Norway 2006: Getting there

Posted on 9 September 2006 in Travel and Holidays (No comments)

Airports. I hate them. They make me stressed.

They are factories producing queues and waits. You move from one long, endless queue to another. First the queue to check in. Then the queue for security. Then the endless wait for your plane. Then you queue to get on your plane. Then you get on the plane, fly (waiting to get somewhere), then queue to get off. Queue to get through passport control. Then you wait for your baggage. Then you wait to get where you want to go.

I especially don't like Heathrow. It's far far far far far far far far too big for its own good. It's an evil airport. Every time they talk about how not expanding Heathrow would be a bad thing for the nation (or some other spurious reason) I think... rubbish. What about the state of the countryside, the quality of peoples lives who have to live below the flight path? The amount of greenhouse gasses? We don't need to be the hub of international flights in this country. If Paris wants it, let them have it! They at least have loads of room around their airport.

Anyway, I digress. My ranting has peaked too early. That's part of the reason why the "getting to Norway" part of my travel blogging has been separated out into its own post. Mixing negative and positive in the same post doesn't work - the negative influences the positive so that you end up feeling negative about the positive. Plus there's no pretty pictures to show you.

You know what I especially dislike about airports? The fact they are miles and miles away from anywhere. I dislike that, especially given you have to get there for a flight that leaves at 07:20...

Beep beep beep beep!

And the tale begins with the alarm clock. It's 04:45. Fifteen minutes before the taxi is due. I'd forgotten this time existed. I think the last time I was awake at this point was one night when I had serious insomnia and I ended up going downstairs and watching a late night re-run of The Paul O'Grady Show on ITV.

04:50

Taxi arrives ten minutes early. Well better than being late I suppose. We rush around to get out of the door. No coffee, no shave, no breakfast. Contact lenses left un-put in.

05:30

Naturally we've got to Heathrow Terminal 3 far too early. Cab driver looks slightly annoyed at the small tip but with a £28 fare and me having no change and just tenners, tough. Don't really agree with tipping myself.

Check in only opened ten minutes ago. Should be a breeze. In the past when I've been at the airport this early, we're seen in no time and waiting in no-mans land for the plane ten minutes later.

We head to the SAS desk.

Ah. Right. Queue is so long you can't even see the end of it. Indeed, you don't even know for sure you're in the right queue, for there are two. One seems to be baggage drop for the self-service check-in.

Neither queue is moving very fast. We find out that there's actually three SAS flights due to take off all at very similar times - there's an 06:55 to somewhere (Cohenhagen I think), and a 07:15 to somewhere else. We're on the 07:20 for Oslo.

Whether it's just busy because it's the beginning of the Bank Holiday weekend, or whether it's like this every Friday morning, who knows. It's a bit like chaos. Check in is of course, officially supposed to close 45 minutes before departure, but with 30 minutes to go, there are people for the earlier flights who are still easily 15 minutes queue away from being seen. Staff rush around trying to prioritise those who need to get through.

Everything is slow - no doubt not helped by the insane security issues going on in UK airports. Not the really stupid ones involving clear plastic bags, but the ones where no one is really sure what constitutes hand luggage any more...

06:50

Being on the final flight, we get to wait near the end. It's about 06:50 before we get seen - check in should have closed fifteen minutes before. There are still people in the queue behind us.

We rush up to security. Past what seems like hundreds of staff wearing yellow t-shirts reminding us that we can't get on board with useful objects like bottles of HP Sauce or lipstick.

Indeed. No lipstick. What do they think terrorists are going to do? Threaten to smear the face of the pilot with 'Romantic rouge' if he doesn't co-operate? And then coat him (it's always a him - ever noticed that? There must be some female pilots somewhere, but I've never flown with one) with brown sauce whilst he's at it. Welcome to Paranoiaville, population the whole of the Home Office.

We get to security. It is of course well designed - designed so that before you get in the queue, you have no concept of how big the queue is because it's hidden.

The queue is huge. And slow. Naturally. We get barely nowhere every minute. At the front you can hear frantic SAS staff calling out for people who are on the 06:55 flight cos the plane is due to leave any moment.

Not only is it long, it's also unorganised and absolutely 100% completely and utterly under staffed. Hats should go off to the incompetence of BAA plc - owner of Heathrow - for the mayhem that this place is under. There's plenty of metal detectors and things, but only about half are open. The fact that no one appears to have snapped and complained loudly at this incompetence, is a miracle. Probably everyone is too tired. Before long the queue will be out the door and onto the other side - the nice side where they like to keep the queue hidden.

People are taking off their shoes before going through the metal detector. There's no sign to say we have to take off their shoes - none of the security staff say anything about shoes, but people are taking them off. We take off our shoes.

