Traveling Between Airports

By John Abeln


As Emmet Waters pulled his carry-on bags from the overhead compartment, he thought about the next four hours in overheated terminals, waiting for the next flight and the gate to be announced. Verifying his wallet was in his front jeans pocket, his passport in the other one, he then checked if anything was left in his seat area. He pulled on his blue overcoat. Maybe, he thought, I can get into the business lounge and relax a little.

Where were the tickets? Fishing in his vest pocket, he touched them, knowing he’d need them for the next European flight. The Atlantic flight took over 8 hours, having slept most half of the time. His watch said it was 1 in the morning, yet the cabin pursuer announced it was after 8, as they landed.

The gray sky with thin sheets of white on the eastern horizon made Emmet feel jumpy as his body reacted to the gangway’s billowing heat, other body smells and his sleep deprivation.

“I’ll feel better,” he muttered, as if a self-assurance prayer, “but not today.”

“Do we get our bags first or after the Passport Control?” the passenger said, walking behind him.

Emmet pointed to the baggage sign ahead. “After.”

Another Bloody American.

Not used to signs instead of words, the virgin European traveler wouldn’t understand the words anyway, Emmet thought. He remembered it wasn’t until the third trip he grasped the travel language of the European airports.

“Oh, thanks. Couldn’t figure it out,” said the voice behind him.

“Shoulda been traveling in the ‘80’s when there weren’t any signs.”

More shifting of bags, and people’s feet shuffling down the corridors near the luggage area, heading first to Customs.

“There are three types of people in the world: Those that do something, those that watch people doing something and people like me that say what the fuck is going on?” said a bald headed man behind Emmet, as they stood in the Passport Control line.

Turning to him, Emmet nodded in agreement.

Another American, wearing blue sweats and tennis shoes, joined the ranks and spewed epitaphs about hating anything different than processing through a U.S. airport like Denver, Miami or Chicago. Preferring not to engage him in trivial bad-mouthing issues, Emmet started to examine his entry card that he had filled out.

Thankfully, the man ignored Emmet as they inched their way forward.

Handing the entry card and his passport, Emmet watched the woman sitting behind the Passport Control counter in Gatwick. Wearing a blue jacket, white shirt and black tie, she looked like a policewoman, her wispy hair hidden by a scarf.

Studying his filled-in document she said, “How long will you be in England?”

“I’m in transit, to Heathrow.”

“Can I see your airline ticket, please?” she said, still looking at the papers.

He placed them on the counter.

Stamping the entry card and his passport, she said, “Go to the left and you’ll find the transfer counter. Ask for the Speed Shuttle, Gatwick to Heathrow.”

Picking up his bags, he shuffled through an area with pale yellow carpet, over to the woman who directed him downstairs to busses, trains and taxi stands.

Two hours later, Emmet arrived at Heathrow. His body in a groggy state, robbed of sleep on the crowded, smelly bus. The M25 freeway was congested, making the bus jerk forward erratically enough to establish no pattern for his head to handle the bouncing back and forth.

Walking through Heathrow Passport Control, he looked around for the lounges. Spotting the sign on the right, he walked through the duty free stores of packed salmon, single malted scotch and London tabloids. The Lufthansa business lounge was a small room with stale English biscuits, over-heated black coffee and plastic uncomfortable, low-back chairs that were at a strange angle to the television. Thinking about the mix of English and German classic un-hospitality, he frowned.

No reason to be a relaxing area.

His eyes smarted from the cigarette smoke of two Germans while they watched cartoons. Rubbing his eyes, he looked at the clock. Another forty minutes before boarding would start. He grimaced as he craned his neck backward and forward to get rid of the stiffness, trying to think of something pleasant.



The American couple sat in the bus, with a small table between their over-stuffed seats, traveling between Gatwick and Heathrow. The elderly couple did not look like they just spent 2 flights and 12 hours flying. He had just retired and they were going to Prague, but first traveling between the London Airports. Talking as if they had never been on a long trip, they exchange out loud their observations.

The day was colorless and clammy. The sun had broken through earlier, but only created false expectations of viewing a green countryside. “Oh, Lord. Look at the traffic. Solid. And it’s almost 9 o’clock. Rush hour would be over by now in Arizona.”

“Can you tell how far it is to Heathrow?” She squinted, looking out the windows.

“I saw a sign that said 18. I don’t know if it is in miles or kilometers. If its kilometers, how many miles is that?” he said, pressing his hands against his knees.

“Always the engineer, John. I’m too tied to calculate. Why it’s…” She became absent minded as she looked at the other people on the bus.

“Multiply by point zero six.”

“You do it John. I just want to know how long it’ll take.”

“By this traffic flow, at least an hour. We haven’t moved much. Maybe a football field length.”

