. The attendant looked puzzled and just smiled.

Finally, I got to Departure Gate 456 (actually it was Gate 1). Once I had my boarding ticket I headed straight to the plane toilets before going to my seat. I have to admit I did get some quizzical looks from the gay flight attendant!

The rest of the flight was great. I had no problems at Hong Kong airport or indeed good old Sydney Kingsford Smith airport. In fact the efficiency levels at these two airports was in stark contrast to Heathrow.

I got through Australian customs, collected my 'overweight' suitcase and was picked up by my wife and daughters and we drove our way home.

Finally, I fear for spectators who will be flying to London for the 2012 Olympics. Given the chaos of Heathrow I think that they would be better off by flying to Nepal for the world curry eating contest! After all, there are not any queues at Kathmandu airport!!


elinore ria said...

Hey Derek!

Saw a link of your blog in facebook. :D Nice entries. Will be visiting your blog from time to time now.

DNW said...

Thanks Elinore ria. Feel free to subscribe by email! Just click on the link on the right hand side of my blog.