Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport, 4pm, Friday, 24th June 2011
At Heathrow airport, after passing through security, I am disgorged directly into an alcohol and perfume shop. Naturally. What else? As I continue through this shopping mall I am faced with a fork in the path. Turn left and hit expensive perfume and then on to the relatively up market Sushi bar or turn right and be confronted with chocolates and WH Smiths. Even at the airport England is a class ridden society. The areas closer to the departure gates are the Mayfair of Heathrow for the upper class. Champagne and salmon. Shirts by Pink and bags by Mulberry; there is even a fucking Harrods! Farthest from the gates are the shops selling last minute “I’ve been to London” memorabilia. But British airports are a great leveller for whatever one’s class, religion or ethnicity we are all temporary captives of the airport marketing machine.
The idiotic Bridge Bar is one of a very few places to get a real meal but is always packed and has no waiter service yet one must have a table to order a meal. If you are lucky enough find a vacant table you must go to the bar to order and inevitably join a queue. Inevitably, again, by the time you have ordered you have lost your table.
The ludicrously named Cafe Italia uses a little seating area with an almost Soviet canteen feel to it. I am tempted to say that at least this place has waiters but to call the voiceless delivery men waiters is going too far. I sit by the trolley laden with dirty dishes and eat an expensive but tasty Lasagne.
The air conditioning is not able to cope with the number of people and the environment has become muggy, humid and filled with the wreak of discarded food. The shop assistants resort to fans but the public are left to fester.
“This a security announcement. All persons are reminded that…” – Other than public announcements when else do we refer to people as persons? I think that the British lack self confidence and this manifests itself in pomposity in public announcements. Along with moronic violence at football matches of course.
The romance has been surgically extracted from the modern British airport. Gone is the aviation themed decor, there is no view of the runway, there are not even pictures of aeroplanes. In fact once inside there is no indication that we are in an airport at all. We may as well be sitting in the shopping mall of any mid size British town. Gone are the days of the large boards where people could sit in peace and wait for their gate to appear. Now we are forced to trudge around to find a little display board. This enforced perambulation is probably a ploy by British Airport Authority (BAA) to push us past the shops and encourage us to buy yet more crap. In the old days there would have been a large clock visible by everyone but no longer. I suspect that the absence of a clock is to accentuate our feeling of detachment. We are suspended in time and space. Our here and now is controlled by BAA and our raison d’etre is shopping.
No natural light enters and after an hour or so we lose track of the time. Is it early morning, mid afternoon or the middle of the night? We have no way of knowing. We have jet lag before we have left the ground. Like termites we scurry around in our mound unaware that just few feet away lies another world. The world of the support staff where people go about their normal lives. Drivers, technicians, cooks. Thousands of people working away to support this artificial environment of transitory morons.
I sit gormlessly staring at a departure board. Adverts are beamed into my subconscious. Smartphone – Italy – Must use Smartphone in Italy.
Eventually the gate opens and we are told that first class and business class may board through gate B . Frequent Flyer Gold and Platinum may board through gate A. Disabled and various other concessionaires may board at any time. And me? What about me? I must board last Good, for as ghastly as the airport is at least I have some leg room.