After an eternity we get to the front of the queue. I put my one small bag in the x-ray thing. As they're only searching by hand every third person, Catherine and myself get through. My bag on the other hand doesn't. It's put aside for further inspection.

Not that they actually tell you this at all. Oh no. They just shove you in another confounded queue. The man isn't actually dealing with anyone yet. But when I try to get my bag he can "only deal with one person at a time". And when the person he does want to deal with arrives, oh joy, it's a mother with a baby who has about five hundred bags and bottles of milk to test.

He now has to swab my bag. It transpires that the reason it was held behind was because my Ventolin inhaler looked "mysterious" on the scanner. Goodness knows why - no other airport in the world seems to think a device designed to stop me dying of an asthma attack is a bad thing, but then this is Britain. Obviously a terrorist might use it to cure a passenger who can't breathe... Welcome to Paranoia Airport, population one incompetent government and one incompetent airport operator.

An aside

It should be noted that flying back into the UK, the Norweigen government didn't care one bit about asthma inhalers, lipstick or anything much. Terrorists may want to note the absurdity of the situation - if you want to attack the UK, you'll find it so much easier coming in to the UK rather than going out. This simple fact really shows the complete and utter absurdity of it all. All the terrorists would need to do is get on the Eurotunnel with their stuff (lipstick, inhalers and pointy shoes), drive to the airport in Paris, get on a plane then detonate their home made 'luscious pink' bomb as the plane begins its ascent into Heathrow. Preferably as it goes near the Houses of Parliament. Security of the nation? Pah. Make us all scared to even go out of the door is much more likely. The United Kingdom of Great Paranoia and Petrified Peoples.

(I had initially thought my ranting had peaked early. I don't think it did in the end)

07:15

We literally run - and I mean run - to the gate. We get there five minutes before departure. The SAS staff at the gate ask us if we're the last ones. Nope is our reply. Presumably they run off to do customer hunting at that point - indeed passengers were still boarding at 07:30.

When we do finally take off, our SAS Braathans flight is uneventful. Not one person threatens anyone with a combination 'Autum Glow Ultra Finish' and Doc Martens. Depressingly we appear not to get free food.

My initial plan had been to sail through check in and security, and sit around for a bit and hopefully munch some food before feasting on the perfectly manufactured, but strangely tasteless plane breakfast - probably involving perfect plane egg (egg white in a mould, then egg yolk added - ensure everyone gets an identical egg. Seriously) but it was not to be. We have to buy stuff. There is a rather nice breakfast bag but they've no vegetarian ones left by the time they get to us, so Catherine has to munch on a bar of something and eat my yoghurt.

Oslo Airport

We get to Oslo slightly late. We have something like 50 minutes to get to our flight to Bergen. It's in our itinerary so it must be possible. Plus on the plane they announced another connection which was ten minutes before that.

We walk round the endless corridor for ages until we get to the passport desk. Then we walk round for more to get to the baggage collection area. As we have to get an internal flight, we have to pick up our luggage, go through customs, and then go to the transfers desk.

Or so we were told. We wander round trying to find the transfers desk for a few minutes, then we ask someone and wander round some more. Not long admittedly but it turns out there is no transfer desk. We just have to get to the baggage drop desk.

It's about 12 by this point (local time) - our plane is at 12:15.

Now I should also say that much is written about the Norwegian population and how nice and helpful they are. The exception that proves the rule is clearly working in Oslo airport. All I get is a grunted "It is too late" and waved off somewhere in the direction of a long queue. That's it. My cry of "I was told to come here" gets no response.

I join the (not quite as long as Heathrow) check in queue whilst Catherine seeks out someone more helpful who tells us someone at the check in desk should be able to get us on the next plane. Indeed when I do get to the desk, a very helpful lady sorts it out.

Now I should say at this point that it is SAS themselves that consider this 50 minute transfer to be a connection. I want to hear by state that there is no way on earth you can do this unless you have hand luggage - and even then you need to be an Olympic sprinter to do it. If like us, you have to wait for the luggage to come up on the carousel, it just isn't happening. Speaking on our final day to the holiday rep, it's apparently a regular occurrence. In the height of the tourist season, holiday makers quite often get stuck at Oslo for hours because the next few planes (which run to Bergen about hourly) are all full.

Of course now we have to go back through security - which is much quicker and easier - and wait for our plane. Which is, incidentally, about ten minutes late. However this gives us time to enjoy some strange audio sculpture in the airport where if you stand under it, you hear the sound of water. It even has its own sign above it.

Anyway, we eventually get to Bergen and find a message from the person supposed to be meeting us, that he'll be back around 13:45. Which gives us about half an hour to loiter round the airport...

Ah waiting... Don't you just love it. Still at least now, the holiday has finally begun.

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