06 April 2014

Heathrow or the Twilight Zone?

We were supposed to have 2 hours between our flight from Boston to London and the flight from London to Shannon Airport. We took off a bit late and landed a bit late, so we had an hour and a half. We got off the plane and started following the herd and the signs that said "All Connecting Flights." We quickly found ourselves racing through corridors strangely devoid of any airport personnel. We went around corners, took  3 right hand turns in a row, went up an escalator only to turn a corner and promptly go down a different one. It was a maze of labyrinthine corridors with a stampede of people marching quickly forward, following the purple stripe on the beige wall. There was nothing else. In corridor after corridor, there was just the beige walls with the purple stripe--no flight information, no airport people, no other signage of any kind. It was creepy.

Finally, at an intersection, there was a set of those TV screens you see at airports, except these were huge and there were 6 pages listing flights. We were able to find our flight and learned that we needed to go to Terminal 1. I have no idea where we were at this point, but I think we might have started in Terminal 3.

At this point, the words on the purple stripe changed to "Terminal 1" and we plowed on and it started to look like we might be making some progress instead of running around in a maze.
Alas, we were only at Terminal 5, which is where we could catch the shuttle bus to Terminal 1 when it came. There was a line, but we got on the bus when it appeared a few minutes later. We were then treated to a hair-raising ride through the dingy underbelly of Heathrow Airport as the maniacal driver whipped us around corners and curves and sped through the construction zone. We were deposited at Terminal 1 and were greeted with a sign welcoming us there. "Hurray," I thought. That was premature.

In we went. Up the escalator we went. We turned right, since that was our only option. Then we went down an escalator. We soon found ourselves in another set of creepy labyrinthine corridors--I will give the designers of this airport high marks for creepy labyrinthine corridors--they do those very well!

Having flown all night and not slept, our energy supply was not really up to this task. I am used to walking places and even used to walking places with heavy bags on my back. I am not accustomed to competing against the madman who designed this airport to see whether I can make my connecting flight after having had no sleep while sitting in a cramped airplane seat for 6 hours the night before! However, it seemed I had no choice--there were none of those carts that you see in other airports driving around. Just beige walls and that purple stripe.

Onward we went! Then we came to a place where we had to show an immigration card and passport. They'd handed the cards out on the plane and I filled mine out, but thought it was weird that they asked how long I planned to be in the UK. Did they really want me to say what I ended up saying, which was "until my connecting flight?"  I asked the flight attendant who handed me the card and the one who tried to give me one later if people doing a connecting flight had to fill one out and they said not to bother--we wouldn't need one. We did need one, so I was glad I'd filled it out. Bill didn't have one, so he just showed his Irish/EU passport. I got a stamp and we proceeded to the next stop, which was the biometric measurement station. This is where we each in turn removed our hats and glasses and stared at the two red lights until they turned green.

On with the glasses and hats and back into the purple-striped corridor. Up and down, around and around until we came to the security line! Yay! Off with the shoes, out with the laptops and for Bill, off with the belt. Then I had to assure the guy behind the conveyor belt that I did not have any liquids in my bags. This took a couple of tries, but when I told him that my personal care items were in my checked bags, he was satisfied and I got to go into the body scanner. After that, I got a pat down so the woman would be convinced that, in spite of what the scanner was saying, I did not have anything strapped to or implanted in my left thigh. The scanner paid no heed to the pouch of euros I had around my neck and tucked into my bra. Whether or not this is an indication of their usefulness, I do not know.

On with the shoes and belt. Repack the computers. Hoist up the bags. Continue the race-walking marathon. What is that up ahead? It looks like something! People! Open space! Maybe the gate is coming up! Or maybe it's just the Terminal 1 shopping zone.

And here is where The Twilight Zone meets Peanuts as I race up to the little kiosk which reminds me of Lucy van Pelt offering her psychiatric advice for a nickel. I feel it necessary to say that had I paid a nickel, I would have been ripped off, because when I showed the boarding pass to the woman standing behind the Aer Lingus kiosk, her response would have made my head explode, if I'd had any energy for that kind of thing. "Oh yes, madam, you need to hurry to gate 84 or you'll miss the plane," she told me as she waved her hand vaguely in the direction behind her.  Having no time to do anything else, I proceeded to hurry to the gate--again. What the hell did she think we'd been doing for over an hour at that point?

Through the crowds of shoppers we went until we got to a dingy looking corridor with a sign over it that said, "Gates 77-90, No shops beyond this point." Are you kidding me? No shops beyond this point? Really? Are there planes beyond this point, I wonder? Specifically, is there a green plane around here somewhere that will take me out of this hellhole and to Ireland? Because really, that is what I want. I do not want to shop and if I did I sure would not do it here!!! I just want to find Gate 84 and be gone from this place!

Into yet another dreary corridor we went, but with no purple stripe this time. Just beige walls. Twisting and turning once again, we came to--wait for it--another biometric measurement station! Yes, because clearly things could have changed a great deal in 15 minutes! Off with the hat and glasses. Stare at the red light. It's green, so on with the hat and glasses. I turn to leave and see through the window another security station. I almost burst into tears. I walk out of the biometrics room and discover that we need to go in the opposite direction, into yet another corridor to somewhere. I wait for Bill, who doesn't appear. I walk back towards the room and a guy in a fluorescent green vest stops his conversation and asks if he can help me. I tell him that I am waiting for my husband and we are rushing to get to our gate. He asks to see my boarding pass and tells me that Gate 84 is 1/2 mile away and we can make it if we hurry. Thanks, pal. I'll commence with the hurrying, since you tell me I should.

Hurry we do and we reach a cluster of gates all crammed into one small area--no room for shops. There is a set of doors and a crowd of people blocking the doors. It takes me a minute to realize that they are boarding at Gate 82. My goal is within reach! I push my way through the crowd and breathlessly stumble to the counter at Gate 84, where the last few stragglers are boarding--there is not even a line because everyone else is already on the plane. I hand my passport and boarding pass to the guy at the door and walk down the jetway and into the plane. There's a spot for my backpack in the overhead bin, so I shove it in, sink down into my seat and kick my other bag and my big sweater under the seat. I am out of breath, sweating, and thirsty, but I am on the plane. I am getting out of Heathrow. It feels like an escape.



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