I hate Heathrow Airport. There, I said it.
This sentiment may come as no surprise to those that use it frequently (I use it fairly regularly, but nowhere near as much as some), but I’ve held out a long time before admitting it. I like what airports represent, people coming and going, whether it is for business, a short trip, or maybe the start of a new life elsewhere, and during endless hours at Heathrow I’ve held onto that, but it has to be said, Heathrow is a bad airport.
Arriving back to Terminal 5 from a relatively short flight from Stockholm on Saturday, we landed 25 minutes early, which is a minor miracle in itself as it meant we weren’t stacked over Epping or Oxford. However, our gate wasn’t free yet, so we had to sit on the apron for 15 minutes with the engines running whilst we waited to pull up to the terminal. When we did reach the gate, it was a domestic gate rather than an international one, so we had to disembark from the rear of the plane into a fleet of buses via steps that took another ten minutes to arrive, and always sway disturbingly. The bus then has to take a circuitous route to the correct entry doors. Next is the nightmare of the immigration queue. I’m sure the most efficient way of doing this, or at least the one that feels fairest, is a single snaking queue which is strictly first-in-first-out to a bank of desks, but instead Terminal 5 opts to have queues for each desk. There were only two desks open for UK/EU passport holders, and it looks like a couple of jumbos arrived at about the same time we did, so the queues backed up, more desks eventually opened, at which point it is a disorganised rush to get to the front of the new queues. Surely queuing for desks is a solved problem? Are there studies somewhere that show individual queues are the best solution? I’d like to see them, especially when the person two in front of you has appeared at the UK/EU desk with a US passport. The last airport I went to that was as bad as the spanking new Terminal 5 was in Havana.
From touching down 25 minutes early, it was 30 minutes after the scheduled arrival time that I was sitting on the Heathrow Express (where I had to wait another 10 minutes for it to leave). Probably the only more expensive train ride than Heathrow Express is the Arlanda Express. In total I spent £72 on train tickets between Paddington and Heathrow, then between Arlanda and Stockholm. That’s somewhere in the region of £1 per minute of travelling. Add on the tube tickets and journeys totalling fewer than 100 miles as the crow flies, cost £80. 80 pence per mile compared with the flights that cost 9.4 pence per mile (that is on a full service airline, BA, but cheap economy class tickets).
The thing is that this wasn’t an exceptional journey. Often you’re waiting for a long time to land at Heathrow, which I didn’t this time, or you’re waiting a long time for your luggage, which again I wasn’t this time (probably because it had taken so long to finally reach baggage reclaim). They must know it is bad, there are enough people wandering around with clipboards asking for feedback. If as much effort went into improving the service as it does asking our opinion, I’m sure it could be a much better airport. Equally, I’m sure that the folk on the ground do as good a job as they can, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were a bit demoralised if they have to take a bit of stick from the passengers.
That’s just arriving back, I’m resisting the temptation to comment on security and the trip out. Of course, in the scheme of things, spending too much time at airports is not a bad problem to have, but it niggles when you feel it could be done so much better.