Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Heathrow Hell

I remember seeing Simon Phipps links about Heathrow, but didn't really pay attention. I didn't have any idea how bad it could be.

When you exit in England, you simply go out, get your baggage (although that did take 45 minutes), catch the Heathrow Express, and you're good to go. On the way back in, you go through security and on to your plane.

Ah, but when you're transferring flights, it's an entirely different, and hellish, experience. There is no one international terminal, so you have to be shipped from terminal to termnal on a bus. Our bus got stuck behind a luggage cart that had lost its luggage. Their transfer stations are completely overwhelmed, and it takes an hour to get a boarding pass for your next leg of the flight. Worst of all, the UK doesn't trust any other country's security and you have to go through a security check even though you went through one at your original departing airport. And this security is completely overwhelmed and the line is (if you're lucky) 45 minutes to an hour long.

The worst part of this was that I got the sense that the staff there really didn't really care if this was an inconvenience, it's just the way it is. And at Virgin Atlantic, when they were continually screwing up my ticket, they kept intimating it was my own misunderstanding of the arcane rules of airport/airline bureaucracy that was causing the problems. Deal with it, passengers, it's not our problem, was the general feeling.

As a result of the delayed flight and eternal security line, I missed my connection. So, I get put on a BA flight. Back to Terminal 1, the terminal I started at. And guess what, I have to back through friggin' security because I have been "mixed" with unchecked passengers. And nobody seems to think that maybe, just maybe, there could be a better way. Deal with it, passengers.

I checked at the gate to make sure my luggage had followed me, and they assured me it had. When I get to SFO, no luggage. Since then I have been calling every day, and today they told me that it often takes a month for someone to get their baggage back. A MONTH!. I was this close to packing my laptop on that suitcase...

I can just see the folks at Heathrow standing around, hands in pockets, taking a break, not really caring, and my luggage just sitting there. Someone glances over at the bag. "Who's luggage is that?" someone asks. "Dunno." says someone else and shrugs. Oh well... Not my problem...

Heathrow is an old, massive, airport, that is completely overwhelmed. This I understand. But the general apathy of the folks working there, the complete disregard for passengers, is unforgivable. They should have a sign over the airport as you come in: "Deal with it."

I was complaining to one of the people helping me with my lost luggage about Heathrow, and she said she personally will not go into Heathrow as a passenger, at least until the build their new terminal. A flight attendant on the BA flight also confirmed that Heathrow is absolutely hellish and to be avoided.

So Heathrow is permanently on my black list. I hope some day the airlines realize they are losing customers because of Heathrow, and start making deals with alternate airports. I hope some day Heathrow realizes that passengers are actually what they are there for, and without passengers, you have no airport.

Personally, I am one passenger they have lost, and I'll also be telling anybody else I know to avoid Heathrow at all costs as a transfer destination. If I am transferring in Europe, I will go through any airport other than Heathrow.

Deal with it, Heathrow.

P.S. Reading the comments on Tim's blog about Heathrow, it sounds like Frankfurt and Amsterdam are great choices, and that Paris, Gatwick and Stansted are all pretty close to Heathrow in terms of pure yuck.


Anonymous said...

I think the important thing is not to transfer :-) But more generally, nearly ALL American service is better than nearly ALL British service. Eventually you get used to people not caring.

Glad you didn't lose your bags on the way in, from a purely selfish point of view! But I hope that you are reunited with them.


Anonymous said...

So glad you didn't pack your laptop in the suitcase! I don't understand why it's so hard for employees to put bags on the correct plane, it's crazy! Just out of curiosity, have you seen Global Bag Tags? I've been using them for a while now and love them. I don't want to look all spammy, so I'll leave it at that :)