49 comments on “Stuck at Heathrow Airport Experience

  1. That’s CRAZY! I can’t believe you actually sat on the plane Saturday night only to have it get cancelled…and then fly back to Boston without you guys! Well, glad you’re back in the states now!

  2. I think I would have a mental breakdown if I had to go through this. I understand the scramble after a thwarted terrorist act, completely, but what you went through was nothing short of ‘torture by attrition.’

    As I live in New York and fly about 3 or so times a year for work, I’ve always been extremely lucky about getting to my flight, but I have to admit, I’m always a bit weary of my checked bag being burgled (happened once) and the strange, often inconsistent and perverse security rules. I read an account earlier today where someone flying out was asked by TSA if Montana was in the United States (they were inspecting their driver’s license). Is Montana in the United States?! Ug.

    It’s getting to a point where they’ll only let people fly if they’re naked, and quite frankly I’m not all that fond of airplanes as it is – other than absolute necessity, what’s to keep myself and others from just refusing to travel? Sad, because I so loved my year backpacking and flying around in Europe. Americans aren’t great for world travel as it is and sadly, I think this is going to just insulate the common man even more.

    Kudos for having the strength to live through this and the heart to write it all down.

  3. Interesting report! I flew in and out of Heathrow a couple of years ago when things were “normal” and I could imagine what it must be like in a crisis. My imagination conjured up images much like what you describe.

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  5. pictures were taken after we received our luggage back. I had my camera in there. There was never a point in which I had my camera in the terminal, though I saw a few cell phones in there?!!?

    I wish I took pictures of myself booking tickets for people.

    Also pictures of the heards of people flocking around workers was rather interesting as it was chaotic. Some passengers got so angry and loud that employees had to just turn around and walk away before anythig worse happend.

    I felt really bad to the few passengers that asked me for help and did not speak english. Some people missed their weddings, some lost their luggage completely, many reached their breaking point and were crying helplessly on the ground.

    I asked about hotels rooms until my next booked flight, and all they could say was sorry. I said, I’d be homeless in London, and all they could do was nod their heads and in in frustration that the airline could not house people for more than a night.

  6. I love how you’ve told your story here. Thank you!! Great news and great insight as to what can happen when people TRY to work together in sticky situations.

  7. The amazing thing is this was all the result of a non-event. The News says Terrorists had a plan to commit a Terrorist Act. And these Terrorists were caught and rounded up before they were going to do a “dry run”.

  8. I’ve found on my travels that foreign armed security in airports ahve always been kinder and nicer than the states. I hope that changes. What I find so incredible about your ordeal is what many others have commented about here too, that there was no plot underway – this was all for nothing.

  9. I would absolutely have been one of the folks broken down crying on the floor. What perseverance, to get through all that! Thanks for writing about your experience.

  10. What a terrible experience, it is admirable that you were able to stay calm and focused.

    Makes you wonder if this isn’t all just a sham, so that the US and UK governments can justify the Gestapo like tactics that they have adopted.

    Seeing the initial news reports, made it seem like they stopped a terrorist attack in progress, when that was far from the truth.

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.”

    C.S. Lewis

  11. That’s an amazing story… the pictures and stories we’ve heard so far are completely asinine. If anything, they created so much confusion that they created a biggere security risk than they had to begin with.

    At any rate, I’m glad you made it home in tact, eventually.

  12. Thank you for sharing that and sorry you had such a bad time leaving this at times reasonably sane island (not so at present I’m sorry to say). Sadly, idiocy rules whenever the term “new security measures” is to be found. So far, in England, we’ve had a Brazilian plumber shot dead by mistake, a prosecution for attempting to buy a non-existent substance (red mercury) collapse, no WMD in Forest Gate but a man shot in the chest anyway, an alleged plot to poison some burgers at a football match, tanks at Heathrow for an as-yet unexplained reason, some non-existent ricin and now complete airport meltdown in response to an alleged dry-run of an alleged plot to possibly blow up some aircraft. There were, of course, the dreadful bombings last year but the catalogue of woeful “intelligence” failures since doesn’t do much for ones confidence in the British government. We keep being told that there are numerous terrorist “cells” in the Uk and hundreds of terrorists out there waiting to do us harm but convictions and prison terms remain very hard to find….

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  14. My wife and I spent 6 hours OUTSIDE terminal 4 at Heathrow on Saturday ourselves – the terminal was too full to allow anyone else to enter. We had packed away everything to comply with the regulations and have as little as possible to get through the security check, and the bags had been zip tied. Our jackets were inside the bags when it started to rain. Great fun.

