After a fractious and ill-tempered meeting that even included Peter Mandelson allegedly banging his head on the cabinet table in frustration, the government confirmed today that London Heathrow has the go ahead for a £9 billion expansion with permission for a 6th terminal and a brand new runway.
A dark day indeed for Boris Johnston’s alternative suggestion to build a state of the art airport for London where it could expand based on excellent infrastructure, (just like Hong Kong did in 1998).
Whatever the whys and wherefores of the project, using Heathrow will always be a hit and miss experience for the millions who use it. The piecemeal expansion since 1946 has left terminals 1,2 and 3 as grim endurance test devoid of any pleasing aesthetic, comprising ugly warrens of yellow corridors based on elemental functionality, crammed with shuffling, unhappy people – or is it just me?
Terminal 4, opened in 1986, is closer to the mark with vaulted ceilings and wide-open spaces, with the bonus for night flights that there is so much neon it looks a bit like the set of Top of the Pops. Terminal 5, in contrast, is a Nirvana by comparison and as close to an enjoyable travel experience as any other capital city can offer today – now that it is working.
This isn’t the fault of the people that work in Heathrow or even BAA who run the place – you can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, and sad to say that is exactly what Heathrow is and always will be. Nobody had the faintest idea how air travel would grow when the airport opened for business in 1946, but unless the Conservatives win the next election it looks like we’re stuck with it.
The UK isn’t the only country struggling with airports. Arriving in a capital city should be a welcome experience, and even an inspirational one, but how many places manage it? Let us know what you think.
Hong Kong closed Kai Tak International (whose runway was built by British prisoners of war in WW2) in 1998. It was notoriously difficult to land at, with 747 wingtips almost whipping laundry off nearby skyscraper balconies – quite exhilerating especially with a window seat! You can see footage of landings here .