As the bus approached Heathrow, they entered into a series of roundabouts which was an encouraging sign for Emmet, who sat next to them.

“Look here,” John said, pointing at the traffic. “This is why they have problems. Inefficient if you ask me. Terrible engineering mismanagement.”

“They’re not asking you, John,” she said, with her eyes closed.

“Lights. Stop lights would fix this problem,” he smiled, pressing his knees.

The bus driver announced over the intercom, “May I have your attention. We are approaching Heathrow Airport. This first terminal will be 4. Terminal 4 will be the first terminal in approximately 2 minutes.”

The Americans strained to listen to his heavy, West-London accent.             

“John,” she said, with a worried face, “what terminal are we supposed to get off?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Didn’t she say 3 in Gatwick?”

“Can’t remember. Said it’d take 25 minutes to get here. It’s been over an hour.”

“She said 45 minutes, not 25.”

“It doesn’t matter now. Shouldn’t rely on her. We’ve got 2 hours,” she said, looking at her watch. “If we make a mistake, we’ve time to take another bus. But I would like to know which terminal it is.”

“Why didn’t they write it down?”

“Who’s they?” she enquired.

“They, they! The same ‘they’ that told us to get on this flipping bus. Why don’t you ask the bus driver where we should get off?”

“I’ll do that when we stop next.” She closed her eyes again.

Emmet looked at the couple, then to the floor. Not sure he wanted to interrupt, he finally said, “Do you have your itinerary?”

The old man realized the question was directed at him, so he looked at Emmet. “Say?”

“Sometimes on the itinerary the terminal is listed.”

“Ethel, get our itinerary out,” John said.

She gingerly walked upfront to the luggage rack, then came back, holding onto the seats as she walked, with a white envelope, and handed it to John as she sat.

Opening the envelope John unfolded the American Airlines itinerary. After a bit of silence, he smiled. Looking up, he handed it to Ethel. “Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Saved some consternation, Ethel.”

John turned to Emmet. “I want to tell you. It’s there in the itinerary. Terminal 3. Thanks.”

“Yep, that’s part of travel,” Emmet said, as he grabbed his bags. “This is my stop. I wish you a pleasant journey to your destination.”

“Terminal 4,” yelled the driver. As the bus stopped, the driver jumped out of his seat and walked out of the door. Outside, he opened the under carriage luggage area and waited for the passengers to identify their baggage.

“Okay,” said John, as he peered through the cold window. “Then the next stop is ours.”

As the bus pulled away, Ethel looked out the window. “Just look at those 747’s. They’re not U.S. airlines. And, not British! JAL, China Air, and Sabena. Where do you think these planes fly to?”

“A lot of foreign countries, Ethel. Foreign countries.”



Emmet blinked, trying to have his eyes focus. After 30 hours of travel, 4 hours of sleep on the plane, and 3 plane flights, Emmet could not get his eyes to read his landing card, let alone the signs in the airport, as the plane landed in Norway.

See an eye doctor?

“Not good for a thirty-something person,” Emmet mumbled.

“I’m so tired,” she said, loud enough for Emmet to hear. The complaining American woman sat in front of him, looking at her Palm Pilot. “Who am I supposed to meet and when? It’s supposed to be in the Palm, in my hand.”

Emmet prayed he’d work with people today that knew where they were supposed to be, since he was on automatic pilot until this out-of-body experience was over.

The woman in front of him leaned against her seat, eyes closed. She wore a mink stole, cotton black sweater, with black stiletto shoes, smacking her chewing gum.

Bloody American.

When the plane stopped by the terminal, people shuffled their papers, organized their bags, ready to de-plane and face the new day.

There were 2 Customs lines: First one for Europeans, the other for all others. The passport control area was as antiseptic as a hospital corridor. Walking out of the plane on the tarmac, the stairs led down to a long, low-ceiling corridor, underground. The shuffling of feet could be heard as people who weren’t awake. Shuffling along to nowhere.

Breakfast had no appeal, as Emmet looked at the underground yellow and pea green walls. Advertisements on the wall were in English, littering the expressionless area with subtitles in multiple languages.

Maybe a coffee.

The Scandinavians, the Vikings, followers of Thor, the Norsemen. Emmet read about them on the way over. Less than five hundred years ago these courageous men traveled across the Atlantic to explore and conquer North America in long boats. Now, it’s their crude oil from the North Sea, engineering, and electronics that help them conquer North America again.

The overcast sky, and the grey stone buildings, greeted him unceremoniously as he faced the brisk morning. It could be a day before he could feel at a functioning stage to handle laughter and jovial comments.

I need a good sense of humor now to understand focus, he reminded himself, as he got into the taxi line for downtown.

Gotta be real at the hotel!