Date: 15 February 2009
Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Boeing 767-200
Departure Time: 1415 (GMT)
Arrival at the Airport
It was a typical British Sunday morning, with my standing in the business car park waiting for the shuttle to take me to Terminal 5. A BA
744 crawled into the air, taking what seemed like an eternity to find enough height to pull the gear up, its engines screaming and pushing it skyward. For a split second, I was 7 years old again, standing next to my dad, watching all the aircraft of unimaginable size crawling into the sky to fly to destinations that I could only dream about. I used to spend days here with my dad, watching those silver birds, smiling with a youthful delight as only a seven year old boy can. Of course those days, terminal 5 was not even a thought…to be honest, back then, even Terminal 4 wasn’t an inkling in Heathrow’s eye. But the Heathrow spectacle was just as exciting as it was today.
Enough of the dreaming, it was time for me to lock the car and make my way to Terminal 5 to catch my flight. The shuttle driver gave me a knowing smile as I boarded the bus…I wondered if he had the same dreams as me sitting there watching the planes depart? The shuttle was fairly quiet, not much demand for transport at 11am to the terminal…still too early for the East bound flight departures. I grabbed a seat and stared out of the window trying to capture that dreamy state again. Virgin, Lufthansa and a whole host of BA
flights passed above my head as the shuttle found its way t Terminal 5. A few more carriers than I remember when I was 7 years old…those days it was TWA, BAE, Air Lingus, Pan Am and the like.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 14.15 UK time, and having never been to Terminal 5 as a passenger before, I was relishing the opportunity to see this newest architectural addition to Heathrow. Would it live up to the billing, would the passenger management process work as concisely as the adverts would have me believe? Time would tell. Of course, I had made the passenger experience a little bit easier by availing myself of BA
’s wonderful online checking facilities. A few clicks and I had selected seat 14A, printed my boarding card and answered some security questions…easy really…you have got to love the modern age. The shuttle pulled up outside Terminal doors. I stepped out, thanking the driver.
The sky was still overcast, the wind blowing mildly from the North West, my first sight of Terminal 5 up close. The attention to detail was astounding. Cars, buses and taxis streamed endlessly into the parking bays and deposited passengers out onto the welcome mat. The canopies curved like a dove’s wings above our heads. The pavements and crossing were clearly laid out, still glistening with that new paint feeling. I walked across and into the cavernous building, admiring the impossibly high glass wall as I did.
Despite a large number of visible people, the inside of the Terminal felt unnaturally spacious and quiet…building design at its best. I worked my way over to Zone C and to the Baggage Drop point for BA
. 1 minute later, no queuing, no problems, my bag was tagged and disappearing down the conveyer belt…its journey mirroring mine I hoped. The BA
desk clerk wished me well and off I went to find security and my gate.
Count to 100 in your head….go on, using the old “one one thousand, two one thousand” technique…..done it?? Well I got through security faster than it you took to count to 100. No delays, no queues, just polished efficiency.
The doors slid open, and a cacophony of noises and smells assaulted my nose. Airside, with its perfumes, coffee houses, restaurants and a not to distinct taste of aviation fuel…I was here.
Starbucks beckoned. A Cheese and Marmite Panini and large decaf Latte in hand, I found a seat looking out across the airfield. Remember the impressive glass wall at the front, well; it was exactly the same at the back….stories high and offering unrestricted view across the remote stands and each of the runways. 27R was the current active and I sat there sipping my latte and munching my Panini, watching as Heathrow once again demonstrated why it holds the worlds’ busiest international airport award…heavy after heavy departed. I counted 11 BA
744s on stand…impressive brand identity having that many heavies lined up next to each other. I drifted back again to my youth, my pocket book, used to identify which aircraft was which, my little radio chirping in to ATC…I could not have imagined this many aircraft sitting at the airport…not when I was 7 years old.
I checked my watch…it was 1215….only 45 minutes since I had parked my car. Terminal 5 was exceeding my expectations.
1350…our flight departure gate was announced on the screens…gate A18. A quick glance at the well-designed direction signs and I headed off for a long walk from Starbucks to Gate A18…A18 was not one of the satellite gates requiring a shuttle journey, but it was at the other end of the Terminal…no biggie, I had my walking boots on as I always do. A18 was already quite crowded. 1405 and the tannoy pinged into life…”Ladies and Gentlemen, we would like to apologise for the slight delay in boarding. The cleaning crews are still servicing the aircraft…..” 10 minutes the announced…a 10 minutes delay was never an issue for me…but for others given the level of groaning, it was. True to their word, we commenced boarding at 1415. Off I went down a very, very long jet bridge to our aircraft…a shiny white BA
I found my seat, 14A, and to my absolute horror, it was one of the seats next to a blanked out window. No window views for me this flight. If I craned my neck I could see out of 13A’s window, but not with any real clarity. It is what I do on flights…my palms get sweaty, M push my face as far into the window frame as I can, and I excitedly absorb all the ballet that is Heathrow….just like any excited 7 year old at the airport. Oh well, serves me right for not checking seat-guru before pre-booking my seat. The seat is nice though, bit wider than I expected and a little more leg room…maybe courtesy o this being a 767 rather than the expected A320??? Who cares, as long as my 6ft 4” frame is comfortable?
