My favourite peeve is a rant about Heathrow, London’s premier airport with those long line-ups, confusing pedways and oh-so helpful security guards (earlier on xsamplex). And irritating survey people who question you why you didn’t buy that backpack even after you punted that the British pound is a bit overpriced. So what else is there to bemoan about?
On the bright side, if the British Tories win the next elections, they promise to scrap the plan, which will keep Heathrow in the top 10 of most hated airports in the world.
Talking about Heathrow (previously), I just read this October 4th Boing-Boing entry about that very same airport. Hey, lets share that pain when flying via Heathrow!
The lines are like something out of the ninth pit of hell, especially in the Virgin terminal, and the rules about carry-ons and so forth keep getting more and more inhospitable.
It’s those rules about the carry-ons that got me pissed off too: I had a laptop bag on my back and a camera bag on my shoulder and was tagged by security personnel, who told me that I had to put the small bag in the laptop bag. Obviously, the camera bag didn’t fit in the laptop bag. However, I was able to strap the camera bag on one side of the laptop bag and eventually made it back in the slow moving crowd.
I have nicknamed it “The George Orwell Theme Park” because of that horrible, horrible security queue.
Queue? It’s queues. The only entertaining parts of these queues are the ‘Guess What Laptop I have’-game and ‘Guess what nation I come from’-game, that is, whenever people took out their laptops out of the bags or their passports out of their pockets (this is also where I discovered that most Canadians apparently were into Toshiba laptops)
December 2006: Passengers forced to queue outside in tents in freezing conditions after dense fog grounded 40% of all flights [ed. this is from the link mentioned below].
I think I mentioned before that when I flew back to Holland, there were already doubts if my connecting flight was actually going to take off or not: It was a couple of days before Christmas, and Heathrow was in a lock down because of heavy fog. I was told I probably had to prepare myself for a run or an ‘airport stay-over’. The moment I landed on Heathrow, all I remember seeing was an airport in chaos, line-ups and people running around trying to catch their last flight(s) to Continental Europe.
Back to that Boing-Boing posting: I see that the British Competition Commission has warned the (Spanish) operator of Heathrow to do something about the unacceptable delays because of long security lineups. For some kind of reason it comforts me that I wasn’t the only person going through pains to make it to my connecting flight.
You know that you went too far giving instructions about ‘Heathrow’, ‘flying by plane’ or ‘entering no-mans-land called Customs’, when you become aware that the instructee is a actually a regular flyer too. OK. Then. No worries. Safe flight.
That said, it brought up those good and bad memories about flying via Heathrow, an experience I have complained a-many times about (With! Pictures!). But I don’t want this item to be all about Heathrow: There’s one good thing about traveling to Europe and that is, that it invites improvisation. I was reminded of this after reading Peter Rukavina’s posting about ‘First time Europe’ a couple of weeks ago. He says:
Book a room for your first and last night. And then leave the rest to chance. Of course this is more difficult if you’re traveling in the heart of the season to a popular place. But if you’re in the off-season you’ll almost never have a problem finding a room, even if you show up in a new city at 4:00 p.m.
I dare to add to that, don’t let your local travel agent book for you, just do it yourself: Most hotels in Europe do have a web presence and can be reached by phone (and fax). Hotel personnel in Western European countries speak perfect English1 and are willing to hold your room without even asking for your credit card, as long as you check-in before 5 PM. This is even true for 5 star hotels.
For your flight, consider flying to a different location and travel by train to your original destination. In most cases, flying directly to (say Amsterdam) can be more expensive than flying to Frankfurt first and taking the train from there to Amsterdam. In Europe, traveling by train (and even by bus) is always a great experience. However, always (as Peter suggests and I agree with that) travel light.
1Talking about perfect English: When sleeping over in an Amsterdam hotel for my flight back home to Canada this year, I had a Dutch hotel employee give me a wake-up call in English. This was so funny, that I had to laugh after answering the call.
Actually the complete search query was ‘heathrow +how+ much +time+ needed+to+go+ through+customs+and +retrieve+luggage +for+connecting+flight’. For that, the searchee ended up somewhere at January’s entries on my travels to Europe.
(Note this only applies to travellers who booked connecting flights on different carriers) My personal experience is that you need approximately 2 hours if you have don’t have any luggage on you: add an another extra hour if you need to wait for your luggage. Additionally, if you’re a European citizen (that is, if you have a passport from a country that is part of the EU), you may have a slight advantage going through customs since European citizens can go through an ‘express customs lane’. A couple of years ago, on my first return trip to Europe, my wife accidentally joined me in the lineup for European citizens (instead of going through the International visitors lane) and she was (kindly) reminded that she was in the wrong lane.
When you pass through Customs, make sure you verify the Terminal of your connecting flight. If you’re coming from an international flight (ie, a flight from North America), you probably will need to head for Terminal 1, which means you’ll have to take the train. Time is tight here: After Customs, go through Arrivals and directly turn left: I ended up taking the wrong turn and found myself in a mass of people who were waiting for loved ones. In any case look for the sign ‘Heathrow Express’.
If you’ve arrived at the Departure Terminal (1 or 2), the worst part is yet to come up: you have to check-in again and yes, it’s extremely crowded and busy. Worst yet, there’s security after check-in (30-45 minutes!) plus count on an extra additional luggage check at the departure gate. But if you’ve made it to the departure gate, you can (safely) catch breath.