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Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The joys of international travel (Dedicated to the thousands of people still stuck at London’s Heathrow Airport after four days)

When we tell people where we travel to in the world in the course of a year, most seem not only impressed but we often get the “I wish I could travel like that” look in their eyes.

Well, let me tell you…. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Not that many if not most of the
places aren’t great. The problem comes when it involves one or other of our British airports or our road system which clearly can’t cope given any change of circumstances.

Now the British are known for facing adversity with strength of character. But, whereas the bombing of World War II failed to deter us, the lamentable ability of our airports to cope with a few centimetres of snow is enough to break any spirit.

Personally, we have had two very different experiences in the last month. Late November and we were in Dubai when the first snow fell in England. The airports – specifically Gatwick this time – closed for days on end and, as we were flying back into Gatwick, we arrived for our connecting flight in Doha with some trepidation.

Qatar Airways, with whom we were flying, were nothing short of magnificent. Our Gatwick flight was cancelled but, unlike the thousands camping currently at Heathrow Airport at the mercy of other airlines, Qater immediately rebooked us on a flight six hours later to Heathrow (which was open), booked us into a five-star hotel, fed us, breakfasted us and transported us back to the terminal in time for our flight. Not only that, when we arrived at Heathrow, a bus was waiting to take us to Gatwick. And it’s not as if we were flying first class. Everybody, from coach to first was treated the same.

Forward two weeks and we went to Zagreb for meetings. Snow fell again on the day of our return. We managed to land at Luton Airport which was still open (Heathrow had closed by this time) but, despite only a couple of inches of snow, it still took us six and a half hours to drive 80 miles. Not a snow plough or gritter in sight… and these were on major roads.

We were lucky… we made it back. Had we been travelling into Heathrow, we would still be in Zagreb or would have been re-routed (as we have heard from others) to handy destinations such as Rekyavik or Majorca!

The next time anybody says international travel is glamorous, remember not to travel anywhere near the UK during winter and, if at all possible, fly Qatar Airways!

We wish you all a very Happy Holiday season and hope to see you in the New Year.