Sunday, August 13, 2006

Notes from a weary traveller

I'm writing this in Hong Kong airport - so I'm halfway home now. Yaaay!

I spent Friday shopping for protective cases for all my fragile stuff - so now my laptop is inside a massively strong briefcase in my suitcase - and my camera and iPod are in a special camera case. I've backed up my laptop and protected it with passwords galore.

Hope I see all my stuff in one piece when I get to Wellington!

Check-in at Heathrow on Saturday morning was not too bad - pretty much like a normal day, actually. They advised me to go straight upstairs to Departures - even though it was two and a half hours until my flight - and after popping out for a final cigarette I went upstairs and realised why. The queue for Departures snaked back and forth across the entire Departures floor - hundreds and hundreds of people waiting in line to go through to Security.

It took well over an hour to get to the front of that queue, and then there was another massive queue to go through the security scanners themselves. Every so often airline staff would walk down the Departures queue calling for anyone due to board a flight leaving - well, pretty much "now" actually. Then they'd hussle them to the head of the queue, and apparently, abandon them there to wait with everyone else in the actual queue for Security.

We'd already been given our see-through plastic bags before we checked in, and all that was allowed was a wallet or purse, travel documents, tissues, keys, vital medication, sanitary products (not in boxes) and baby stuff if needed. They checked our pitiful little plastic bags when we checked in, and then again at the head of the queue for the Departures lounge.

"No chewing gum, no lighters, no cigarettes, no liquids of any kind" called the guy holding the massive rubbish bag at the head of the queue. He was getting quite a collection of stuff, even at that point.

At the security scanners there was a full body pat-down for everyone (even kids) and everything went through the x-ray machine - including shoes. Not all the scanners were working, though - which is pretty lame when you have such a huge volume of people to process.

At some point we also went through passport control - and were then spat out into the duty free area beyond Security.

Thankfully they then let us buy what we needed for the flight - once we were through Security I guess they reckon the stuff sold in there is safe - which, seeing as Heathrow makes its money from the Duty Free and other shops rather than from the planes - I'm guessing Heathrow was pretty happy about. I rushed around buying books and magazines, The Guardian (of course!), tobacco and papers and filters and headache pills - and the most rare and valuable commodity of them all - lip salve.

In fact I was so busy stocking up that I missed the first call for my flight, and ended up having to race through the aiport to my gate in a big old panic. Needn't have worried. We then sat on the tarmac for a further two and a half hours, waiting for the last 40 people to get through Security and board the plane. In the end I think there were about 10 people they just couldn't find, so they took their luggage off again, and finally we were off.

What a mission. I see from the news that British Airways has criticized BAA (which manages Heathrow) for being too slow in processing everyone, and causing flights to be cancelled as a result. I can't see this ban on hand luggage continuing indefinitely - because I think the commercial priorities of the airlines will eventually override their security concerns. The $$ speaks! It's going to be interesting to see how they manage the whole thing. Which will emerge victorious? The safety of passengers or the pursuit of the almighty dollar?

It's only an hour and a half until my 11-hour flight to Auckland. I've had a 2-hour nap in a bed in the Traveller's Lounge - bliss! And then another 3 hours on a nice comfy leather chair in the Lounge itself (you're only allowed a 2-hour nap in the beds!), so I'm feeling fairly human.

I'm going to kiss the ground when I get home to beautiful beautiful (safe and peaceful) Aotearoa/New Zealand. I'm so looking forward to getting home!

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Chardonnay said...

Oh my goodness WW, that's sounds perfectly horrible! So are you getting home today then? I'll bet you are gonna sleep for days!

webweaver said...

I'm home!!!!


And phew!

Sadly I can't sleep for days, chardonnay - I have to go to work tomorrow. Heh.

~ YSRN ~ said...

Welcome home!!!! I bet you're never so glad to be there!

(( ))