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Heathrow Airport: It was a dark and stormy morning…


There is a movie called “The 13th Warrior” based on a Michael Creighton novel: “Eaters Of The Dead.” This movie portrays a brutal band of Vikings encounter with something unnaturally sinister.

At one point a Viking explains one of the basic Viking strategies:

People are most fearful of what they do not know or understand.

The Vikings use this philosophy to gain control of the enemy during battle.


When travelling, I also fear what I do not know, or understand.

When it comes to holidays, you can plan everything down to the last detail. However, there is always the possibility of an unforeseen factor that can easily unravel the best laid plans.

For example:

Shortly after booking our flights to Rome, we studied the flight itineraries. It didn’t take long for us to notice that we had a one hour window to connect with our flight from Heathrow to Rome.

That’s a reasonable window for the seasoned traveler, taking into account that the flight lands on time.

I was still a little nervous.

Just to be sure, I emailed British Airways and asked if one hour was enough to make our connecting flight. I wrote that we were flying into terminal one and leaving from terminal five.

Their response was:

“It depends on which gate you’re flying out of.”

That did not instill me with confidence.

There was no way to forecast whether or not we would make the flight. All we could do was rely on our traveling experience and hope it will be enough.

At last, came the big day that we left home for Rome.

Once in the air, as our flight prepared to land at Heathrow Airport we received our first clue as to whether or not we were going to make our flight to Rome.

The stewardess’s voice came over the intercom asking those that had connecting flights to Rome to please meet the attendant at the gate.

Not a good sign.

We called for a stewardess and were advised that we would be…

“Fast-Tracked” to our next plane.

We were among ten passengers who were advised to disembark first.

Being advised to disembark first is another bad sign.

The attendant who met us at the gate could not speak English.

We were doomed.

The comedic tragedy only got better:

Through hand gestures, the attendant told us to take the elevator to the third floor and go to the check-in booth there.

The third floor checking attendant sent us back to the first floor attendant.

In the elevator ride we learned of one couple among us who were catching a cruise ship in Rome. If they missed this flight they would missed the cruise.

Eventually we were told to follow yet another attendant. This attendant led us straight to a custom security checkpoint.

“There must be some mistake,” I told the attendant.

“We have already been through customs at our departure point in Toronto.”

We were told by the attendant that it was mandatory and we would have to go through security once again.

Apparently, everyone who flies through Heathrow must submit themselves to another customs security check despite having already been through one at their originating departure point.


That’s what nobody told us.

…One tiny little detail.

Our flight was leaving in fifteen minutes.

Each lineup held at least two dozen people.

I asked the attendant:

“What’s to stop us from going to those sliding doors and catching our plane?”

“I am,” she answered.

“And who are you?” I asked her.

“A customs security agent,” she replied with a big smile.

I thought for a moment…

“Okay, you win.”

I turned around to find Frank and Jennifer looking as bewildered as I was.

And with that we took our place at the back of the line.

In the meantime, the woman who was destined for the cruise was getting into a loud discussion with another customs agent, despite her husband’s attempts to calm her down.

One minute after that, security had been summoned to escort the ill fated cruise destined couple away for interrogation.

We never saw them again.

Turning around, we turned our attention to the painfully slow line-up that we found ourselves in.

Our plane was leaving in ten minutes.

We didn’t stand a chance.

We were going to miss our flight to Rome.