I am on my way out of London for a fortnight. I have been looking forward to this escape so much, and my determination to get away has been hugely amplified by the total mess that is Heathrow Airport, Terminal 3 on a Friday afternoon. It is beyond me how one of the world’s major airports can be quite so bad.
The journey to the airport was quite OK – a decent final day at work, and then the underground worked as well as it ever does to get to Heathrow. It-s not quite a glorious impression for the tourists arriving at Heathrow – they get to have their bones shaken by the horribly bumpy lines of the Piccadilly and District lines. All looked calm at the Heathrow Terminals 1-2-3 underground station. Little did I know the scale of the chaos that would await me in the terminal! Bags and porters were everywhere, no room to manoeuvre, and a huge queue even for the non-manned check-in.
The check-in area in the terminal is so badly designed – no sensible use of space, and pillars everywhere. The ceiling is low, it amplifies the sound, and there are really few signposts. It took me 5 minutes to work out that the departure gates were actually upstairs! All the staff at the SAS desk looked very stressed and had no idea what was going on. Not really their fault.
Queues at the security check were long – typical of UK airports – with an additional passport check added after the bag scanner. Then – surprise, surprise – you walk straight into a huge shopping mall, selling all kinds of things you might want, and plenty that you for sure would not want?? There-s a huge shop called -Glorious Britain- which will sell you a bulldog with a union jack shirt on, or a skimpy top with a London Underground -mind the gap- sign on it.
I wonder whether a special -airport rubbish tax- should be introduced to deal with the consequences of all of this. Say 20 million passengers a year pass through Heathrow – just a guess, but probably a bit conservative, and each of them buys on average 0.5kg of goods in the shops. That will make 10 million kg, or 10,000 tonnes of extra weight of planes taking off, and a colossal extra amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.
Irritatingly, they also decline to tell you your gate number until about 20 minutes before boarding starts, leaving you in the meantime to mill around among the shops. Seating areas are, I presume, not economic enough.
I unfortunately had to venture into the toilets in the terminal. Hidden at the end of the concourse of riches, they were smelly and one of the pans was overflowing across the floor. Even the -clean- cubicles had ripped paper on the floor and graffiti on the walls.
The situation is similarly grim when you go towards the gate. You have to show your passport for a 3rd time, and wait in a crowded seating area with nasty carpets, and then the boom to connect the terminal to the airport was not working. How much is it that airlines have to pay for prime landing slots at Heathrow?
Heathrow is for sure no glorious airport. British Airways fly more flights from there than anyone else, and while they claim to be the world-s favourite airline, I can assure you that Heathrow is very far from being the world-s favourite airport.
I just think that the British Airports Authority has lost the point. An airport should be designed to facilitate flying. Getting passengers onto aircraft. Heathrow, and increasingly also Stansted, seem to have very much forgotten that. Making money is enormously more important than getting people onto planes. Only in Britain would the market manage to win over all else in such a way. Thank goodness I am off to Sweden – landing at Arlanda will be an oasis of calm in comparison.