Feeling a little out of sorts at the moment. Last night we watched 4 Corners on ABC, which was about a bomb plot.
So what’s new in that you ask, with all the problems in the world these days its nothing out of the ordinary.
Well this very interesting programme was about a plot to cause damage to aircraft over the Atlantic and from all the evidence gained by British surveillance and presented in this doco it was to take place in August 2006.
The perpetrators had taken an interest in several American airlines and also a Canadian one, Air Canada. I was ok watching the programme until I heard that mentioned and then it all came back to me.
We took an overseas trip in 2006 – to visit friends and rellies in the UK and then on to Nova Scotia for Dh’s aunt’s birthday. We flew to Halifax on August 10th but not after a very long wait in Heathrow airport for that was the day all this came to a head and travel to and from that airport and airports around the world ground to a halt.
There was mention on the 6am news about problems at Heathrow so we left where we were staying very early to take the hire car back and see what all the fuss what about. Good job we did as the expected 20-minute drive on the M25 took an hour and a half and it was a nightmare. It’s not the easiest road to drive on at the best of time and traffic was banked up for miles, some Heathrow traffic but most commuters on their way to the City.
Flying isn’t one of the joys in my life and often I’m not in the best of moods as I approach airports at those times (meeting and greeting is different as I know we are turning round and driving straight home again) so the traffic problem certainly didn’t do much for my attitude let alone my BP that morning.
Hire car is returned and we catch the bus to the terminal, b……….traffic jams again and the driver wasn’t much help as he’d turned the radio off and hadn’t a clue what the problem was.
As we enter the terminal it was a sight to behold - Heathrow is always busy and crowded with travellers but this was something else.
You couldn’t see the check in areas as there were enormous queues everywhere as well as people just sitting along the walls or wandering around dragging their luggage and looking weary – this was at 8.30 in the morning. We managed to locate the end of the Air Canada check in line and so the slow journey to the front began.
We were advised that the only things we could take on board in our hands were our travel docs and they had to be inside plastic bags, in other words no cabin baggage ‘cept ID, travel docs and clothing eg coats. There were staff roaming around with plastic bags of all sorts of shapes and sizes some of which had to be replaced at check in as 'they' had stipulated a certain size and a certain size it had to be. Also another part of the hold up at check in was people stopping in their tracks in the line to open their cases and try and fit other goods inside.
Ladies were not happy with not being allowed their handbags onboard, if they didn’t fit in the case there was one of those plastic film wrap machines to wrap them and they went into the hold as is. No food or drink allowed to be taken airside so kids were gorging on food (mainly chips and lollies/sweets brought along for the journey) and drinking water and soft drinks till it came out of their ears (or the other end lol)
The departure board indicated our flight to Halifax was delayed so we think we’ll get a coffee in one of the cafes upstairs before going through airside security – that was till we came out of the lift.
More queues – looked like thousands of people wending their way crocodile fashion from one end of that floor to the other. Staff walking up and down calling out, no drinks, no food – jars of baby food included, no papers or books and of all things no chewing gum allowed airside, documents to be in plastic bags - over and over again. Lots of speculation and no real reasons but it seems there were concerns about minute detonators being carried in the pages of books and jell like substances maybe being used as well.
So we find the end of the queue and start shuffling.
There was no shouting or anger; no pushing or shoving, nobody showed any annoyance at all just accepted all the disruptions. It was a bit like queuing for tickets to a concert or like, people chatting to complete strangers and even ‘saving places’ in the case of toilet breaks or even hunger breaks – the cafes were right alongside us at one point and the smell of bacon sandwiches was just too much for the lady in front of me.
About 90 minutes later we reach the security area and get through after a very thorough security check, through the ‘door way’ scanner and then a hand held scanner and pat down, as well as the standard shoes and belts off, any removable clothing off, Waiting in line I watched as security insist a baby have its nappy/diaper removed and lots of creams and other things removed from the toiletries bag the family had for the baby, then an old disabled lady was made to get out of her wheelchair and go through the ‘door way’ scanner before almost collapsing into it again. All these passengers were for many different airlines and routes so no wonder the lines were so long!!
So we start to walk forward taking everything in and I stop in my tracks. Facing me are several large British policemen with very large guns (don't ask me what they were, some sort of automatic things) In all my travels I've never been so scared in my life, suddenly it all became real and I just wanted to be out of their and on my way.
Our flight was still delayed and as we are where its relatively quiet with some semblance of order I fianlly get that longed for coffee and then went to buy a bottle of water, none on sale.
There’s one thing I don’t do when flying and that’s eat, self explanatory - my stomach is churning that much there’s no point in putting food in it as it will all come back up again – so there’s one thing I do do and that’s drink water.
Rather than tip it away I’d drunk the two bottles I had brought with me – it had been so hot in the departure area one went down there and the other in the queue upstairs so I wasn’t happy about not getting any to take onboard. So many people walking around looking dazed didn’t much for my peace of mind either.
We finally got on board after even more security checks, several hours later than we expected, those who had bought papers and books from the airside newsagents thinking it would be ok had to leave them behind – don’t ask we never found out why things that were ok airside one day were suspect the next.
Duty free goods had to be handed over and then identified with a big luggage label for collection at the end of the journey. For some reason seeing all those bags with the labels attached reminded me of film I’d seen of children being evacuated during the war with names on labels attached to their clothes lol
It was a strange flight; most passengers very quiet and subdued wondering if all was well in the hold. The hosties were fabulous, lots of soft drink and water available, papers as well, not just for Business and First but for Economy as well.
When we got to St John's in Newfoundland we had to clear the plane of all luggage to go through their customs (as is the way) and it was so funny as we all just stood up and walked off the plane – there was no hand luggage, so no groping around in the overhead lockers, just us and the plastic bags we took on board.
I did get a laugh at the baggage carousel watching grown men making sure their duty free bottles of grog were safe and sound before handing it over again for the next leg to Halifax.
Just one of those days to remember