Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Trip Home, and an Airport Everyone Loves to Hate

Our return trip from Larnaca, Cyprus comprises one airport fewer than our outgoing trip: Larnaca to London Heathrow, overnight at Heathrow, and onward to Vancouver the following evening. It looks downright leisurely but still proves to offer a few challenges.

Boarding at LCA is mildly chaotic, with gate lice blocking the way. We do find a path eventually and squeeze into our seats in Row 5.

Our British Airways flight LCA-LHR is on the same type of plane we'd flown outbound, an A321 with space between the seats (the pitch) of only 31 inches or less, making it impossible, for example, to cross one's legs. That's exactly the same in economy or in its European-style business class, which maintains the same pitch, and a total of six seats across the single-aisle plane, but blocks the middle seat.

Brian’s Screwdriver is short on orange juice, but the vodka makes up for it.

The meal (we both choose the chicken curry) is surprisingly tasty with some real bite in the sauce. 

When Brian compliments the young flight attendant who served it, she laughs and replies, "Don't sound so surprised."

Kathy's flight, like her LHR-LCA outbound, is again marred by a young child seated behind her. Talk about an unpleasant coincidence! In between crying and complaining, and at one point slamming the window shade up and down loudly, the tyke’s little legs are long enough to kick the back of her seat from time to time throughout the flight. Fnally we land. Now it's time to navigate Heathrow, which some surveys recognize as among the best airports, while others list it among the worst. Maybe it's a little bit of each. 

We deplane (another word we love to hate) after a five-hour flight in Terminal 5 at 10:30 PM, already half past Midnight in Cyprus. Getting around Heathrow involves a lot of walking, trains, escalators, and elevators to reach our destination, the Terminal 4 Heathrow Hilton.

As travel writer Rick Steves notes, "Heathrow Airport is one of the world's busiest airports. Think about it: 75 million passengers a year on 500,000 flights from 185 destinations riding 80 airlines, like some kind of global maypole dance." Steves also offers a good overview of the layout: 

Heathrow's terminals are numbered T-1 through T-5. Though T-1 is now closed for arrivals and departures, it still supports other terminals with baggage, and the newly renovated T-2 ("Queen's Terminal") will likely expand into the old T-1 digs eventually. Each terminal is served by different airlines and alliances; for example, T-5 is exclusively for British Air and Iberia Air flights, while T-2 serves mostly Star Alliance flights, such as United and Lufthansa. Screens posted throughout the airport identify which terminal each airline uses; this information should also be printed on your ticket or boarding pass.

You can walk between T-2 and T-3. From this central hub (called "Heathrow Central"), T-4 and T-5 split off in opposite directions (and are not walkable). The easiest way to travel between the T-2/T-3 cluster and either T-4 or T-5 is by Heathrow Express train (free to transfer between terminals, departs every 15–20 minutes). You can also take a shuttle bus (free, serves all terminals), or the Tube (requires a ticket, serves all terminals).

We walk and walk and eventually go through the automated immigration gates without a problem. We walk some more and travel down two sets of escalators, arriving just in time to miss the automated train that runs back and forth between here and Baggage Reclaim.

We wait several minutes and take the train when it returns. We walk some more and print free tickets to ride the Heathrow Express from our terminal 5 arrival to Terminals  2-3.

We wait some more and then ride a train to the first stop at Terminal 2-3. We then have a 20-minute wait for the next "tube" to Terminal 4. As we wait for that train - eight more minutes - we realize it’s now 75 minutes since we got off our flight. Just before the train arrives, the employee makes an almost incomprehensible (to us) announcement. We do hear that “this is the last train.” Lucky us. This train deposits us at Terminal 4 82 minutes after we had "deplaned" in Terminal 5. 

Once there, the only way to get upstairs is via a bank of three elevators.We watch our fellow train riders crowd into a couple before maneuvering into one ourselves.  

From there, it's one last long and chilly and sometimes dark walk down the covered walkway, quite tunnel-like, to reach the Hilton. 

One hour and 45 minutes after "deplaning," we reach the desk, and stand in our final queue of the day.

We manage a reasonable sleep until about 10:00 AM, and manage a late checkout from 1 PM. This allows us time to make the 45-minute trip back to Terminal 3 to engage in some lounge visits prior to our departure. Terminal 3 has one of the best collections of OneWorld lounges of any airport, and we decide to utilize our OneWorld Emerald status to visit two of them prior to boarding our flight.

Our first stop is the Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge, where we drink some Champagne (the Perrier is outstanding) and dine on Dan Dan Mien, Dim Sum, and sea bass.

We walk next door to the Qantas First Lounge, drink some more wine, this time Aussie sparkling, and order their famous salt and pepper squid. Pretty good!

Their Beef and Pork Polpette is also tasty.

After all that fine dining and wine tasting, we board our BA A350, equipped with the new suites, including doors we don’t bother using, and enjoy the nine-hour flight back to Vancouver, even catching some sleep along the way.

Brian is bemused enough by the passenger in the suite behind Kathy who, an hour before landing, stares non-stop at her monitor for close to half an hour to snap a photo of him. 

He looks a little like Larry David, and Brian wonders if it's a scene being filmed for Curb Your Enthusiasm. If you don’t know the show, “Episodes frequently center on Larry's ignorance of or disregard for well-established social conventions and expectations, and his insistence that others adhere to rules of which only he seems to be aware. This social ineptitude, combined with his inability to let even the most minor grievance or annoyance go unexpressed, often leads him into awkward social situations and draws the ire of his friends, family, and total strangers." Yeah, that’s about right.

We notice that the roughly one-hour drive home from there back into the U.S. on a quiet Tuesday night is significantly quicker than transferring between LHR terminals. That includes picking up our car at the Vancouver Airport Park'N Fly.

We have a few tasks to catch up on before leaving in a couple of days for our short trip to Florida. 

It’s always nice to be back home for awhile.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing such an interesting escape.. very enjoyable U2.

Kathy and Brian said...

We did enjoy this trip, Larry David's doppelganger and all.