Heathrow & BT (O2) rants and raves

I’m on a trip to Bristol and had to pass through Heathrow airport London again today. Got through the immigration pretty quickly but baggage claim was a testy experience. A fellow well-heeled international traveller also waiting for the baggage remarked that baggage claim in Chennai and Bangalore airports in India was better than Heathrow’s.  Having been used to the pathetic baggage claim operations in Chennai – they have this tiny baggage carrier which has to make I’m sure over 50 trips between the aircraft and carousel to unload a large international class aircraft – I thought this gentleman’s claim is too tall. However, he was proved right and to add salt to the wounds, the airport authorities made an announcement apologizing for the delays. Pasing through customs was a breeze. When I came out, I tried making a call to my colleague who arrived by a diff airline and the call didn’t go through. It took a few minutes for my jet-lagged brain that I had to dial with the international calling format since I was now roaming. In the meantime British telecom’s O2, the roaming carrier sent me a very helpful message saying “hey for the number you’re trying to reach try the international format”. Since they knew the number I was calling they had recoded the number in the international format and included it in the message. This is a small thing but nifty. I wish Airtel in India was as helpful. When you roam in India and you call a number in your home city, it tells you very helpfully “the number you’ve dialed does not exist”. As I was waiting for my colleague to come I noticed automated foreign exchange conversion machines.  You can put in Euros or US Dollars and out pops British pounds. No more standing in line at the forex agent counters. Cool.! My biggest peeve with Heathrow though is their security clearance counter when you need to goto Terminal 4 from other terminals to catch a connection. Incidentally all international flights to the USA and India take off from terminal 4 (I’m sure there are exceptions) and you are forced to pas through this security area. Heathrow authorities brilliantly staff this area with just 2 people and 2 scanning machines!  I’ve noticed queues building to a few hundred people frustrating everyone and tempers running high, people trying to break the queue to catch their flight connections etc. I’ve observed this atleast for a year now. Added to the woes is the new liquids-in-the-carryon-baggage policy due to which the scanning operation per person takes too long. Many people that I know already avoid Heathrow as a connection airport on their travels to the USA or rest of Europe. Hope the Heathrow authorities wake up soon before losing all their european hub status to Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Now to end on a good note. In Heathrow, you are forced to walk quite some distance between terminals, gates etc and along the way in many corridors you see some amazingly spectacular (one adjective isn’t enough) photographs. The photos provide a lot of nourishment to your tired brain.  These are from a program run by UNEP and are available on the website http://www.focusonyourworld.com (I’m yet to check the website myself).