    In the time we were there, passengers for only 4 flights were allowed into the terminal. All other flights were eventually cancelled, dozens of them, including ours eventually around the time it was supposed to depart. What we didn’t know was that the plane eventually did leave with a little bit of a delay, but it must have been a ghost plane as no one was allowed in to board. As luck would have it my wife’s sister was transferring to the exact same flight, and although she was already in the terminal and had a boarding pass was also not able to get through security. Armed with a plasitc baggie with a couple of credit cards and not much else (the whereabouts of her luggage are still a mystery) she went of to a hotel and rebooked, grabbing about 2 hours sleep before catching a flight on another carrier (Air Canada, not BA).

    We decided not to wait in the 3-4 hour line (still outside) to get to an on-site BA person to re-book, but instead went back to our hotel and rebooked from there by phone, just for 3 days later than planned. All this for a fligt to Toronto.

    Watching the skynews channel it was funny how BA made it sound like things weren’t as bad as they were. Since the plane had actually taken off, it wasn’t officially claimed as cancelled. At least at terminal 4 I think around 80-90% of flights on Saturday afternoon and onwards did not board any passengers at Heathrow, if they were more honest this would have been the number used for the number of cancelled flights. What good is a flight with no passengers? As my sister-in-law’s case points out even transfers in the airport didn’t necessarily make their planes.

    Tuesday was much better, but still a comdey of errors – too much to get into. Back home now, I just can’t see wanting to fly again for a long, long time.

  15. Got to agree with Cowicide, the authorities moronic responses and lack of preparedness have caused way more disruption than necessary (they have known about liquid explosives for 10+ years and they institute a ban on liquids *after* they stopped a plot, dudes I’d prefer you did it before, OK?!!) and they continue to screw up (witness a plane being diverted with jets today because a single 60 year old woman passenger freaked out, and a plane being turned back because a mobile rang).

    And airport authorities completely unprepared for obvious contingencies like a clampdown on hand luggage…plus its OK to put all that electronic equipment in luggage, where previously it was dangerous? Thank God (!) the terrorists werent clever enough to get an electronically controlled bomb on a plane in the confusion of all those cameras, phones, ipods amd laptops stuffed into hold baggage where normally there would be none.

  16. Whoa, this makes my trip home sound like a cakewalk. We were supposed to fly out on Thursday, but our flight was cancelled before we went to the airport. Finally got out Saturday, and experienced the disaster that was Heathrow. Upon arrival in Denver, I was told that my luggage did not make it on the plane with me. That was the last straw for me, and I walked out of the customs area bawling my head off – with my only belongings in a ziplock bag.

  17. Quite frankly after reading your traumatic plight, it would have been a horrible experience indeed.

    After reading the news media reports of the police raids in question, not one of the arrested suspects had either a passport or any airline ticket period, that information was provided by an astute probing reporter, was buried deep in the article though.

    It would seem the authorities after the ‘de Menezes’ highly questionable shooting death( or deliberate murder of an innocent victim by normal definition) with the subsequent deliberately orchestrated police cover up by Sir Ian Blair and his assorted cronies and the “Birmingham Raid Fiasco” have shown just how many disciples of the “Peter Principle” have been promoted to higher rank within the UK police force.

    Me , I would have chosen to exit the airport , contact agents and seek alternate routes to the continent, by either ferry or train across the channel and used alternate routes via other European Capitals, rather than be treated like a mindless sheep, as the terminal workers dropped into robot mode to handle the traumatic passengers caught up in the resulting chaotic mess, of cancellations and empty planes flying around etc, file the usual travel insurance claims later submitting proof of the deliberate airline flight cancellation.

    In the interim , I would be writing to the local member, not to ask ,but to demand he request the instant sacking of the Home Secretary Dr John Reid for absolute incompetence, along with everyone else responsible for this fiasco, for this implies, that all monies spent securing the airports, was a total waste.

    I believe, the Russian Bolshoi Ballet Theatre Orchestra, when caught up with this madness, refusing to surrender their valuable music instruments, left and obtained alternative transport and arrived at their destination long before many of their fellow passengers on the same plane.

    I suppose one aspect at least the armed police must have been on a very tight leash indeed, to prevent them from shooting the alleged suspects out of hand ‘Birmingham Style’.

    Still, it interesting that the authorities use the same style elusive misleading misinformation propaganda statements of the past without correction, to enable trial by media, rather than a trial in the real courts of law. All statements released to date by the UK authorities continue to fail all reality checks though.

    Looks like the Tony Blair’s style of the big brother government is now well past it’s use by date., and should be terminated by the use of a ‘westminster style’ no confidence vote.

  18. You know what, fuck you, wideawakewesley. If this kind of shit is what it takes to be safe, I don’t want to be safe. I’m not a fucking coward like you. People who are so scared of the terrorists that they agree with whatever shit for brains idea this government has. This isn’t acceptable. And we shouldn’t be grateful. Asshat.

