Thursday 17 May 2012

Off to Benin

With Terry Morris, I am off to Benin next week to run another cycle of our digital photography workshops for kids. Read about it here:

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Bordering on the Absurd aka Plane Stupid

I am a pretty regular user of Heathrow. On the majority of arrivals over the past six or so months there have been worse than normal queues in immigration, and that is in the EU Nationals lane. It is funny, in a painful sort of way, to watch the politicians denying, squirming and dissembling on the issue.

But what is painful, in a funny sort of way, is the "traffic management" (or some other piece of bureaucratspeak)  at Terminal 5. Let me start by saying that I think that T5 is a great British achievement. It is beautifully designed, practical rather than pompous and, until recently, it worked like a dream. You swished through. Some very clever people spent a bit of time thinking about what a terminal was for, which is simply to get people through as quickly and comfortably as possible. They turned that simple idea into concrete, steel and glass and it worked. But it doesn't always work now.

The problem...? Well the political embarrassment about immigration delays centres on two locations -- long queues in the immigration hall and people being held on aircraft. The bureaucrats have come up with a perfect solution -- they mess about with the bit in the middle. They obstruct passengers' journeys between the plane and the border control. Over the past couple of months I have experienced a number of unexplained delays on this journey -- shuttle trains reduced in frequency, perfectly good and working escalators roped off, lifts inexplicably stuck on the executive level of the terminal. The other night, coming back in quite late, all the escalators, which were running, were out of bounds. People and their luggage were herded towards the four lifts, two of which weren't operating. The crowds built up and built up. People got agitated trying to get in the remaining lifts. In the general run of things it wasn't outrageously uncomfortable or dangerous, but it was unpleasant and it took a long time.  I would rather have been in an orderly passport queue or sat in my seat on the plane.  
Of course when we finally got to show our passports the queues were still long but not unbearable. Most importantly our discomfort had saved the ministerial discomfort of a missed target that night.

What saddens and angers me is that the authorities are prepared to sabotage the smooth running T5, something UKplc spent a lot of time and money on, something we had got right and something we could be proud of. What a price for a minister's reputation.

Roll on the Olympics.