Monday, March 04, 2013

T1's family of strangers

At the first security through departure halls at Heathrow Terminal 1 on a Thursday evening, you are a stranger amongst a large family of strangers. You immediately realise: that everyone is looking at you because they know one another, or pretend to do so -- and you are the unknown subject. The security is fairly quick. Everyone carries one of the two or three different types of carry-on bags. Travel-size toiletry are already packed into plastic displays, iPads and laptops are removed before any warning. The demographics are so standard that the security personnel who saw your Turkish passport remarks: my sister lives in Bodrum. where in Turkey do you come from? He hasn't had small talk at airport security since 2 years. He can't complain though, working at Terminal 1 is easy. Traveling through it, too.

The Duty Free is remarkably quiet. Because passengers either know what they were after, or they just didn't bother shopping there. After all, for the German-speaking majority, booze is cheaper at supermarkets back home, or the glamorous types of drinks are not to be found here. It is indeed a German-speaking majority: Terminal 1 is Heathrow's first-born baby; it is a dwarf to Terminal 5, and well below capacities of counter-weight terminals at other airports. If you want people traveling across the globe with shopping trolleys, holiday packages or gifts to nephews and nieces back home, you go to Terminals 3, 4, and 5. T1's halls are dominated by Lufthansa, Austrian, and Swiss, all part of the same company now, anyway. Smart dresses flirt with high-heels and the odd ski-trip travelers talk of past year's banking bonuses. British traditional ales run out, German lagers on draught are preferred next best options. Loners drink Guinness.

If you are scared of flying, take a flight from Terminal 1. Carriers fly short-haul, ablaze with important people. The plane will not crash, and you will build confidence in flying. If the odd scenario does take place, you'll have died gracefully at others' company.

There are no holiday packagers at Terminal 1. Emirates aren't there, and neither are Qatar, Qantas, Singapore, American, Virgin, Delta, or Air India. The demographics of travelers are remarkable stable, the destinations either medieval or stock-market digital.

You are a fool if you have bought the Financial Times at WHSmith. Or you are just too keen; or outright disconnected. Former because, you'll be given a free copy on boarding the plane. Maybe you are not patient enough and want to read straight away, but surely, by the time of an evening flight, someone should have briefed you the day's headlines, inside-out, if you were are a regular T1 passenger. You are not, and that is why you may be surprised... surprised to see how smoothly everything operates. They never asked for your Schengen visa at check-in, they did not bother with your passport's ID page at boarding, you were probably under the record all the way through. They knew which ale you drank and they trusted you. Because you are in the company of the international business family.

The family that took so little time to board the plane that you cannot recall if security announcements were made. Before you were sat, the aircraft started its taxi. Take off within minutes' time and the gazes have stopped. Everyone is minding their own papers and you are now officially an accepted stranger in the family of strangers.

-- on board LH3377 (London - Berlin) flight, 28 February 2013, 19:30 GMT.