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  21. @wideawakewesley: you are one of the reasons we are in this situation.
    i hope you enjoy your future brainwashing sessions

  22. wideawakewesley Says:

    August 16th, 2006 at 7:45 pm
    You might not have enjoyed it, but at least you didn’t explode and fall burning from the sky.

    Be grateful.

    Fuck you. I will never fly. Why? It is always a BIG hassle to fly as a deaf person. When it’s like that, it’s 1,000 times worse..

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  24. I’m not a coward and take exception to being branded one. My government (even though I voted for the opposition), under the advice of the security services raised our threat level and allowed actions to be taken to safeguard people’s lives.

    The measures taken were a temporary (if highly unpleasant) disturbance which may well have been excessive for the threat we faced. However, I’m a firm believe that safeguarding the lives of so many innocent people is significantly more important than brazenly allowing those people to walk into a possible deathtrap.

    I firmly believe that if you ask the majority of people who had their flights effected in some way, whether they think the security service did enough to protect them, they’d say they did. Whether the threat turns out to be real or not, only time will tell. But surely, if it turns out to be true that mutiple planes would have been destroyed and one of them would have been your flight, would you complain then?

    Until the police and security services can prove the guilt of the men they’ve arrested I think it’s highly unfair to criticise anyone for their part in or management of this difficult situation.

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  26. How many people took the tube to the airport or a bus? did anyone get checked before 100s of them crowed onto tube carriages ? Now if I was planning to bomb a plane but there were 1000s ofpeople in a huge group waiting to check in or outside the terminal I’d just take my chances and let it off right there in the terminal.

    If the point of terrorism is to make people afraid and interrupt their lives, then you don’t need a bomb,
    you just need the government and the threat of a bomb Also ask yourself how many people died of gun
    crime or in car crashes in your country today, lets face it living isn’t a safe
    thing to do.

  27. I truly enjoyed the part of trying on all the fasionable goods found in the airport; it reminded me of some scenes from Dawn of the Dead. Trapped inside an airport by either beurocracy or fear (I don’t know which is more zombie like), living large off to escape the heavyness of the situation. Well done.

    Funny that you chose to read freakonomics, I ended up reading the same book when a three hour train ride on Amtrack turned into an 11 hour fiasco.

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  30. Just wanted to say I knew it was bad, but not that bad. Congrats on surviving that ordeal.

    My husband and I flew through Heathrow on the way from Munich to Boston (went to New York actually, with the cancellations, then to Boston the next day) and ended up with a cancelled flight on the 14th and some longish delays, but nothing overnight. The thing that drove me the craziest was while we were there the airport had begun lifting restictions, but the restrictions were inconsistant. No one, it seemed, knew what was allowed and what wasn’t.

  31. Wow, nice accountof it all.

    I too was trapped there from 10, August until 12 August. (un)fortunately I decided to fedex all of my camera and personal electronics from LHR to Home here in Seattle to avoid (possible) theft and dammages. It is nice to see some photos of the mess there in LHR, and for the naysayers, I’ll vouch for these as I experienced a very similar scene.

    I came in from Mauritius on BA and landed at about 6pm GMT on the 10th. Customs acted like they didnt really know what to do with us. After getting through that and learning of the situation I headed straight for the Hilton off of Terminal 4 and secured a room, thank the flying spagetti monster for Hilton Diamond Status!

    My flight to chicago the next day (11th) was horrifically overbooked and at the suggestion of United’s UK staff I managed to secure myself a seat on a later flight on the 12th.

    On the 12th I showed up to terminal 3 at 10am, decided to spent the 15,000 FF Miles with United for an upgrade to first -class (best FF upgrade ever) for a 16:20 flight to ORD (Chicago) and on to SEA (Seattle).

    The checkin line chaoticaly wrapped itself around the outside of terminal 3, and post checkin/pre-security snaked its way around the upper floor of terminal 3 in a large, lopsided, and multiply wrapped figure-eight. Without being fast-tracked, despite multiple attempts, I managed to make it to the security inspection area at 16:15. A quick sprint to my gate, to stand in line for an additional 45 minutes for the second security screening I boarded my flight at 17:00 to be delayed an additional hour as the stragglers made it to the flight. We flew to ORD without incident.

    Upon entry at ORD, I pulled my carryon out of the additional suitcase I purchased at Piccadilly on the 11th because of the new security rules, and rechcked my bags for the remainder of my flight. Atleast on intra-us flights laptops do not have to be packed in the hold (yet), and managed to get some delayed work done on the ride to SEA.

    The flights were uneventful and atleast work and sleep filled. However, the security lines were the longest I have ever experienced anywhere, one person in pre-security line guestimated that there were some 50,000 to 80,000 people in Terminal 3 that day. This sounds grandiose to me, but I’m no statistician, though the scene at Heathrow absolutely makes waiting for the magic mountain at disney land seem like a breeze.

