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Rocky Road to Dublin...

There has been a sea-change at Heathrow. At least, in terminals 2 and 5.


Get your boarding pass online then just roll up and drop your baggage at
any check-in. No queuing. No hassle. Travelling is back to being a
pleasure.
The last time I was in Toronto, Pearson International was just as
good; passenger friendly and running like a Swiss watch. I was travelling
BA that time. This time Im with Air Canada and things are slightly
different:I arrive at Pearson Terminal 1 armed with a boarding pass, cocky as you
like. There are queues at all the check-ins. After my recent experiences,
that comes as a surprise. Ah well, must be a busy time, I tell myself as
I happily tag on the end of the first file I come across.
When I get to the desk, the woman says, We dont do Heathrow
here. Go to Aisle 5.
Thats a setback. I thought wed sorted this nonsense out. But OK,
on the face of it, its fair enough. Even so, the first feelings of doubt begin
to creep in. Still confident in the brave new world I march off in search of
Aisle 5.
My God! Aisle 5 is like Kaaba Square, Mecca, the first Friday in
Ramadan, a teeming mass of bodies shuffling round in circles, going
nowhere.
This is scary. Ive a plane to catch and times flashing by like a
peregrine with a lunch date. Where do I go? What do I do?
Im getting anxious now. But Ive no option but to slither along with
the mob and hope for the best. On the plus side, Ive got my boarding
pass, so Ill be all right when I eventually get to the check-in.
Eventually... thats the key word.
Somewhere ahead I can hear a womans voice squawking orders.
The voice grows louder and louder. Then shes there, like a force-fed
turkey, controlling the poultry-run. Where are your luggage labels? she
screeches. Show your labels!
People around me raise their hands, timidly displaying white ribbons
of paper. This is new. I dont have a ribbon so I keep shuffling. Stop!
she screams at me. Wheres your label?
Thats why Im here, I tell her. They put the labels on at checkin. She must be thick or something.
You cant go past here without a label, she screams.
Eh? So what do I do?
Print one at the machine! she orders.
I wouldnt know how, I tell her.
Someone will show you, she tells me. You cant go any further
without a label. This woman has power. She aint going to budge.
My body sags in disbelief. I turn and shuffle back through the crowd
like a shell-dazed squaddie in a defeated army. Time is on the wing, but I
cant get to the plane without a label. And, to the best of my knowledge,
theyve blocked the only way to get the damn things. Clear of the crowd I
see tense couples standing by machines peering at bright screens;
scolding wives with browbeaten husbands poking at key-pads. Ive
developed a dread of such things. I look round for someone official who
will offer guidance. Not a sausage.
Finding myself on Aisle 6 I spot a woman in uniform. She has a kind
face so I ask her, How do you get luggage labels these days?

You print them at a machine, she says.


Say you cant use the machine? I wonder.
Just stand there until someone helps you, she says. Where are
you going?
Heathrow.
You cant do Heathrow here. Go to Aisle 5.
Im back on Aisle 5 now. Somehow, I dont think the idea of
standing around waiting for the cavalry is going to work. I bite the bullet
and confront a machine. I poke the screen. It tells me to put in my
Reference Number. I put in the Reference printed on my ticket. The
machine says Not Recognised. I panic. Times running out. There are
massive queues. The only airport employee for miles around is there to
browbeat me not help me. I have to print my own luggage label. But, as
I expected, the machine is making life difficult.
I poke in another number. Its not the Reference Number. Its just a
number thats there. This time the machine says, Welcome Mr Gregory.
Whats that about? It rejects the correct number then gets all buddybuddy when I put in a random number. They do it on purpose to keep you
cowed. Never mind, were getting somewhere. Great.
The machine offers me a boarding pass. I tell it No. Because Ive
already got one.
Do want your boarding pass texted? It asks.
No... Ive got a bloody boarding pass.
Printed?
No! For Gods sake.
Emailed?
No! No! No! No...! I just want bloody labels.
Ive got a plane to catch and this machines in a world of its own,
asking damn fool questions. I look round for help. There is no help.
Scan Your Passport, the machine tells me.
Yikes! Now I really panic. If I put my passport in that slot, and the
machine swallows it, and instinct tells me that it will swallow it, Ill be
stateless doomed.
Ive run out of options. Ive hit a brick wall and the window of time
is closing. I stand there trembling. I dont know what do... My eyes are
rolling round in my head. Then I catch sight of something hanging from a
slot, lower down the machine. Whats that, I wonder, stooping to
examine it. And... Yes! Its a luggage label. Ive printed a luggage
label! Ive won! Ive won! I cry.
Its a hollow victory. Theyve built in another problem. There are
two instructions on the back. Peel Here... and... Stick Here.
Simple enough on the face of it; but the glossy backing is designed
to be immovable. Its a clever idea. You think youve won. So you drop
your guard. Then you find youve lost. Ive got to get past the turkeywoman. That means I need labels. But I cant get the label on the case...
So Im barred from the check-in. Theres no end to the punishment.
Twenty nerve-racking minutes later, miraculously, the backing peels
off... just like that. Im sure they designed it like that on purpose. In the
nick of time, Im off to join the Kaaba Square shuffle. As we approach the
squawking turkey-woman, people around me nervously hold up their
labels. Now I discover that no-one else has been able to peel off the
backing. Im the only one. Like a triumphant football captain after the
World Cup, I hoist my case up high, proudly displaying the finished
product.
Whos travelling with you? the woman at check-in wants to know.

No-one, I tell her.


So youre alone.
Alone as can be.
And you are going to Heathrow?
Yep.
So why is your luggage going to Dublin?
I look in disbelief as she shows me the destination on my beautiful
label... DUBLIN. Thats what came out of the machine, I tell her.
Do you want it to go to Heathrow?
It will make life easier, I tell her.
No problem. She rips the Dublin label off my case; presses a
button; out pops a Heathrow label; she peels back off; whips it on my
case... and job done.
So, if check-in did it as quick and easy as that, why the hell did I, a
paying customer, have to go through purgatory to get there?