Brian’s Travel Spot: Things Go Wrong When Flying

The nose of the British Airways Airbus A319 standing on the tarmac at Heathrow, waiting to take me to Manchester in March 2018.This is the second and final part of the Travel Spot which I started last week with my flight from Phoenix to London, itself the final instalment of a five-week long trip I took in 2018. Last week’s post was all about the Boeing 747, prompted by the news of the final flights of British Airways’ remaining two Boeing 747s.  However, getting to Heathrow wasn’t the end of my journey: I still had to make the comparatively short hop to Manchester and from there, get to my Dad’s, something I’ve done numerous times.

As I left things at the end of Part One, I’d made it safely to Heathrow Terminal 3, but I was 1¼ hours behind schedule. At that point it was 14:40 and my connecting flight for Manchester was due to leave from Terminal 5 at 15:10, which meant I had to get from between the terminals, clear passport control, go back through security and board my flight, all in less than 30 minutes…

Did I make it? No, of course not. For the very first time in my life, I missed a flight. This is post is all about what happened next, what airlines do when you miss your flight and the lessons that I learned from the experience.

You can find out how I missed my flight after the gallery.

  • Time to leave the 747 which had brought me from Phoenix. Even before I reached...
  • ... the (very long) queue for the Terminal 5 bus, I already knew I'd missed my connection.
  • Knowing I couldn't make the flight made for a much less stressful transfer!
Time to leave the 747 which had brought me from Phoenix. Even before I reached...1 ... the (very long) queue for the Terminal 5 bus, I already knew I'd missed my connection.2 Knowing I couldn't make the flight made for a much less stressful transfer!3
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We were on the ground at 14:30 UK time, and at the gate at 14:40, which, for Heathrow, was pretty quickly. I’ve been on delayed flights before and since when the cabin crew have been liaising with passengers with connecting flights, but I was none the wiser. I was vaguely aware that we were late, but it was only as I was getting ready to leave the plane that I pulled my boarding pass out and realised when my connecting flight was scheduled to leave.

Had I been at Terminal 5, I might have stood a chance, but Phoenix is one of a handful of destinations that British Airways serves from Terminal 3. With at most 30 minutes left before my flight departed (and, realistically, far less, given that 15:10 was the scheduled departure time and, theoretically, boarding can end up to 20 minutes before then) I quickly realised that it was a lost cause, something which a quick chat with the cabin crew confirmed.

Knowing that I wasn’t going to make was something of a relief since it meant I didn’t have to make a pointless dash across the airport (the last time I’d made a mad dash across an airport had been in the middle of the night in Dubai and although that had been successful, I didn’t care to repeat the experience) . A quick check of the departure screens showed that the Manchester flight was on time and that sealed my fate, which was just as well, since when I got to the gate for the shuttle bus to Terminal 5, there was a very long queue ahead of me.

As it was, I didn’t get on the bus until 15:00 and it was 15:10 by the time I got to Terminal 5, so I skipped passport control and headed straight to the Flight Connections desk, where there was another massive queue, and this time very slow moving queue. I’d been past this many times before and never seen many people there, so clearly there had been a lot of delayed flights that day!

I spent 25 minutes with the queue not moving very quickly before I realised that I was doing this all wrong. I was still rather new to flying business class at that point and it wasn’t yet ingrained in me that, certainly when it comes to British Airways, there is always a separate queue and so it was here. I slipped around the corner and there was the Club World/First Class desk with a much shorter queue. 15 minutes later and I was talking to an agent.

Even though it was mid-afternoon, the remaining flights to Manchester that day were full, so I was booked on the 07:55 flight the following (Sunday) morning, given a voucher for a hotel, a compensation form and sent on my way.

With hindsight, perhaps I should have done things differently, but in my defence, I was tired/jet lagged and this was all very new to me, so I just went with the flow. I wandered up to passport control, where I had the place to myself, so just walked straight through (in fairness, I’ve never been delayed more than a minute or so at passport control when making a transfer at Heathrow) before having a long wait for shuttle bus to hotel, which arrived at 16.35.

It was just before five o’clock when I finally got into my room at the hotel, at which point, had things gone to plan, I would have been out of Manchester Airport and well on my way to my Dad’s…

You can find out what actually happened after the gallery.

  • At least I got a fairly nice (and very large) hotel room for the night!
  • An excess of beds, I feel, when it's just me.
  • Nice desk though.
  • I only had my hand baggage with me, but that meant I had the important things...
  • ... my travelling coffee kit!
  • So I was able to make myself some decaf that evening.
At least I got a fairly nice (and very large) hotel room for the night!1 An excess of beds, I feel, when it's just me.2 Nice desk though.3 I only had my hand baggage with me, but that meant I had the important things...4 ... my travelling coffee kit!5 So I was able to make myself some decaf that evening.6
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I should say at this point that I was, at all times, well looked after by British Airways. I was booked onto the next available flight, given a hotel for the night (which included an evening meal and breakfast), free shuttle bus transfer to and from the hotel, and all this was done with no fuss and no quibbling.

