Heathrow Is Now Tracking How Late You Are

eGuide Travel, Flickr

Is your flight in 30 minutes or 45? You don’t have time to look at your boarding pass, so you hustle as fast as you can, awkwardly managing your oversized carry-on which you know that you are going to get scolded for. When you get to security, instead of being waved through you are turned right back around and sent off to the check-in gate. You won’t be making your plane, and the pilot of your flight knows it.

Creepy or helpful?

While it might feel Big Brotherish, Heathrow Airport’s new “positive boarding” initiative is intended to help not only keep flights on time, but also ensure that passengers have up to date information to know how much they need to hustle or not.

When a passenger passes through a security checkpoint now, individual information about that passenger will pop up on the screen, showing which flight they are on and whether or not they are going to be able to make it. Passengers who are too late will be turned around, and the information will be passed along to the airline so that they can immediately begin removing the passenger’s bag.Although Heathrow claims it’s the first technology of its kind, tracking passengers is nothing new. In Italy, a couple of airports track Bluetooth signals, and SITA is a known service that provides real-time tracking software and line management.

This all might sound like an excessive use of technology, but Heathrow claims that in the first week of using its new service, 35,000 passengers used the positive boarding technology as part of their trip. Data shows that of the airlines using the technology, 44% of the flights had passengers who could have delayed the final departure. 10 passengers who were running very late were turned around and told they didn’t have the time to make it through security. Those 10 passengers probably weren’t too happy, but I’m sure that the passengers on the flights that departed promptly were satisfied. All the more reason to give yourself ample time to get to the airport and board your plane.

Heathrow Or Frankfurt: Two Of The World’s Worst Airports?

frankfurt airportAir travel can be a tribulation anywhere but traveling through the world’s mega-airports is never high on my list of fun things to do. Last week, I spent some time at Heathrow (in London) and at Frankfurt International airport – two of the world’s dozen busiest, and some would say best-avoided, airports. These temples of transit require travelers to demonstrate the patience of Job, the endurance of an ultra-marathon runner and a good sense of humor to roll with the inevitable hassles. But which airport is best avoided if you are transiting through Europe and have options – Heathrow or Frankfurt Airport?

I lived in the Balkans for a spell several years ago when I was in the Foreign Service, and the government would frequently route us through Frankfurt, which was rated the 11th busiest airport in the world last year, with just over 57 million passengers transiting it in 2012. Our usual rule of thumb was that if the layover time was less than two hours, we knew the chances of making the onward flight was about 50-50 if it was in the 60- to 90-minute range. Less than an hour? No chance, particularly if you checked bags and hoped to see them again.I do not enjoy flying. My preferred modes of transport are, in this order: train, boat, bike, car, plane and bus. And so, when my plane touches down on a runway after a long flight, I can’t wait to get off the plane. In Frankfurt, though, one can taxi for so long that it seems as though the pilot might be planning to drop you off in Salzburg. Planes taxi for what seems like forever and then you often have to schlep your things onto a bus and then shuttle into the terminal.

But I like to people watch at airports and on this score, Frankfurt is awfully good. There are mysterious looking women in niqabs and burkas; flashy-tracksuit wearing Russian mafiosos and their showy girlfriends, weighed down in gaudy jewelry and shopping bags; Africans in colorful robes carrying enormous plastic bags and suitcases sealed tight in cellophane wrapping; beer guzzling Germans and their worldly dogs; and plenty of backpackers about to wash back up on their parent’s doorsteps after spending their last rupees on a bag of mushrooms and Tibetan prayer flags in Katmandu.

I had a full two-hour layover in Frankfurt last week, en route from Chicago to London, but I just barely made my connection. (This was the only way I could redeem miles to get to London during Wimbledon.) In fairness, the flight touched down 15 minutes late and we taxied for an eternity, so I wasn’t in the terminal for two hours, but I felt like I walked about 5 miles and stood in I don’t know how many lines before I got to my gate just after boarding had begun for my connecting flight. I was soaked in sweat from hauling all my gear and suffering from that putrid, exhausted feeling you have after a sleepless night on a transatlantic flight.

Frankfurt has good rail links and some reasonably appealing shopping and dining options but it’s the kind of place where you want to allow a huge amount of time. And think twice about hauling a lot of carry-on baggage there.


I’ve traveled in and out of Heathrow, the world’s third busiest airport in 2012 with some 70 million passengers, many times over the years and I have just two nice things to say about it: you can access it via London’s tube and there are plenty of bookstores and newsstands. I wasn’t sure what terminal my flight was in and there are three tube stops – one for terminal 1, 2 and 3; and one each for terminals 4; and 5. I played the odds and got out at the 1/2/3 stop at 1:15 p.m. for a 3:30 p.m. flight.

I booked the flight with United and it had a UA flight number, so I followed the signs to terminal 1. It was about a 15-minute walk, made unpleasant for me only because I was hauling too much stuff, but alas, it turned out that I was on an Air Canada codeshare, and the Canucks are based in terminal 3. After another 15-minute walk, I was thrilled to walk right up to the counter and secure my boarding pass with no wait.

