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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Mark Steel: How should we sort the crisis at Heathrow? By holding the Olympics there instead!

Visiting tourists could be entertained by turning the queues into a formal marathon

It's encouraging that UK Border Control is joining in the Olympic spirit by making anyone arriving to watch the Games wait two and a quarter hours to have their passport checked, which is roughly the time it will take to run the marathon. Maybe the Government could make the queuing even more exciting by turning it into a race. Someone could run the marathon course while people are waiting to pass through passport control, with a commentary going, "The runner is crossing Tower Bridge, but what a spurt from our passenger as she dramatically moves forward nine inches, though she does look weary and is screaming for water."

There's an obvious solution to the worry of this long wait upsetting tourists who come for the Games, which is to hold some of the events in the arrivals lounge at Heathrow. Then they'd say, "It was a bit frustrating to spend the first day creeping past a thick blue rope towards immigration control, but at least we saw a fascinating volleyball quarter final between Peru and Croatia."

Then the tourist industry could place attractions by the queue, with brochures boasting, "Why not take a ride on the magnificent Heathrow Eye, a big wheel that takes you up to the roof of the airport where the views stretch as far as the baggage claim area, in a breathtaking 30-minute odyssey that lands just in time for you to shuffle up another two feet."

The Changing of the Guard could take place by the counter where you change money, and Madame Tussauds could place Brad Pitt and Saddam Hussein in the queue for fun. Then we could assure people they'd enjoy an unforgettable week and be allowed into the country with just enough time to start queuing to leave.

The queuing shouldn't be a surprise because the whole point of Heathrow is to make millions of people queue. You queue for hours to check in, at security, at a departure gate, and can only survive by putting yourself into a trance and not even caring what the next queue is for. Someone in a uniform could take down your trousers and prod your arse with a cactus, then you could be ushered past a sign that said "Remove your toenails" before a man dressed as The Riddler squirted custard in your ear – and you'd accept this must be something they've had to do since 9/11 and not complain.

Worse than the inefficiency is how Heathrow has succeeded in making travel, one of the most romantic aspects of life, into a soulless, sterile, trial of endurance. So if history's most charismatic travellers were to journey across the world now, their diaries would go, "To lift spirits we sang, shared a biscuit between us, and showed each other photos of our loved ones. Then Simpkins appeared to crack, screaming and kneeling on the floor making barking noises. "Don't worry," Shackleton reassured him. "Next year, we'll go to Norfolk."

The Independent May 4 2012

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