I travel a lot but have not managed to fly through the world’s busiest airport, that in Atlanta. At least not that I can recall. I have certainly never flown directly there, and I cannot even recall transferring through there although I suppose it’s possible that I have. I had a look at the top 30 list (2006 version was most easily available) to see where I had been lately and was slightly surprised to see that I can only confidently say I had only been through 14 of them ever (2, 3, 5, 10, 11, 12, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 30) including 2, 3, 10, 21, 22, 25, 30 in 2007. (Of course I’ve also been to some of the least busy airports in the world in 2007, including, particularly memorably, this one!) I can never remember which airports in NYC I’ve been to so that might add another one or two to my master list. But I was also surprised that so many on this list were in the US.
This is in part because I’ve been stunned by the sheer magnitude of operations at European airports–how many planes are there, how many different airlines and how many terminals. Not to mention strange parking lots of airplanes next to the terminals. I can’t imagine being in the US and being on a plane, driving past stand after stand full of planes only to have the plane stop in the middle of a tarmac and make the passengers walk down steps and get on a bus for a long ride to the terminal. The first time I did this was in Munich on an easyJet flight, and there I assumed it was related to the discount carrier not paying some sort of fee for the gate. However, I was stunned when this happened after my most recent trans-Atlantic flight. First of all, the flight was on BA so not exactly a discount carrier. Second of all, this was remarkably brutal after the overnight flight. (Although note to self: whenever possible fly BA and get the “Asian Vegetarian” food option; Indian food on an airplane is surprisingly good!) I know I’m spoiled to be from Minneapolis where it’s possible that the weather is so cold that no one would consider not having a proper gate with a jetway, but I did NOT like this treatment at Heathrow. On BA. No one should have to get into a bus to a terminal after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Hopefully that sort of nonsense will go away with the new Terminal 5 which is due to open in a few months.
The big and strange airport news here this week is that finally, finally Heathrow will again allow people two items of carry-on luggage. The strange news is that Gatwick will not. I think this is a bit confusing really, that two big airports in the same city have different policies–especially given that both are supposedly run by the same organization. However, anyone who has flown through both will notice that the security procedures at the two are quite different. I’m ready to vow never to fly through Gatwick again: not only have I been patted down and had bags hand-searched and shoes carefully examined the last few times I’ve been through there (including a particularly memorable experience where they nearly confiscated my chaco sandles and made me fly barefoot) but now a Northwest direct flight from Minneapolis is going to be available to Heathrow. Given my recent discovery of the joys of door-to-door car service transportation to and from the airport, this should make going home much easier. After that misadventure deplaning at Heathrow on BA, at least when I passed customs there was a nice man in a suit with a sign with my name and destination on it. (The ride in the Mercedes was quite a treat too.) Final note to friends and family back home: ’tis the time of year when trans-Atlantic airfares are dirt cheap. Just saying.