Heathrow hires author to write about Heathrow

Hate it? Embrace it! Heathrow Airport has decided to immortalize the plights of their passengers – rather than bury or ignore them. The airport has tapped best-selling author Alain de Botton – whose titles include The Consolations of Philosophy and How Proust Can Change Your Life – to spend a week in Terminal 5 and reveal what really happens in this environment.

He kicked off this project on Tuesday. Sometimes, he crashes behind a desk in the departures area, talking to passengers and just watching the action. But, he’s been given full access to Terminal 5 and the freedom to write whatever he wants (with the upside that someone will probably read it, unlike our endless frustrated tweets). De Botton’s plan is to show what goes on in a terminal, though he claims he’ll write about whatever he feels like.

Themes already coming to mind, apparently, are technology, globalization and consumerism, which suggests that this high-brow author is unlikely to dive into the muck now. I’m sure whatever he devises will be insightful … but how much does that matter when you’ve been stuck in a sweaty cabin for two hours and still haven’t pulled back from the gate?

The Gadling tour of JetBlue’s new Terminal 5 at JFK

As Grant reported earlier this month, JetBlue is in the final stages of construction for its brand new home at Terminal 5 of New York’s JFK airport. This morning Gadling had the chance to take a sneak peak of the new facilities in advance of the building’s official opening on October 1st.

Although there’s still much to be accomplished in the next 6 weeks, the building is already shaping up as a winner. JetBlue has built a showpiece home for its growing brand – a building that in many ways looks poised to usher travelers into a new era of domestic air travel. It was equally refreshing to find a totally new (dare I say revolutionary?) approach to the airport culinary and concession experience – one that is sure to please the palates of picky New Yorkers and fellow travelers from across the U.S.

With a project this ambitious, JetBlue has also built themselves very high expectations for their new terminal’s success both in the press and with their passengers. But as we saw with the opening of London Heathrow’s new British Airways terminal earlier this year, there are inevitably some kinks that need to be worked out. Here’s hoping everything goes smoothly for JetBlue at launch.

So what exactly did we find during our visit? Follow the link below to get the full overview, and make sure to check out our gallery too for the full Terminal 5 experience.

%Gallery-30298%Departure Hall
As I entered into the main departure hall from the AirTrain, I was immediately struck by the room’s massive size and scale. Combining the latest in cutting edge design, the interior is large, airy and brightly lit with huge windows allowing in plenty of natural light. There was certainly no shortage of check-in kiosks, which are strategically placed in large groups throughout the hall. Though it hasn’t completely disappeared, there’s much less emphasis on check-in desks, clearly an attempt by JetBlue towards a more streamlined, online check-in process.

Also impressive was the attention given to the usually agonizing TSA-screening. Instead of one or two open lanes crammed up against a wall, Terminal 5 is equipped with 20 some-odd security checkpoints – a nod to the central role this process now plays in our post-9/11 lives. Will all these 20-something lanes be open when you head to the airport? That remains to be seen – but the fact the infrastructure is in place is a good sign.

Terminal Atrium and Concessions
After passing through security, travelers are greeted with a huge open atrium. The showpiece is clearly the huge circular string of flat-screen monitors, which hovers like some futuristic alien mothership above the large open space below. The monitors just had JetBlue branding on them today, but I imagine they will be used to potentially display flight info and perhaps some interactive art installations in the months and years ahead.

The edges of the atrium are also home to what is sure to be one of the more talked-about features of the new Terminal 5 – its restaurants and stores. If you’ve ever eaten a flavorless $10 sandwich at the airport before, you’re going to be in for a shock. JetBlue has what looks to be some great restaurants planned, including a hybrid sushi/noodle bar, a Spanish tapas bar (Tapas?! At the airport!?!) and even an old-school French bistro.

Even better, there looks to be a nice assortment of shops, including one of only three outlets of Japanese retailer Muji in the United States. While nice places to eat and shop might not be a dealbreaker when you choose an airline, it certainly goes a long way towards “re-humanizing” the domestic air travel experience.

The actual gate areas were nice – each has its own fully-digital flat-screen display to provide information and destination weather. Very nice, but nothing revolutionary. The terminal is largely decorated in neutral colors with a blue-ish carpeting reminding of JetBlue’s color scheme. I also particularly liked the panoramic views from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, which afford sweeping views of the take-off and landing of other planes at JFK.

Baggage Claim and Wrap-Up
Before wrapping up my Terminal 5 visit, I payed a quick visit to the baggage claim below. The massive carousels are set far apart from each other to avoid overcrowding. It’s hard to review a baggage claim area until you actually use it though – the jury is still out on this one until we see if everyone is getting their luggage back come October!

And with that I ended my tour of Terminal 5. As I passed by designer Eero Saarinen’s retro-futuristic TWA Flight Center on my way out, I couldn’t help but wonder. Saarinen envisioned air travel as the future of the country’s transportation hopes and designed his building to match that dream. But Saarinen probably never anticipated the spectre of 9/11 and its impact on an already battered airline industry, cutting costs and tossing traveler amenities. JetBlue’s Terminal 5 seems very much an attempt to return to aviation’s glory days, and one can only hope that they succeed.

Naomi Campbell faces five charges for her bad airport behavior

Remember the Naomi Campbell incident back in early April? If you need your memory refreshed, Campbell was arrested after causing a scene over misplaced luggage in Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Now Campbell is being faced with five different charges in connection with the alleged assault of a police officer who was called in to deal with her melt down, reports The Guardian.

Not that I am a fan of celebrity gossip, but I think we can use this as a good reminder of what airplane-induced stress can bring to you if it goes too far. Campbell is being charged with three counts of assaulting a constable, one count of disorderly conduct and one count of using threatening and abusive words towards the cabin crew.

I am sure that Campbell will be able to scrounge up some cash to pay for a good lawyer, but keep all this in mind next time you want to lose your cool over luggage. Refrain from attacking people and wait for your misplaced luggage in a timely manner, then you won’t find yourself having to appear in front of a court with a good defensive argument for your crazy behavior.

A third day of Heathrow misery. Terminal case continues

Things are not working out so well at London Heathrow’s new Terminal 5. Since the terminal opened three days ago, it has been nothing but baggage problems, cancellations and misery, BBC reports. One fifth of flights from the new terminal were scrapped today: 67 out of the 330 scheduled. 37 flights have been canceled for Sunday.

A total of 208 flights in and out of the terminal were canceled during the first three days so far. Some elevators are not working. People cannot locate their bags. Sounds like a nightmare.

The cancellations also created an unexpected heavy demand for hotel rooms. An average airport hotel room, normally around $150, went up to $500 for a double room on Thursday. After many complaints, the airlines have scrapped its $200 limit for delayed passengers’ hotels.

Heathrow to get a facelift

Before I had been to England, Heathrow Airport seemed a magical place in my mind — a place that emblemized everything British, from black cabs to girls in Union Jack-flag dresses. Plus, the Beatles had been there, so it must be amazing. But when I got there and took my first few steps on British ground, I was surprised; it was dingy and a bit smelly, a mish mash of cultures and consumerism and not really what I’d imagined Britain to be at all.

It’s true — Heathrow is shabby and outdated, despite being one of the busiest and most important airports in the world.

But 2008 is set to be the year that all changes for LHR, according to this article — it’s getting a facelift in the new year, and construction is expected to end in 2012. What can the 68 millions travelers who pass through there each year expect to see? Well, for starters, a fifth terminal is being added. And renovations will be happening that are aimed at bringing the ‘glamour’ back to air travel.