But my luck ran out going through security. I’ve been in longer lines before – much longer ones, in fact – but perhaps never a slower one. I can’t tell you precisely how long I was in line, because I wasn’t wearing a watch and was carrying a broken iPhone, but I think it took a good hour. My backpack was singled out for a search but there were three other bags to be inspected by one laconic young South Asian woman who moved as fast as one might walk down a gang-plank toward some waiting crocodiles.

Once I was deemed not to be a militant jihadist or suicidal crackpot, there was another long walk in store and then another line to, get this, approach the gate area. After showing our passports and boarding passes, we rounded the corner and joined another line to do the exact same thing again. And then I was stuck in the gate waiting area with no access to shops or restaurants. A fellow passenger told me it was 3:10, very nearly two hours after I’d stepped off the tube, and the business class passengers had already boarded our flight to Montreal. It was a 60-degree day but my shirt was soaked with perspiration. Travel can be an ordeal at times, and little did I know at that point that I still had a two-hour delay in Montreal in store, plus a nearly hour-long line to get a cab in Chicago.

The verdict? CNN rated Heathrow the third most hated airport in the world, behind just Paris-Charles de Gaulle and LAX on their list of 10 most hated airports, but left Frankfurt off the top 10. I’m with them; I’ll take Frankfurt over Heathrow but it’s close. Let’s say I would avoid Heathrow like the plague, whereas I’d only avoid Frankfurt like a curable venereal disease.

UK Royals Lend Name To Airport, Cruise Ship, Again

airport
Heathrow Airport media centre

London’s Heathrow airport continues to expand and remodel to meet current demand and prepare for the future. Heathrow’s Terminal 2 (T2) will be home to the Star Alliance airlines and has United making the inaugural flights in June 2014. But rather than leave the new terminal named simply T2, airport developers took a look at the history of the facility and came up with something better.

Re-naming the facility Terminal 2: The Queen’s Terminal, will honor Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her long relationship with the airport. The Queen formally inaugurated the airport’s first passenger terminal in 1955. Originally named the Europa Building, it was later named Terminal 2.

Opening in 1946 with just 62,000 passengers passing through, Heathrow was originally known as London Airport and the terminal was a temporary village of tents. Those tents gave way to prefabricated concrete villages prior to the opening of the old Terminal 2 that saw more than 70 million passengers in 2012.At a cost of over $17 billion over the last decade, Heathrow has been transformed to a facility that consistently ranks at the top of passenger satisfaction surveys. When the work is done, Terminal 2 will boast the latest check-in and bag-drop technology to make using the airport a smooth, enjoyable and efficient journey. Similar to the already completed Terminal 5, T2 has been designed with shops and restaurants that will offer air travelers the very best of Britain.

In a similar effort to embrace and honor the past while looking ahead, The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton recently performed the duties of Godmother to Princess Cruises‘ new Royal Princess at a dockside naming ceremony.

The third cruise ship is to be named Royal Princess; the last one was named by the late Diana, Princess of Wales in 1984.

Looking for more of what the new Heathrow Terminal 2 will offer? Check out this video:

Hypnotizing Video Of Planes Landing At London Heathrow

London’s Heathrow airport is among the world’s busiest airports for passengers, with the total number of travelers passing through in the first half of 2012 topping out at over 46 Million. Think about that number for a moment and try to put it in context. It’s not easy, is it?

To give some sense of what a typical travel day looks like at this London transportation hub, watch the above video. This dizzying time-lapse of takeoffs and landings, with planes hovering mid-air like buzzing honeybees entering the hive, is a hypnotic visual reminder of just how much travel we’re all doing these days.

Heathrow: The shut-down that wasn’t

heathrow shut-down

It wasn’t the Heathrow shut-down of the decade, that’s for sure.

As widely reported, there was a public sector strike yesterday in the United Kingdom. The biggest fear within the travel industry and media was that London’s Heathrow Airport would go into heavy-delay meltdown, but the anticipated chaos never materialized. In the Guardian, Robert Booth and Alan Travis reported yesterday that Heathrow remained calm and relaxed throughout the day, a result of a concerted effort on the part of UK authorities to encourage airlines to operate at lower capacity and to cancel a small number of flights.

Booth and Travis also site a BAA employee’s claim that the UK Border Agency partnered with authorities in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan to increase scrutiny of passengers bound for the UK as a pre-screening measure. Immigration agents at Heathrow were replaced by civil servants and police officers.

The one-day strike was prompted by pension reforms announced by the current government. These reforms, if enacted, will force public sector workers to contribute more of their income to their pensions and will also raise the retirement age. To add insult to injury, the strike came a day after the government announced that public sector workers would only see annual income increases of one percent through 2014, despite annual inflation rates of around five percent. Many institutions were affected by the strike. Most schools in the UK were closed yesterday, as were many other public offices.

Today is expected to be a more difficult day at Heathrow despite the return of Border Agency staff to work, given the passenger backlog from cancelled flights. Anxious passengers may have some of their questions answered by the airport authority’s FAQ.

[Image: Flickr | .curt.]