Tag Archives: Heathrow

A moment of history

Today has been a proud day for United States. A triumph for the American dream, and for the ideal that all men, women and children are equal regardless of colour, gender or religion. A vindication of the dream that Dr Martin Luther King had more than forty years ago, and a redemption from eight years of leadership that has seen the country slip in the hearts and minds of the world’s population.

And when grandchildren ask me in years to come where I listened to the momentous speech following the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States and the country’s first African-American leader, I will be able to sit them on a lap with a tear in my eye and say, “My dear child, I was on a bus at Heathrow Airport taking me from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5. The reception on the radio kept cutting out, but I heard the occasional word or two.”

Happy days.

Getting away from it all

I’ve been away for a week, sunning myself in the south of France and taking advantage of the lack of broadband to take an impromptu blog break. Fortunately, the presence of a The Special One, good friends, a big swimming pool, great food and plenty of the aforementioned sun, I seemed to get by…

The trip to the Cote D’Azur came via the wonders of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 last Friday, which may well be the quietest airport on earth – and all the more relaxing for it. Like most major construction projects in the UK, it took seventeen times as long to build as it should have done (and cost thirty four times its original budget) but it’s still a huge step forward in air travel as far as I’m concerned – especially as I’m well used to the limited facilities of New York’s JFK airport. As we slipped effortlessly away from the terminal in a taxi to stay with The Best Man and family, I felt proud to be British.

Then I saw a giant billboard for Nuts TV, proclaiming “every night, darts and fights.” I packed away the Union Jack, slipped the maroon passport back in my pocket, and pondered the day’s date, July 4. No wonder the Americans were so keen on independence.

Cushioning the blow

It’s days like this when you realise just how sodding big the United States is. This time yesterday, I was in Los Angeles soaking up the sun ahead of my long trip east back to The Special One and co. The temperature was in the 80s, and t-shirts and shorts were the only attire necessary.

Twenty four hours later, I’ve traveled two and a half thousand miles or so without leaving the country, and it’s suddenly colder than a PTA meeting that’s just received a surprise visit from Gary GlitterPee Wee Herman. It’s blowing a blizzard outside, and my nasal hair has been frozen rigid by a quick trip outside to postmail some letters.

Clear skies on the trip back from LA meant that I was able to take in the full extent of the American landscape from my window seat, from the glory of the Rockies and the Grand Canyon, through to the madness of Las Vegas and Manhattan. And if there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that the cities of America – or even the built up areas – represent a tiny fraction of what is an astonishingly beautiful country. Admittedly, parts of the environment roughly resemble what I imagine the surface of the moon to be like, and are probably only ever going to be inhabitable by mountain goats with a penchant for eating gravel. But it’s still a damn impressive sight.

Thankfully my Delta flight proved to be uneventful. Not because I’m scared of flying – after all, I commuted back and forth between New York and London for an eternity (or eighteen months, if you prefer), and you can’t do that if you’ve got a head for heights like BA Baracus.

No, the problem I’ve got is actually with their safety procedures.

I generally don’t listen to the security briefing – I’ve heard it so many times, and despite everybody surviving the recent Heathrow crash, I’m largely of the opinion that if a plane goes down, it’s pretty much game over. But for some reason, I listened this time round. Amidst the “take off your high heels before leaving the plane via the emergency slide” and the “follow the lights at floor level until you reach your closest exit”, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the statement that “in the event of landing in water, most of our seat cushions can be used as flotation devices.”

Now, I think most of you will agree that if your plane has crash landed on water, things aren’t looking good. Especially if you’re – say – in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. But if you’ve landed in a lake, river or a reservoir, that flotation device might just come in handy. So why in hell aren’t all of their seat cushions capable of being used as flotation devices?!

I can just imagine the scene now:

Plane crash survivor 1: We’re so lucky to have survived this horrific crash, aren’t we?
Plane crash survivor 2: We sure are. But will we ever get out of this water alive?
PCS1: Don’t worry, you can use the seat cushion that you so handily remembered to bring with you as a flotation device.
PCS2: We’re saved! We’re saved! OK, here goes…erm, why am I sinking…?

Maybe the airline had budgetary issues when they were having their planes made by Boeing, and had to make cutbacks? But I can tell you one thing – if my plane ever goes down, and I find myself in the water with a seat cushion that doesn’t float, I am going to raise hell on the phone with their customer services team…

We’re flying Delta to Tennessee this weekend, and I’m fully expecting the flight staff to come over the intercom and tell passengers that most of their pilots can fly planes.

That said, if it keeps snowing for a few days, we won’t be flying anywhere. We’ll have to save our game of seat cushion Russian roulette for another week.

A tale of two vending machines

The Special One and I spent the holiday weekend back in the UK, engaging in a whirlwind tour of friends and family. I think most of them are starting to ask questions about whether I’ve actually left the country given how much I seem to be back there. Maybe I should change the name of the blog to “Brit Mostly Out Of Water”?

A weekend spent 3458 miles away from New York inevitably necessitates spending a fair amount of time in airports, particularly following the British Airways crash landing in London – not to mention apparent 150mph headwinds awaiting us on the way back.

Time in airports these days seems less about interminable waiting and more about interminable shopping. And if ever you needed a powerful demonstration of the difference between New York and London, maybe these two pictures of airport vending machines could provide it. Firstly, a machine found at London’s Heathrow:

Heathrow Airport

These machines first started appearing a year or so ago, offering travellers the chance to buy a book to occupy their minds when there’s only The Bourne Ultimatum on the inflight movie channels. Admittedly Russell Brand’s ‘My Booky Wook’ isn’t necessarily Shakespeare, but it’s got to be better than seven hours of sudoku.

Now the vending machine at JFK:

JFK Airport

When I was a kid, vending machines had bubble gum in them and you put 2p in to get something out. Now it seems that you use them to part with $250 in order to pick up cutting edge music players. Have we reached the point where iPods are considered spur-of-the-moment impulse purchases, to rank alongside a Coke, a packet of Doritos or a Mars bar?

Obviously, you’re not actually going to be able to use the iPod on your flight unless you’ve brought a computer and your music collection with you, and you’re able to find somewhere to charge the battery.

Of course, if you really can’t find a power source to charge your brand new device, you can just unplug the iPod vending machine and use that outlet instead. Other travellers will just have to content themselves with that book after all.