New York Blues – in which our correspondent loses a taxi, dodges lightning, wonders whether arrivals lounges are misnamed, and finally gets lost…

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  • Anonymous


    I like to think of myself as a worldly traveller who, from long experience, knows how to dance through most of the major airports (for instance that sneaky lift down to the arrivals section in Dubai rather than the tedious zigzag elevators). But my arrogance occasionally has me run into a brick wall.

    I had a 1900 New York to London Heathrow midweek red-eye booked. The limo service was booked for 1630 from my NY Midtown office. I calculated as follows: 60-minute road trip to JFK, 90 minutes at worst, giving me at least an hour at the airport. Then the car doesn’t turn up.

    After 15 minutes, I called my secretary. She speaks to the car service’s controller. A further 15 minutes pass while she is on hold. She is then told that the car has picked me up. Interesting, and fairly easy to disprove, but I’m not standing here to win an argument. No other cars are available, and try getting a NY cab in Midtown at 5pm just as the rain starts. I finally get a different limo (someone with a similar name had hijacked mine to go 10 blocks in the city) at 1730. My timing cushion has vanished and, despite my driver driving like he’s stolen the car, we are not going to make JFK in 45 minutes.

    Being relatively self-sufficient I call my out-of-hours travel department on the way to get on to a later flight (good tip to have this programmed into your cell’s speed-dial). All BA flights for the rest of the night in all classes are sold out, overbooked with no waiting lists being accepted. I am hosting a client event the following evening in London with my big boss in tow, so I have to be back even if it means swimming.

    As I cross the Triboro Bridge the helpful agent finds an open slot via Newark, no good to me as I am now committed to JFK. Economy Air India at 2145 has a seat left from JFK. Air India is worse than swimming, but I haven’t got my swimming trunks, so I take it. The agent checks one final time and as she does a seat on the 2030 BA flight opens up and she snags it for me. Good work. I love her.

    I arrive at JFK, check-in, go to the BA lounge (I prefer the Club lounge to the First at JFK, it’s more modern, and has pre-flight dinner service, a Molton Brown spa and internet access). Yet as I start to relax and decompress, the pitter-patter of rain on the windows becomes a torrential thunder and lightning storm along most of the Eastern seaboard from Philadelphia to Boston, including all the NY area airports. Nothing anyone can do, I accept. With fork lightning arc-welding metal as it seeks a path to earth, would I want to be out there pumping aviation fuel into the wings of aeroplanes? No thanks. Time to sit tight.

    The local BA staff are polite but have no meaningful updates until midnight, when they call all the backlogged flights at once. We all run Le Mans style to our respective planes, but with a five-hour backlog to clear we wait two hours for our slot.

    So with wheels up I am now seven hours adrift of my original 0700 landing slot. Good smooth flight in the new Club World and I manage to get some reasonable shut-eye – especially with the retracting arm-rests, it feels bigger than the older design. Land at Heathrow only to park off-stand, then wait 30 minutes for the coaches. It is now afternoon, rather than morning, but I am cool because rather than going home to freshen up I will use the arrivals shower facility. I clear passport control and customs with both my carry-on bags. As I walk to the arrivals lounge some other passenger is walking back towards me unshaven and scruffy. The lounge closed at 1400, regular as clockwork. I find the very first person wearing a BA uniform and in a controlled but unhappy “customer needing to shower and change” fashion tell her what I think of this. She agrees that the delayed business community on all the various Boston, NY, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh… flights would warrant keeping the lounge open longer as an exception, but she is off home for a cuppa, and that’s that. She also told me that BA has no other landside changing facilities.

    As someone who earns more than 3,000 tier points annually with BA, I have recently been invited to join their Priority club. I called the Priority card helpline to have someone help me as per their glossy literature. I explained my dilemma and frustration and she agreed to raise it with customer service but there was nothing they could do immediately and they would have someone call back. A week later, I am still waiting.

    I run back to my driver who whips me anticlockwise round the M25, which is clear and free-flowing, so the travel gods are back on my side. I live equidistant from junction 4 and 3, but junction 3 is a quicker road in so I ask my driver to keep going past the exit ramp at junction 4. We are not even 100 yards further on over the hill when we hit stationary traffic queuing for the M20 – a whole junction further on.

    I arrive home with seven minutes to shave, shower and change. My wife and daughters are prepped and lined up to help, with my shirt, socks and tie while the cab waits outside. I make it to the station and run on to the platform as the train pulls in. The doors open and I fall onto an empty seat and sigh. As the train pulls out I put my hand in my jacket pocket and time freezes as I realize I’ve left the event’s ticket at home. I don’t even know where I’m going.

    Nothing new there.


    i thought that was a really good insight into traveling from the US to the Uk . I was reading your blog as research for my travel and tourism work at AS level. Thanks.

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