Seated and belted in seat 14A, staring at a large expanse of Boeing plastic, desperately trying to crane my neck to see out of the row 13 window yet again, I couldn’t help but wonder what the delay was. We were scheduled for pushback at 14.15, given the “cleaning delay” that would now be 14:30…the air-bridge had retracted, the captain had announced that all were on board and doors were shut – so what was the delay? ATC at Heathrow is infamous for delays; maybe we had missed out slot. Maybe it was a ground issue, with no tug available…nope none of these. After 30 minutes, the Captain comes back on the PA and informs us that one of the doors was reporting as being open so they needed to check – hmmm. There was about 180 people all of a sudden staring at their nearest door and wondering if it would hold for the scheduled 2hr 20min flight.
Apparently, the door was shut and the sensor reset, so at 1505 we pushed back off stand and began our taxi down the length of Taxiway A, alongside the now active runway, 27L. Yep, at 1500 every day, Heathrow switches the active…17R was now the landing.
We came to a halt about 500 yards short of the active hold. My head dropped. No window of any note and a huge amount of traffic in front of us. I could have been staring at loads of aircraft queuing ahead of us…not this flight unfortunately. 5 minutes and no movement, I glance a Canadian 767 crawling towards the front of the queue, shadowed by a KLM 737. We start to roll…and turn right onto link 43 which takes us across the active. My first thoughts were that we were given short clearance to takeoff using only 2/3rds of the runway (we were only going to Stockholm so power shouldn’t be an issue). Nope, we cross the active onto Taxiway S. My second thought…had the door alarmed again and we were on our way to stand for maintenance and checks? Nope, we made our way along Taxiway S to Hold SB1. A BA
744 droned off into the sky and we pulled onto the active 27L…hurray for LHR
ATC….early clearance and we had jumped the hefty queue.
1515….a little wiggle of rudder to line us up, a thump as the nose wheel traversed a light…a gentle surge as the engines spooled up to 40% to check... then a stronger push as we go to takeoff thrust…conditions are calm…a mild cross wind…takeoff roll calm and we gracefully soar into the air, with only half the runway used…I feel a surge of adrenaline as we get airborne…a smile floods across my face…the gent sitting next to me looks at me in that knowing way…he is being 7 years old as well...gear up…a minor throttle back to keep us within the defined departure profile…the wing dips right as we begin our gentle turn around to the north…the cloud starts to caress the airframe…no turbulence…no movement…none of the usual thermal judder as the airframe slides through the air boundaries and clouds….the skies are quiet today… the chime announcing the crew are free to commence service…we continue a climb out over north London and onto the North Sea…the seat belt sign pings out…the cacophony of seatbelts buckles being undone fills the cabin…we continue to climb…no step changes to cruise today, just a smooth and graceful climb up to FL350…if it wasn’t for the clouds falling away below, or the ever so tiny pop of my ears, I would question whether we were climbing at all…the perfect climb out and departure.
I begin to drift off to sleep, to find my dreams of being 7 years old at Heathrow again. The seatbelt chimes on, and the PIC announces that we are due to land in 20 minutes. I can just see that eh cloud here in Stockholm is as thick as it was at Heathrow. We begin our descent in earnest…flaps down…through the cloud…gear down….flaps at full….the airframe judders quite a bit….a small correction for cross wind….the city lights stream below….another correction…a pulse of power from the large RR
engines…the threshold rushes underneath us…and down we are on 01L. The reverse thrust kicks in…spoilers deploy and we begin to slow to a more manageable txi speed. The aircraft turns right off the active….turning right again, we run along side the active down towards Terminal 2, gate 66…5 minutes after touchdown, the engines spool down, the air bridge connects, and we being to disembark.
2 hours and 20 minutes of flight time, but 3 hours and 5 minutes on the actual aircraft…BA
has done me proud…I may never be 7 years old again, but if a flight and an airport can make me imagine I am, then I have nothing but praise for the journey.
Thank you BA
…thank you very much.
I hope you enjoyed the read. Thank you all for reading.
Michael H, not 7 years old anymore