Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Heathrow Airport makes life difficult

Several times in my life, I have had the grave misfortune of catching a connecting flight through Heathrow Airport. I did not enjoy those experiences. I am specifically thinking of a time back in 2010 when I studied abroad in Ireland (back when I started this blog. Nostalgia!). Let me tell you about that horrible experience now:

The first time I landed in Heathrow it was only to change plans so that I could go to Shannon, Ireland. But whenever you land at an airport having just come from another country, they make you go through some kind of Customs check-point. Having just spent 7 hours sleeping, or as I like to call it, "recovering from the 48 hours I didn't sleep because I had just come home from Korea," I was not not at my most alert. I joined the Customs line with my fellow passengers and, noticing, that it was not moving particularly quickly, pulled out a book and started reading in the line. So absorbed was I by the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and, later, chatting with a fellow queuer, that it wasn't until I got to the Customs agent that I realized I was in the WRONG LINE. I was then directed to an out-of-the-way corner of the room, where one tiny sign indicated where to go for connecting flights. Thanks, Heathrow. It would have been great to know that AN HOUR AGO when I first got into the wrong line. Lucky for me, I had a long layover, so I wasn't totally screwed by the lack of clear instructions. 

The same cannot be said for the next time I darkened Heathrow's doorstep. 

At the end of my lovely month in Ireland, I had to return home through Heathrow. Getting home was kind of a big deal for because I was returning the week of my graduation from college. The memory of the line kerfuffle still fresh in my mind, I set out hoping not to find myself in similar circumstances again. Not until I reached Heathrow, however, was I informed that my United flight to the US was being operated by Continental Airlines in a different terminal. The next step was then to get to the correct terminal for Continental. However, unlike other airports that have one tram that goes back and forth between the terminals, Heathrow's tram system is like a full-on train station, including multiple platforms and the possibility that if you accidentally board the wrong train you will find yourself in downtown London before you can do a damn thing about it. Thankfully, that didn't happen to me, but you can see how this process could become time-consuming and frustrating.

While I didn't accidentally go to London, I did board the wrong train, ending up in Terminal 4, rather than Terminal 5, and ultimately wasting far too much time correcting the mistake. The real icing on the cake was that, this time, I did almost miss my connecting flight. When I finally arrived at Continental check-in (because, oh yeah, they didn't check me in all the way to the US when I started this trip in Shannon), I was told the flight was closed and I would have to buy a ticket for another flight. At that point, I almost had a breakdown. As many of my friends can attest, few things stress me more than traveling complications. Or just traveling in general. I refused to ride the bus in Edinburgh for a long time because not knowing when to get off made me so anxious. It was only after I downloaded an app for it that I finally felt comfortable enough to ride. (This message brought to you by the Apple App Store.)

Anyway, as I was saying, my flight was closed, I wasn't checked in, I was told I have to go the booking counter to book a new flight, and I was on the verge of tears. So I went to the booking counter, and as the woman there was looking for new flights for me, I happened to mention that my stuff was already checked through to Tampa. These were, apparently, the magic words, because she said, "Oh, then we need to get you on that flight!" Then she hustled me back over to the check-in counter, where she made someone call the plane to tell them I'm coming, get me checked in, and take me to the security line. AND when I was waiting in the line, who did I see going through security? Gordon Ramsey!! So I guess it worked out all right in the end. I made my flight, and the Continental plane was totally baller. But I could've saved a whole lot of time and heartache if Heathrow weren't such a terrible airport.

So in conclusion and in summary, fly through Gatwick.

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