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 was a very interesting programme about a plot to cause damage to aircraft over the Atlantic and from 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.
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We took one of our overseas trips in 2006 – this time it was 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 much earlier than planned 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 was a nightmare. It’s not the easiest road to drive on at the best of time, traffic was banked up for miles, commuters making their way to work in the City as well as travellers trying to get to Heathrow. Police directing lanes at the Heathrow exits and motorists getting hot under the collar plus several accidents didn’t help
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 was returned and we caught the shuttle 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 entered 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 were our travel docs and they had to be inside plastic bags, in other words no cabin/carry on baggage ‘cept ID, travel docs, necessary medications and clothing. There were airport 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 but the organisers hadn’t been given this info.. Also another part of the hold up at check in was travellers stopping in their tracks whilst waiting in the line to open their cases and try to fit things inside while others waited behind them.
One reason I always leave a little head room when I pack lol
Ladies were not happy – no handbags allowed onboard, if they didn’t fit in their luggage there was one of those plastic film wrap machines available 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 (no surprise) so we thought we’d 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 were 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 found the end of the queue and started shuffling – again
There was no shouting or anger; no pushing or shoving, in fact 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 lol
About 90 minutes later we reached the security area before airside and passed through after a very thorough security check, there was the now standard shoes and belts off plus any removable clothing eg coats and jackets, that all went in the travelling chute eas I call it – for us it was through the ‘door way’ scanner and then submit to a hand held scanner and pat down. Waiting in line I watched as security insisted 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 a rather old disabled lady was made to get out of her wheelchair and pass through the ‘door way’ scanner before almost collapsing into it again. All these passengers were using many different airlines – not just the one we were taking – so no wonder the lines were so long!!
Once through we started to walk forward taking everything in and I stopped in my tracks. Facing me are several large British policemen looking very businesslike with very large guns held across their chests (don’t ask me what they were, some sort of automatic things) now I’ve travelled a lot and been through a lot of airports and 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 there and on my way.
Our flight was still delayed so with no sign of it boarding soon I finally got that longed for coffee and then went to buy a bottle of water to take on board reasoning that as it was in a ‘safe’ area it would have been ok – only to find there was none on sale.
There’s one thing I don’t do when flying and that’s eat, self explanatory – my stomach is churning so much there’s no point in putting food in it as it will all come back up again –there is one thing I do do and that’s drink water.
Rather than tip it away I’d drunk the two bottles I 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 minute were suspect the next.
Duty free goods had to be handed over, the plastic bags identified with a large luggage label, and then the passenger was reassured they would be available for collection at the end of the journey. For some reason seeing all those bags with the labels attached lined up against a wall 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. I did have a strange thought that I wasn’t sure if they were worried about any explosive problem or the fate of theiir duty free booze. The hosties were fabulous, lots of soft drink and water available, papers as well (not sure how ones brought in from another newsagent were ok but those for sale from the airport newsagent weren’t) lots af attention not just for Business and First but for Economy as well.
When we arrived in St John’s Newfoundland 5 hours later we had to clear the plane of all luggage to go through their customs (as is the way) and it was so different to other flights when there is hustle and bustle at this time – we all just stood up and walked quietly 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 them over again for the next leg to Halifax.
End of story was we arrived much later than expected – the cousins picking us up had no idea what was going on on, no idea of the chaos on the other side of the Atlantic, just that the flight had been delayed. Worldwide air travel was disrupted for weeks and procedures for carry on baggage reassessed.
Just one of those days to remember
when we were in the Wrong place at the Wrong time
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