After an eight-hour transatlantic flight we’re sitting in a plane on the tarmac in the dawn clag, cooling our heels. Why? Because there are no gates available, which means that so we have to be bussed to the terminal. Problem is that there are no buses in evidence, and nobody is answering the phone to dispatch the buses. The co-pilot who made the announcement could not keep the irritation out of his voice.
Twenty impatient minutes later we deplane via the stairs – last time I did this was in Trinidad in 1985. Back then the plane stopped a few yards from the terminal in bright warm tropical sunshine. In the here-and-now it is cold and damp, and we have to be crammed into the buses that have just trundled up. No wonder some consider Britain to be a third world country that does not know it yet.
Once into the Terminal, things are no better. Too many escalators and travelators are out of commission or are simply not switched on. The part of the airport through which we were herded resembles an ageing Mid-West Wal-Mart; dirty, tatty and dingy. The phrase that comes to mind is “will the last one out please turn out the lights?“
Credit where credit is due: The one ray of sunshine is the people – the flight crew, immigration and customs folks were a delight to deal with, and the lines were mercifully short. When the passport-control fellow said “welcome back“, he sounded like he actually meant it.
I was led to believe that Heathrow was the jewel in the crown of British Airports Authority (BAA). Terminal 4 is the newest of the terminals at Heathrow, and deals exclusively with International travellers. Are you seriously trying to tell me that this is the welcome you give your foreign visitors?