When one hour turns into three
Posted on 5th Mar 2009 at 09:28 by Richard Swinburne with 7 comments
It had to be my flight. It had to be this morning. The one hour short hop from London’s new Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport has turned into three as I get to spend at least two of them on the runway while my efficient friends in Europe are fixing their air traffic computers. Try the reset button?
Secretly I’m hoping that day 7 of TV series 24 hasn’t mirrored real life as I quickly flick through The Times newspaper looking for African wars recently broken out. Thankfully it doesn’t seem to be the case, although 192 dolphins seem to have taken a wrong turn at Tasmania, and are having an even worse day than I am.
As the Captain graciously makes his announcement to the plane, informing us of our delay, inevitably a young child bursts into tears personifying the mood while simultaneously drowning the groans of the rest of the passengers.
Five minutes later, as I type the introduction, the “quick fix” apparently hasn’t worked in Mastrich Air Traffic Control either. At this point I wonder what that could entail, given that air traffic control should only be second to military computers in terms of redundancy and mission critical existence. I contemplate the people already in the sky, after all, we were only minutes from departure before the call came in. I stop the captain as I walk past and ask what the alternative is – apparently they go back to an old fashioned card system which will still handle the planes in the air and a handful of other flights but it’s a far cry from the level of international travel we see these days.
He sees me typing and enquires.
I reply "I’m a tech journalist" but the J-word has sent him reeling into PR-mode trying to hammer about a short statement about how unlikely this is and we’re all very safe. I put him at ease by telling him that my readers are the technical types probably know more about flight and planes than he does. This seems to do the trick, as he makes a hasty exit.
Another thought briefly flashes into my mind to call a friend who occasionally writes for bit-tech and deals with these kinds of technical issues at air traffic control, however this is quickly dashed by the asshole in front of me smacking his seat into the lid of my laptop, giving me a belly full of trackpad. A wave of anger flashes over me and I’m this close to punching the back of his head, putting a dent in Anglo-German relations, but it won’t help the situation.
My MSI PR210 is only a 13” notebook but by now it’s almost impossible to see the screen as I type with my wrists contorted strangely upwards right under my nipples. 13” isn’t a large notebook by any means, in fact, AMD considers it “Ultra Portable”, but right now all I want is an Eee Touch with reversible screen or something with a 10” screen in order to regain an element of comfort.
It also makes me wish I had invested in a 3G card for my laptop, or the value of an iPhone or Blackberry to actually make this time productive. Instead I write a blog post and save it for later; thankful that I packed the extended battery in order to get six hours of life (after all, the title could still change to “from one hour to six”). Like all trips to Heathrow, it also makes me see the value of free airport WiFi – because there is none. Those lucky enough to visit Hong Kong will know of this fantastic value-add, but how a new terminal doesn’t get 21st century connectivity built into it (or even a national train link) are unfathomable.
Thankfully all is not as bad as it seems and we’re in the air within an hour and ten minutes. Clearly our friends in Europe pulled a Scotty and got the repairs done in record time. Our captain announces the departure to a delighted set of passengers, only to slip in Berlin and not Hamburg. I really hope he pulls a left over Holland. So next stop... somewhere in Germany, then a quick trip on an ICE to Hannover where CeBIT awaits.