Travel Hell: Heathrow, September 12

September 23, 2007 at 10:01 am (To Britain and back, September '07, Travel)

Before we left for this trip, I had already been made anxious by some of the stories I was hearing about conditions at Heathrow Airport. Nonetheless, we could hardly believe the chaos that greeted us when we landed there. All around us a seething mass of humanity was simply trying to make its collective way from Point A to Point B. Obstacles were everywhere. The main problem was that if you were changing planes there, as we were, you had to go through security all over again. Then passport control. Yes, these precautions are necessary, given the times we are living in. But there was very little help on offer for the weary traveler. You could stand on line for a seeming eternity and not have any way of knowing if it was the right line to be in.

Having to change terminals made everything doubly difficult. We could not get over the sheer hugeness of this facility. You walk and walk – or get on a bus – and simply hope and pray that you are headed in the right direction. Our flight from Dulles – an airport that was relatively easy to negotiate – had arrived half an hour early. We therefore had two and a half hours to make our connection to Manchester. Nevertheless, we almost missed the plane. We ended up by running down a seemingly endless corridor as we heard the flight being announced. By then I was so overheated, I had taken my jacket off and tied it around my waist. When we got to the gate – as they were getting ready to close it – the jacket was gone. It was part of a mix-and-match ensemble that I had purchased especially for the trip, but of course, there was no time to attempt to retrieve it.

We were being met in Manchester by others on the tour and by our tour leaders, then conveyed by coach to Harrogate. This is a drive of slightly over two hours. Had we missed the flight, worn out and burdened with luggage as we were, we would have had to find our way to Harrogate on our own.

As we boarded our British Midland connection, we were obviously out of breath, exhausted, and angry. At this point, we were assisted by a compassionate flight attended named John Forsythe who brought us glasses of water as soon as we were seated. When I told him about the loss of my jacket, he exclaimed, “I hope your diamond broach was not pinned to the lapel!” Since we were safely aboard by then, I could appreciate the witticism – and did. Of course, we also appreciated his solicitous attention. He chatted us up for a few minutes about our trip. When he heard about its mystery author component, he remarked, “You’d probably be interested to know who my uncle is.” You’re kidding! I thought, it isn’t…Yes, it was! The great veteran author of The Day of the Jackal and many other novels of international intrigue, Frederick Forsythe!

John Forsythe is the kind of person any organization that deals with the public should feel very lucky to have in its employ. Thanks, John! Meanwhile, we were told that the flight would be leaving several minutes late because twenty passengers – twenty! – had not made it through security in time and their bags would have to be removed from the aircraft.

So, as for Heathrow…the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno, rats in a maze, the Turkish prison in Midnight Express… Call it what you will, it was a nightmare. Our advice: avoid going there if at all possible.

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