    Conversely, I have a very hard time believing the supposed chemistry that the suspected terrorists were preportedely planning on using. Alhtough I dont blame the airports for taking the steps they did, this irrational paranoia and reactivity on the part of the authorities and society as a whole really has me shaking my head, for ‘the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself’.

    Thanks for the post, and safe travels.

    Chris Neitzert

  32. I fly several times a year. I am anxious enough as it is, but now it’s worse. I think there should be a special security clearance available for people who fly frequently. We could get on a plane with no hassles. (meaning, we’ve flown over and over and have proven we have no interest in bombing planes). There must be SOME perks for behaving oneself.

  33. I’ve heard of some “point system” for regular passengers before, which would basically exempt you from the random searches, though still taking you through the many other searches… I think this was just a proposal after 911.

    As for traveling now, I am sure it is much more organized and not as bad as the experience I went through on the first weekend after the news broke out on thursday. I returned that monday and it was MUCH MUCh faster. I’ll assume weekdays are better.

    I was on Virgin Atlantic as well, which had many many booked flight. From what I hear, British Airlines was hit the most with something like 85% cancelled flights on that saturday. My monday flight in VA had many BA passengers.

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  36. wideawakewesley – ooh yes, we all feel so safe knowing that paperback books were banned from the planes. And now we all feel so safe knowing that only bags that fit the luggage gauge are allowed on, because an extra centimetre would be deadly. And our valuables will only be covered by insurance if they’re in locked hold baggage, but (unless this has changed recently?) locked hold baggae entering the US is broken into by US Customs for searching – all bags must be left unlocked. Oh yes, such brilliant joined-up thinking here for a threat concerning which the only evidence has come from ONE nameless guy in Pakistan (and if the electricity supply holds up they’ll soon have him confessing to being Jack The Ripper). Meanwhile, our airport security was so effective that a 12-year-olsd kid was able (while the level was still critical) to stow away on a flight to Portugal with NO ticket and NO passport.

    Wide awake my ass – dream on, Wesley.

  37. If people are being allowed to keep car keys but not the electronic fobs, how about keys with integrated electronics (like mine for a Citroen Picasso)? If they’re allowed, why? And if people are having to throw away fobs that deactivate alarms, how are they supposed to use the car? If such items are stolen from unlocked hold baggage they’re not insured; but if the baggage is locked then on arrival in the US the customs will break it open (unless that’s recently changed?)

  38. bereginy, word. wideawakewesley is unfortunately a fine example of what america’s turning into — a nation of sheeple. this administration has gutted civil and constitutional rights while folks like that wring their hands and say they don’t like what’s happening but gee, as long as they’ll be safe…

  39. Wow! Its amazing to read your struggle at Heathrow. Im flying back to South Africa in a week’s time via LHR! And truthfully the idea drives me a bit nuts already. No specific info re the security or baggage allowance/restrictions is available on any sites of the airlines so I dont know whats allowed or not. pffff!  Anyway all I can do is hope for the best I guess hey? Anyway thanks for an interesting account of the events.

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  41. […]My experiences at Heathrow at 12. of August 2006 still make me angry more than 12 months after the events.
    We got a note to immediately leave the airport and find a hotel and two phone numbers for “free” re-booking. None of these numbers ever contacted to our airline (British Airways), not even in test-calls between 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning. Most of the available telephone-boxes at Heathrow even refuse to even accept the “free” number and immediately disconnect the line. The alternative re-booking system in Internet broke down at the commit-button.

    No BA-employee was available or interested in stranded passengers, but we saw they were all standing around in their barricaded offices and were smoking cigarettes. The distribution of food was restricted to water, tea, coffee and some cookies. In the lobby we found a note reading our “passenger rights”, which obliged the airline to provide stranded passengers with a re-booking system, supply a meal, etc. Except for some coffee, tea and cookies none of these were ever fulfilled.

    Unable to contact any BA-employee we decided to re-book our own flights at another airline for the 13. of August 2006 returned safely at own additional costs of 900 GBP (for two flight tickets from Heatrow to Stuttgart-Germany).
    A couple at the airplane heading for Stuttgart reported from other passengers,
    these “free” re-booking lines were useless and nobody had been lucky
    to re-book a flight by using these phone numbers. The only way to successful re-booking was to use a fully charged mobile phone, call the German BA-office and have some patience in waiting for them to re-book your flight.

    Repayment of these additional costs (caused by a malfunctioning re-booking system) turned out to be a uncomfortable experiment. First of all the airline refused to respond for several months. After several months a lawyer came up by stating my flight had not been cancelled at all and left the airport with a delay of seven minutes! Compensation for extra ticket costs had to be rejected.

    In retrospect we know the “Passenger Rights” are a farce. Airlines are providing us with malfunctioning phones and non-responding re-booking systems. In chaos they don’t care about their passengers. We will never be flying this airline in the years to come…[…]

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