Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Letter I Wish I Could Send

Dear Heathrow:

Hi! I don't think you'll remember me, but I'm one of the many thousands of people who passed through on July 1 and again on July 31. I have brown hair, blue eyes, and was with my husband and two children. I was flying to and from Basel, Switzerland, if that helps. Well, I suppose it really doesn't matter.

I don't really know how to say this is a nice way, so I'm just going to come out with it. As an airport, you suck. I have been in a lot of different domestic and international airports during my 40+ years and you are the worst of them. Oh, I know you're clean and shiny, with lots of nice shops and restaurants, but dressing up in pretty clothes just doesn't hide your true nature. You suck. I'm sorry to be blunt, but there's just no denying it.

Here's the problem. Normal airports work this way: you pick up your boarding pass, either on line or at the counter, and it tells you the flight number, time the flight leaves and the gate where you will board the plane. It's a really simply process -- flight number, departure time, gate.

Ever since the World Trade Center bombing, I know you airports have had a lot of security. I'm not complaining about that, I think it's great and it makes me feel safe. But it has meant that instead of me arriving 30 minutes before a flight, it's become necessary for me to sometimes arrive as early as 2 hours before the flight. There's the line to check baggage, and then the security check, and then you usually want a little time to sit down and relax before the plan boards. Me, I like to relax in one of the chairs handily provided right in the gate where my flight will depart. Sometimes I even buy a cold drink and a magazine to read while I'm waiting.

Sadly, I can't really do that while waiting for my flight from you, Heathrow. Now don't give me that innocent look, you know the reason. Both times when I arrived at Heathrow, my boarding pass gave me the time of departure and the flight number, but no gate. Now, that wouldn't be a problem if your terminals were small with a central hub and a few gates around it, but you know quite well that in some terminals it can take 20 minutes to walk from the hub to the actual gate. And YET you don't actually let us know the gate number until about 20 minutes before boarding.

Do you do it for your own personal entertainment? Do you think it's funny to watch all the little travelers milling about the shopping mall in the center of the terminal like little confused ants until they suddenly have to make a made dash for their appointed departure gate? Are you just sitting back and laughing in your sleeve at us? It sure feels that way.

Other airports just don't do that, Heathrow. LAX is just as pretty as you are and probably just as busy, and definitely has gates just as far away, but it tells me my gate RIGHT AWAY. Even if I happen to get there 4 or 5 hours early for some reason, LAX tells me my gate. That means I can wander around looking at LAX's nice rotating art display, check out its stores and restaurants, and then head through security and stroll to my gate, all well before the plane is ready to board.

You should really change your ways, Heathrow. I've already decided to avoid you in the future if at all possible. I can only compare my time with you as time in some kind of nightmarish hell. I won't even go into your disappointing lack of air conditioning in some areas right now, although you know I could.

Check your attitude, Heathrow.

No longer a customer,