Perhaps best of all, I was given a form to claim compensation (although I ended up doing it online) which, under European law, entitled me to €600 since I was on a long-haul flight and delayed more than four hours. My claim was accepted without any quibbling and the money was credited to my bank account a few weeks later.

The only downside was that while British Airways did absolutely everything that was required, booking me on the next available flight meant that I was on the 07:55 flight the following morning. Which meant getting up very early. And I don’t do early. And, to make matters worse, the clocks went forward that night, so I had one hour less in bed…

I don’t know if it is possible, but, with hindsight, I should have asked to be put on a later flight. I also wonder if I could have simply cancelled the onward flight at that point and made my own way to my Dad’s. After all, I could have left Heathrow, got the train into London and from there, got the train to North Wales and been there late evening. But I only thought of these options once I was in the hotel and it was too late.

I should say, by the way, that the hotel was fine, although dinner was a very basic buffet. Of course, I only had my carry-on bags with me, since my checked baggage was still in the Heathrow baggage handling system, waiting to join me on my flight the following morning. On the plus side, it meant that I didn’t have to carry my large rucksack and suitcase around with me, nor did I have to check them in the following morning.

On the downside, I had no clean clothes. Top tip, which I already knew, just never followed: pack a change of clothes in your carry on! The good news was that I did have my coffee kit, and I got an overnight bag and a free t-shirt from the hotel, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

My main technique for avoiding jet lag, by the way, is to get onto the sleep schedule of your destination as soon as possible, which was another reason why an early start, with one hour lopped off the night, wasn’t ideal…

You can see how I got on the following day after the gallery.

  • Breakfast at the lounge at Terminal 5. The porridge was excellent!
  • Siutably recharged, I went in search of my gate, which wasn't far away.
  • Down here, in fact.
  • Maybe that's my plane?
  • Let's go!
  • Hmmm... Looks like we're not there yet.
  • More down!
  • And finally, the delights of Gate A4...
  • ... which actually meant a bus to the plane, which is where I'll leave you for 15 minutes.
Breakfast at the lounge at Terminal 5. The porridge was excellent!1 Siutably recharged, I went in search of my gate, which wasn't far away.2 Down here, in fact.3 Maybe that's my plane?4 Let's go!5 Hmmm... Looks like we're not there yet.6 More down!7 And finally, the delights of Gate A4...8 ... which actually meant a bus to the plane, which is where I'll leave you for 15 minutes.9
Photo Carousel by v4.6

Since I was trying to keep to a normal(ish) schedule, I didn’t go to bed until after 10 pm. Sadly, I woke up at 4 am (which, with the clocks going forward, was effectively 3 am) and couldn’t get back to sleep. By 5 am, with the alarm set to go off at 6 am, it was rather pointless trying, so I gave up, adding five hours sleep to the six I’d had the night before.

I’d already decided that I’d to go straight to the airport from the hotel and have breakfast at the lounge. There was a 06:45 shuttle, but with the flight due to leave at 07:55, I didn’t want to risk missing it, so went on the 06:15 shuttle instead, which made my breakfast decision rather moot: the hotel didn’t start serving breakfast at until 06:30!

The good news is that at that time of a Sunday morning, there’s no traffic around and the shuttle bus was on time, so I was at Heathrow Terminal 5 by 06:30. After check-in, I headed for security, where I got lucky, a new lane opening as I arrived, and so I went straight to the front of that instead of joining the back of a queue of about 10 people waiting for the other lines.

However, my luck ran out when it came to the actual security check. Unlike at Phoenix, where we’d left everything in our bags, here we had to take everything out, which included a bottle of sun cream (this is the second time I’ve done this and I need to stop doing it; I go to sunny places, put my sun cream in my rucksack so that I have it with me when I’m out and about, then forgot to take it out again when it comes time to fly home). I also found that I had a tub of E45 moisturising cream in there, which I find essential for a dry climate like Arizona. Both of these had made it through security at Phoenix without issue (and the E45 has been in my bag numerous times and never been a problem), but Heathrow security was having none of it and I had to through both away.

Despite the delay, by 06:50 I was on my way to the lounge, where I cheered up slightly at the prospect of the breakfast buffet, the best part of which by far was the porridge, although the toast was dreadful. The coffee came in somewhere in the middle and was at least drinkable. Once again, I was relieved that I was flying Club World: had I been flying economy and not had lounge access, I suspect I would have been utterly miserable, both here and when I was initially delayed in Phoenix. Lounge access really does come into its own when things go wrong!

