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Journal of nicholas (3034)

Sunday August 01, 2004
05:56 PM

Getting back to blighty

[ #20177 ]

To get back from Portland to London I was flying with Northwest via Minneapolis to Gatwick. After leaving the Perl 6 design team in the hotel lobby, I had an interesting conversation with my (ex)Ethopian taxi driver about sport, such as how he hates it when Italy scores the first goal because at that point the match is deadly boring. Checking in was amusing - the desks had touchscreens on the front, and the woman said "let me show you how the... oh - you have a paper ticket" Definately useful here, as the person whom I was meant to be travelling with and bought the tickets couldn't make it, and with e-tickets I suspect I'd've been stuffed.

Going through security my bags went back and forth a few times in the X-ray machine, which was un-nerving (they're going to object to the bottle of malt?) but it turned out that the guy behind was carrying a razor blade in his wallet. Ho hum. I hope he's just naïve and on his own. And going elsewhere.

I was accosted in the departure lounge by a group from ProQuest who were waiting in the gate next to mine for a flight to Detroit, and recognised me from the conference. We had an interesting conversation about funding perl 6 which had to be curtailed when my flight was called

That flight arrived in Minneapolis on time, but was delayed for about "5" (read 15) minutes until a gate became free. Despite thinking that 90 minutes was forever and a day to walk half the length of the terminal, this delay plus the US rules that you need to be all aboard your international flight 30 minutes before departure meant that I actually arrived there part way through boarding. Slight forboding of things to come when they the video system failed and they were forced to do the safety demo manually.

However the real fun was reserved for Gatwick.

Scheduled to arrive at 9am, we made good time and landed at 8.15. I'm not a frequent flyer, and I think that this is the first time I've arrived at Gatwick from the west, as the UK's prevailing wind means that an easterly approach is more likely. Because I have cause to visit the general area to the east of Gatwick I know it well, and know the hints that the runway approaches - the M23 and the railway. From the west there is none of this, and it transpires that the land rises away from the airport. Hence we're going down and down, getting closer and closer to trees and farms and cows, and I'm wondering where on earth the airport boundary fence is, let alone the runway. However, the landing was all sane and to plan.

But we're 45 minutes early, and the plan on our gate isn't leaving for another 15. In the end we spent 25 minutes sitting on a taxiway, seatbelt sign on, not allowed to move. We're still 20 minutes early when we reach the gate. But then they take 10 minutes trying to get the door open, apparently due to electrical problems, during which all the cabin power was toggled off three times (lights out, air stops). By the time I actually leave the plane it's 8.55, but heck, we're still early

We've arrived at the gates that are connected to the main terminal by the "transit" - a sort of tram/bus thing with rubber wheels running on a concrete track. There's a queue, because one of the two is out of action. "You'll all fit on" they say, and I think "yes, but on the second one" as I'm some way back. People crowd on like it's the underground, including fouling the doors. On go three all the doors close, except one of the outer platform side doors (think Jubilee line extension here). The rest of us go and stand on the other transit, which is there, although I'm thinking at the time that this is the dead one, so what's the point? However, we have the better deal of the next few minutes as the others are stuck within a crowded vehicle with its doors closed while ours are open. This situation resolves itself with both deciding that they are now out of service, at which point the airport staff start organising busses, observing that at least it's not happening on Monday morning

Busses to arrivals procured, passport control and baggage reclaim go smoothly, although it takes me about a minute to realise that my bag is actually no longer on the carousel, and I go and catch the Gatwick Express, which leaves after 5 minutes. Good

We pull out of the station and don't cross to the fast lines. Bad. They're announcing a journey time of 35 minutes, rather than the usual 30, so it sounds like we're going via Redhill, which (I think) adds those 5 minutes.

Indeed we do, and run through Redhill station on the through lines without dropping speed. This doesn't last - soon after we slowed to crawl, and we procede to crawl all the way to East Croydon. Part way they start apologising for the delay, which is due to "Signalling problems". Balderdash. What was wrong with "We're behind a stopping train, and it's stopping at stations". Which is also wrong, as I know that the Gatwick Express pays Network Rail for priority, so the slow train should have been held at Redhill to let us pass. (Selfish, I know, but Eurostars pay for this priority too, and they get it). In the end it took about 45 minutes.

After that all was plain sailing, with the District line managing its usual annoying wait at Earl's Court. Probably for the best, as I'd be confused for months if it ever managed not to make its defiant stand against "rapid transit". Léon would claim that it just serves me right for living beyond zone 1. :-)

So end to end I think that my journey took 18 hours. There are no direct flighs from the UK to Portland, and elapsed flying plus transit time was 13 hours. Having checked tonight, it seems that London to Seattle direct is 9½ hours. For anyone thinking of organising conferences in the US, there's a lot to be said for chosing a venue close to an international airport, at least as far as the European invasion force is concerned.

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  • I flew in through Seattle, which is only a 20 minutes flight from Portland, so that is a good connection. Well last year it was, this year I landed an hour and a half late, which put me on a later flight, but not my luggage. Worst flight I ever had was flying from the states to London, but when we were circling over Heathrow to wait for our landing slot we ran low on fuel so our plane diverted to Manchester, adding a two hour land-sit-on-runway-take-off-holding-pattern-land delay. Imagine the surprise for
    • We were planning to go via Seattle, and with 3 of us together we were thinking of renting a car and driving down. But then plans changed, and we went for cheaper.

      I thought that in a running low on fuel condition air traffic control should have bumped your plan to the top of the queue in that situation. What they did seems crazy from jus ttheir point of view, even when ignoring the obvious massive inconvenience to the passengers^Wcaptives.

  • Hey, I think we were on the same flight to Minneapolis, then. Unless all NWA flights to that airport have to sit 15 minutes and wait to pull up to the gate. :)

    -Matt