So, we ended a luscious three week vacation in Italy with a flight home through London’s Heathrow. It was everything I had dreaded about the experience, and more. As one Brit was heard to say, “Ah, Heathrow. Just as I’ve always remembered it. An obscene place to be.”
Poor London, besieged by terrorists on a chronic basis. Its citizens’ famous ability to cope and weather through is admirable and to be emulated. They deal with the constant alerts stoically. So I feel churlish complaining about a small thing like the ordeal of having to travel through its airport. But what goes on at Heathrow is a bit of future shock, I think. So how we experience it is worth considering.
The day prior to our departure, the terminal had been evacuated due to a bomb scare. People in saris, hajib, jeans and African damask were squatting to eat or wrapped in airplane blankets dozing on the yoga mats that had been distributed to those left stranded. Two days’ worth of international travellers mobbed all the check-in counters, filling every available space inside and outside the terminal, to wait for their flights to be called. When their flight was finally called, human traffic jams slowed movement through the terminal to a crawl. The proverbial babble of tongues added to the sense of confusion. At times, one caught the odor of those who had been unable to wash. Some people were crying, desperate to get home. But most had a look of weathered resignation. Perhaps many had been through this enough times before to have built up some tolerance.
I thought about the P.D. James book and movie “Children of Men.” And for one frightening moment, I imagined the chaos of a refugee camp.
But I did not hear any voices raised, or see any scuffling for the front of line. The British Airways personnel, who on a daily basis must wonder if their jobs have a future in this environment, never behaved as if conditions were anything other than normal. Our flight left a mere one hour late. If only our roads were examples of such civility.
Nevertheless, this scenario may be the new normal for travel. If so, there may be less of it.