However, any goodwill that had been generated by the lounge (and having eaten), rapidly evaporated when it came to the actual business of getting on the flight. The flight departed from Gate 4B, part of a small group of gates at the northern end of Terminal 5. At first, I thought things were looking up, since I was already in the north lounge, so there wasn’t far to go. Unfortunately, while most of the gates at Terminal 5 have air bridges out to the waiting planes (which has been the case every other time I’ve flown to Manchester), this little group of gates don’t. Instead of walking onto the plane, we descended to the bowels of the terminal, queued up to go through the gate, then got onto a bus. And then waited. And waited. Why is so much of traveling by plane made up of waiting?

We ended up waiting on the bus for 15 minutes, a process made significantly less bearable by an overactive toddler who kept up a running commentary on practical everything, including asking on a regular basis, and in a very loud voice, why the doors weren’t closing. It turned out that the bus was waiting for the last passengers for the flight, a family of four, who didn’t turn up in the end, so eventually, we trundled off.

You can see how the flight went after the gallery.

  • The bus us out to our plane, an A319, which was waiting for us on the tarmac.
  • This was my seat, 2A, second row on the left in Club Europe.
  • Behold my (lack of) legroom!
  • There's a fold-down table...
  • ... but no chance of using my laptop!
  • However, the front row was unoccupied...
  • ... so as soon as I could, I scooted over and claimed the aisle seat.
  • Hurrah! I can use my laptop (for all of about 10 minutes...).
  • We pushed back bang on schedule at 07:55...
  • ... and then spent 25 minutes taxiing/queue around a very foggy Heathrow.
  • Finally, we're at the western end of the runway, with just another A319 ahead of us.
  • And we're off! There's Terminal 5...
  • ... and, as we leave the ground, the old Terminals 1, 2 and 3 block...
  • ... with the Terminal 2 extension block to the east.
  • And we're above the clouds, where it's nice and sunny!
  • There's a fold-down monitor which shows a map of our route.
  • And just like that (12 minutes later), we're almost at Manchester.
  • The hills south and east of Manchester look lovely in the early morning sun.
  • I've hiked across quite a few of those hills: they look gorgeous from up here!
  • One of several reservoirs in the area.
  • Although it was beautifully clear here...
  • ... there were signs of what was to come, with low-lying patches of fog...
  • ... which, bizarrely, blanketed the runways, but left the terminal in sunshine!
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British Airways uses its Airbus A319/A320/A321 fleet for the flights to Manchester and on Sunday morning, it was the smallest of the three, an Airbus A319, which sat waiting for us on the tarmac after a ten minute drive around the airport. We boarded at the front via a set of stairs and, since we were the last busload of passengers, we pushed back right on time at 07:55.

Our plane had the standard short-haul Club World section at the front, although it consisted of just four rows. The only difference that I can tell between these and the standard seats further back is that the middle seat is taken out of service by having a table fitted across it. More importantly, this means that there’s virtually no legroom in anything, and because of the late booking I had to take what I was given, ending up in the second row with my knees scrunched up against the seat in front.

The only consolation was that it was a very short flight, although, as is often the case with flights to Manchester, it looked as if we might spend longer taxiing around a foggy Heathrow than we would spend in the air. Despite the fact that we took off to the east, which meant we only had a short taxi from Terminal 5 to the western end of the runway, we spent 25 minutes taxiing/waiting in queues before taking off at 08:20.

The good news was that, in contrast to the night before, Sunday morning’s flight wasn’t full, so as soon as we were in the air and the seat-belt signs were turned off, I scooted over to the first row, by the bulkhead, where I had plenty of leg room and could easily use my laptop. It’s amazing what a different it makes to my mood being able to stretch my legs out!

The flight itself was fine, and, having just had breakfast at the lounge, I turned down the chance of a fruit bowl (the alternative for meat eaters was a bacon sandwich). It had been foggy at Heathrow and, as we came in over the hills east of Manchester, there was more fog on the ground, with thick fog at the airport itself.

We’d been in the air for 25 minutes at that point, but had to go into a holding pattern for 15 minutes before starting our final approach at 09:00, coming in on automatic. This was the first time I’d experienced of a fully automatic landing, which includes having all electronic devices turned off (not just in airplane mode). This meant that my phone and camera had to go away, so while I had some great views of sunlit hills south and east of Manchester as we came in, I wasn’t able to take any photographs.

Then, just as we approached Manchester Airport itself, we were plunged into thick fog, literally as we reached the end of the runway, landing at 09:10. Despite that, I stepped out of the plane into bright sunshine. Fog is a wonderfully localised thing!

All that was left was for me to get my bags, which did make it onto the plane. However, despite their “priority” tags, they were the last ones out on the carousel (a common experience at Manchester) and it wasn’t until 09:45 that I left the airport and hopped into my waiting taxi.

I’ll leave you, just for the amusement value, with a timeline of my flight, starting from when I arrived at the gate and ending when I left the terminal at Manchester Airport, a total of two hours and 25 minutes.

  • 25 minutes in a bus to get to the aircraft
  • 30 minutes push back/taxiing
  • 25 minutes flying to Manchester
  • 25 minutes holding/landing
  • 35 minutes disembarking/waiting for my bags

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