LHR Terminal 5: glass skyways, cappuccino & movie stars

I can hardly contain my excitement about my experience in British Airway’s new terminal at London Heathrow. Flying in at 6 am, I feel on the verge of a new adventure, a new chapter ahead with the promise of international intrigue and glamour. A clear, crisp morning reveals the sprawling metropolis along the Thames. I clearly make out the city center with its modern skyscrapers, and look in vain for Big Ben and the London Bridge. A perfect landing follows a restless night in World Traveler Plus, in my seat by the window, which the French bitch next to me has the nerve to ask me to surrender, so she and her grown son can sit next to each other. Does she realize I actually paid $30 to pick this seat in advance?

The glass skyway is never-ending and slightly chilly as the passengers rush to the terminal. My pace is not brisk, but not leisurely, as I follow the throng, and nearly miss the path to Zone B for international connections. There are only two people in line for security, yet the process is much more implicit here, and I am patted down by a female TSA agent, having set off the metal detector. I have dressed deliberately to avoid this: sweat suit, sneakers, sans belt or jewelry, just my cheap watch. My toiletries are accosted, and several items are selected for “testing”. I am told by a Hassid agent not to touch my carry on until this is completed. Wow. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

The terminal is nearly deserted as I take note of the café/internet kiosk on the way to gate 48 (unannounced as yet), which is steps from the escalator that leads to the BA Executive Club lounge. I am determined to rest there, and to score a hot, free breakfast. Two agents, one on either side, greet guests. I choose the wrong agent. She is not convinced that my husband will be meeting me shortly, and wants to confiscate his membership card. Apparently I may only be admitted as a guest with a member. She feels no compassion, despite my eight-plus hour transatlantic flight, four hour layover, and anticipated 8-plus hour journey to Doha via Bahrain.

My mission, now, is to settle on a couch in the café, eat my box lunch with cappuccino, and download the trial version of Windows Office suite so that I can put this new netbook to work! I pay 4.79 pounds (about $10 US?) for coffee, a muffin and bottled water. All the while eyeing anyone making their way up the escalator to my preferred destination. The download complete, I am determined to solicit a sponsor for entree into the Promised Land, and approach a kind gentleman who emphasizes after a long flight from India, final destination undisclosed. Happily, a different agent is on guard, and kindly lets me in. 

I slink to the left, afraid to be discovered should I cross the corridor to the Elemis Spa and showers. The ladies’ room is worth the risk, with its Elemis amenities and cultured marble sinks. I sit first on one couch, then move again towards the back, next to the encased game room, and in front of the big screen TVs, before I realize are too loud to sleep by. Scanning the lounge, I am pleased to find a plethora of seating groups, welcoming me with comfortable leather and geometric upholstery, some with privacy shades and A/C outlets. True to my objective, I choose, instead, a more conspicuous couch. I worry that I will not be paged for my flight, having checked in with my Indian sponsor, so I toy with my ipod’s clock and alarm settings, and finally take a snooze.

When I awaken an hour later, I realize I haven’t exploited the freebies, and make my way to the fruit bar. That’s when I notice him.

It is Sam Worthington, the star of Avatar! I think…no I am sure! I sit nearby and eat my fruit, pretending to watch the TVs next to his seating group. I want to mouth, “Hey Sam, is that you?” from across the room, but instead decide to move directly across from him. And directly across from his pretty, young girlfriend. She is showing him a spread in People or some other tabloid magazine, confirming my suspicions. Finally, I get the nerve to ask him, “Are you Sam?” His gracious Aussie accent is testimony to his newfound stardom and tolerance for the indiscreet. I shamelessly ask for an autograph, for my daughter, explaining she is drawing avatars, and that we saw the film twice in its opening week. He is happy to oblige, and I am too ashamed to ask for a photo. Hopefully Bri will believe the scrawl actually belongs to him.

Realizing my plane is already boarding (and no announcement has been made!) I scurry to my gate, delirious from my brush with fame, oblivious to the duty-free shops and branded emporiums. I am again impressed with the sleek glass skyway which seems a maze. Most of all, I am overwhelmed with the queue of airliners waiting for take-off. I count eight aircraft awaiting lift-off, from the obscure Royal Brunei, to Jet Airways, Finnair, BA and AA. Then two more…Kuwait Airways, SAS. One after the other, pretty maids in a row.