Wednesday, May 21, 2008

There Will Always be an England, Always Muddling Through

We showed up for our bus from the Heathrow Holiday Inn at 4:15 AM, and it showed up at 4:45 to take us to Heathrow for a 7:05 departure. Not to worry.

I had double-checked at the Holiday Inn desk that our flight on British Airways to Istanbul at 7:05 would leave from Terminal 1. When we got to Terminal 1, we found a long line of passengers waiting at the locked gate to the British Airways check-in area. At one side was another line, this one of British Airways employees waiting to go to work. No one had the key. Not to worry.

Finally the door was unlocked and we streamed inside, British Airways employees to one side of the check-in counters, passengers to the other. I asked an British Airways agent who appeared to be directing traffic where Alice and I should start. She informed us that we should start in Terminal 5, because British Airways flights to Istanbul no longer leave from Terminal 1 - and hadn’t for a long time. Not to worry.

If we passed back through Terminal 1 we would find a lift - elevator - to take us to the Express Train to Terminal 5. As we and several other distraught passengers wandered down a long corridor to the Express Train to Terminal 5, a Heathrow transportation specialist informed us that the trains were not running at the moment. He suggested we walk back partially through Terminal 1 and take the Underground to Terminal 5. Not to worry.

Fortunately a “wisdom of the crowd” enabled our group of confused and distraught passengers to make the correct turns and reach the Underground - Subway - to take us from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5. It is amazing how a group of people, not one of which knows the way through new territories, finds its way unerringly. Unerringly may not be a good word to use in context of going to the latest airport wonder of wonders, the infamous Heathrow Terminal 5, which commanded banner headlines for weeks after its opening two months ago because of the monumental foul-ups passengers and their baggage suffered in and through it. Not to worry.

We were in Terminal 5, human guinea pigs in the development of a new world being, World Traveler. Among many things, World Traveler will know how to do much travel processing itself. For example, it will know to go to small kiosks, scan in a passport page, and punch in flight information that will cause the production of boarding passes and other apparently necessary and perhaps even useful pieces of paper. From there you take it all to a Fast Bags station, where an attendant examines the papers and places a baggage tag on each piece of checked luggage.

Then we were directed to Security South, apparently because it was much farther away than Security North, where we tried to enter only to be chased away to the South. At this point I became alarmed about not having a gate assigned for our flight, and was told we would get it after Security. Not to worry.

The Security posts were all manned by Indians, Pakistanis, and South Africans, which meant they were all better and clearer speakers of English than our English speaking citizens working in Airport Security stateside, and far more polite.

We quickly exited Security, still without a gate assignment. Our flight number 678, British Airways to Istanbul, was on the board, but with no indicated gate. So with less than an hour to go to takeoff, we went to a snack shop for a light breakfast with a good view of the departure board. Not to worry.

As we finished breakfast, our gate assignment appeared, A20, only a short block equivalent away. I began to not worry.

All went well. Our hotel sent a driver who met us at the Istanbul Airport and whisked us to the Sumengen Hotel, three blocks from the Blue Mosque and only a couple more blocks to Aya Sophia. Suddenly all is easy and relaxed, and that worries me.

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