We were bemoaning the gradual decline in international airline quality as we transited through Heathrow airport this week as so many thousands have. As our plane taxied for seemingly miles, we caught a glimpse out the window of the ‘old’ terminal. This was Terminal 1, which closed in June 2015, whose hallways looked like brown oval space ship tunnels. Upon seeing them I remembered them from trips to Africa in the 1990’s.
I of course had forgotten about these funky passageways as airports are inherently forgettable. But even as they are objects of disdain, don’t we love to drop their names in conversation: “that long layover at Schipol” or “when my flight got cancelled out of JFK’ and lest we forget; Gatwick, Charles de Gaulle, O’Hare and the dreaded Luton. For some reason, these are the airports we know by name and not so much by city. Being from DC, we always say ‘Dulles’ or ‘National’, (‘Reagan’ if you are younger or new to town).
I ponder to guess as airport terminals get ever larger and more spectacular and airplanes get more crowded with fewer perks, if the money isn’t going into the wrong thing. Heathrow Terminal 5 is like a humongous glass cathedral with shopping and food options galore not to mention its 2 ‘mini-me’ terminals- 5B and 5C- nearby.
Some of us can remember crossing the Atlantic in near empty planes with an entire 4-seat row to ourselves on which to lounge and catch a nap. This was especially helpful because back then there were no individual video screens to keep one entertained through a sleepless night. Then there were the hot hand towels before the first meal, the little goodie bags with footies, eye covers, toothbrush, ear plugs, headphones, and this was in regular coach class! The meals included real silverware and were better quality and then there was the alcohol. On our flight this week on American Airlines from O’Hare to Heathrow, the only free alcohol was Budweiser in a can or red or white wine poured out of a big bottle into a plastic cup. Classy.
And of course gone are the 2 free checked bags which could be of considerable size! However, one obvious improvement has been the banning of smoking on flights. I can remember the back of the plane where the smoking section was and the billowing fumes near the restrooms as smokers congregated. There were always empty seats back there to be sure, so if you didn’t mind ‘inhaling’ you could spread out a bit.
So do you have any fond memories of the way air travel used to be? Or heroic Heathrow transfers or layovers?