The first draft of the item that follows was written in July 2004 when I first started taking a notebook and pen with me any time I felt I might have nothing to do for an hour or two. I have tidied it up to reflect changes in my writing style (some bits were trying too hard to be funny!) and also to make it conform to the pseudonyms I have given to my wife and children in these articles (“Faith, Hope and Charity” if you recall).
Interestingly, the next time I was at Heathrow was almost a year later when I dropped Faith and Charity off for a flight to Germany where they were joining a cruise around the Baltic Sea. This was to celebrate a “significant” birthday for Faith and I suppose you might be wondering why I wasn’t going with them.
At the time I was an hourly paid IT Contractor working for a company in Peterborough and if I had time off I didn’t get paid! We couldn’t afford that – after all SOMEONE had to pay for the cruise!
I dropped them off at about 6am and then managed to get around London on the M25 before the worst of the morning rush hour turned it into the world’s largest circular car park! I arrived at work just on 9am exactly as normal.
And why am I telling you this? Well the date of that trip was 7th July 2005. Or “7/7” as the news media here calls it in homage to “9/11”. The day the terrorist bombs went off on trains and buses in London!
I heard later that, only a few hours after I was there, the M4 motorway out of London (which passes close by Heathrow Airport) was so clogged by the mass exodus from the city that people with flights to catch were abandoning their taxis on it and running with their baggage to the nearest exit ramp and off towards the Terminal Buildings!
So, a lucky escape from a day of utter chaos!
Anyway, here’s the rewritten stuff from a year before:
Faith and I, having got up at 4am to drive to Heathrow Airport to pick up Charity from a little three week jaunt to the USA, are sitting in the waiting area of Arrivals just back from the railings separating us from the “arrivees”. Because it’s impossible to predict the journey time with any accuracy when the M25 is involved we are about an hour early (assuming that the flight is on time).
These are the railings against which people stand holding cards or scraps of paper with other people’s names on them! What’s that all about? Why can’t they meet someone they KNOW! Maybe the people being met have been away so long that they don’t recognise their own families anymore!
I make a mental note to bring a piece of card and a marker pen with me next time I have to do this – even if my children do remember me I can have some fun putting other peoples’ names on it!
Britney Spears? The Dali Lama? God?
While we wait the slightly fuzzy tannoy keeps calling for people to go to the information desk. I’m sure I hear Jackie Chan and Neil Young called but think they’re making it up to try to impress us.
In front of us on the other side of the railings are automatic doors which should be the next thing travellers come through after the Customs area but from what I can see there seems to be what used to be called a “Duty Free” shop just the other side of them. Why put it THERE when you’ve just had your allowances checked? Perhaps it’s to enable smugglers to restock at full price all the stuff they’ve just had confiscated!
The stream of people coming through the automatic doors is relentless. Only twice in 45 minutes does it slacken off enough for the doors to automatically close – a sign that there is a 10 second or so gap in the torrent! Such gaps seem normally to be down to elderly ladies with no idea either of how to steer the airport trolley with their cases aboard or of just how many people have backed up behind them not daring to overtake for fear of getting sideswiped.
At one point, where the funnel formed by the railings starts to widen out, I observe a small Chinese man with a wheeled suitcase who seems for some inexplicable reason to be trying to go BACK towards the automatic doors like a salmon trying to swim up a waterfall! He is making slow progress when a sudden rush of people finally gather the courage to rush past the wayward old lady with the veering trolley and he is overwhelmed and carried by the flow back into the main concourse.
I think about what lies back beyond the Red and Green Customs channels – the baggage carousel.
For the benefit of those who haven’t been in an airport lately this is the conveyor belt onto which the baggage handlers (eventually) shovel your luggage having carted it across from the plane on a train of open “trucks”. Actually it isn’t a belt at all – rather a procession of overlapping metal circles. These enable your bags to move around something resembling a small scale Grand Prix motor racing circuit until you manage to a) spot them and b) get close enough to grab them. I have, in the past, while waiting for my own cases, seen the first ones to appear go around 3 or 4 times before being claimed! It seems to be a natural law that the bags of the last people to get to the carousel are first to arrive and vice versa.
Then there is another law that decrees that those with more than one bag shall have one unloaded early and the other unloaded late!
It’s very irritating and I don’t know how they always manage to do it to ME wherever in the world the airport may be!
Anyway, thinking of the carousels and watching the steady flow of people with bags causes me to wonder if it would be a fun idea to invent a similar system here at the end of the arrivals process – rearrange the railings to create a “circuit” then get passengers to walk around it with their trolleys and wheeled suitcases until “claimed” by a friend or relative!
Perhaps the airport authority could award prizes for endurance or fastest laps.
This could be an environmentally friendly alternative to Formula 1 Motor Racing and the circuits are already in place around the world!
If there’s money in it please tell Bernie Ecclestone I thought of it first!