The Longest Hour in Heathrow

With only one hour to make our connecting flight at Heathrow, we knew we were cutting it short. At the time we booked, it seemed like a good idea, but now it seems misguided. Even though the plane to Delhi takes off from the same terminal we arrive in, we still have to take a shuttle to the departure gate.. Following the flow, we rush down to the boarding platform. A train sits there, stalled because the doors won’t open. After an interminable wait, it leaves with doors still closed, its passengers trapped. Another interminable wait of at least 15 minutes….

Even though the Gate is well in walking distance, its mandatory to take the shuttle. A yellow “help line” phone makes its presence known; Gerard dials just as a train is finally arriving. “You have to go through security check before boarding the train,” we’re told. So we run back up the escalator and find security. First Gerard is patted down thoroughly; then my back pack is removed from the conveyor belt. A zombie in the guise of a security checker proceeds to methodically remove every item from my back pack and like a jeweler testing the validity of a precious diamond, holds each item close to the thick lenses of his round wire glasses for cross examination. The clock is ticking – we now have half an hour till take off.. You’ll make your flight he tells me, while taking even longer to empty my pack as if to test my confidence in his word. It’s not appreciated. The inevitably of spending the night – and maybe longer – in Heathrow airport is becoming ever more real.

This year we bought new lighter – but yet smaller – suitcases. I compensated with a larger back pack. I watch in desperate fascination at how much I had managed to stuff into the bag and that he is now pulling out item by item at the speed of a sleep walker. I want to wrench the bag from him, stuff everything back in and make a dash for it. Short and skinny, he seems a push over; I could easily wrestle him to the ground – but. what if he calls for reinforcement?

Finally he sends my now empty bag back through the xray machine, along with my various potions and lotions that I had failed to bag according to aviation regulations – and hands everything back to me. With adrenaline pumping in overdrive, we dash back to the train platform. Again we wait and wait… I dial the yellow help phone again and shout at the operator, Call Gate C6 – tell them we’re coming and to hold the flight. It is now barely 15 minutes to take off. She assures us a train is coming…and within minutes it does. We run from the train to an elevator, picking up another frantic passenger on the way – and with a few wrong turns finally to the gate.

 Everyone has boarded. A line of idle desk attendants greets us as we cross the finishing line – no cheering – but I don’t care; their professional smiles are just as welcome. The nearest attendant inspects our boarding passes and waves us on as she announces over the loudspeaker, Gate C6 for Flight 2430 is now closed. Sighing with relief, I feel my body physically deflating as the adrenaline escapes like gas from a hot air balloon – I can finally relax.  It has been a LONG hour…

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