The Luton airport toothpaste test

W H Smiths self-service kiosks run windows XP

Another trip to Northern Ireland thankfully on a Wednesday when the airport is traditionally quiet. I was up and parked in short term in good time and ready to fave security at 06:30 with plenty of time for the 07:50 flight, and I had priority security pass booked.

There was no queue so things were looking up, but I spoke too soon, my tray with coat and liquids was chosen for a check, and it was about fifth in the queue for trust that needed to be checked. Add to that one person was on tray checking duty whilst the other people were on stand around and chat duty. Twenty minutes later after they had checked that my tube of Colgate was a tube of toothpaste, luckily they only needed a sample as we all know once the toothpaste is out of the tube you can’t get it back in.

I had about twenty minutes to wait for the gate to be announced, and splashed out on a coffee with 5 minutes to spare, I prefer to have a hot drink when I get on the plane. We were allocated gate 25 a new experience for me, it is about as far from the departure lounge as you can get but you turn right rather than left as you leave the hall.

I was informed that hot drinks were not allowed on the buses, so I assured them the drink would be cold by the time the buses turn up. We were soon on board a plane which was about 10 percent full but we had to wait a while for the aircraft to be prepared.

I was listening to a Twit network podcast called Tech news today. The big story was about Microsoft buying the Nokia mobile phone business. This has been quite some time coming. Some time ago Microsoft bailed out or went into partnership with Nokia a company that once had 40% of the mobile phone market. It now has only less that 4%, Microsoft needs away to push it’s mobile phone OS as it is supposedly having to pay Apple 30% of the revenue of Office 365 on the app store and a cut to Google at the play store. They have a long way to go because Android has an 80% share of the smart phone market. It is hard to imagine Microsoft overturning that big a share of the market, but given how closely the OS is tied to windows and the office suite they are always likely to have some sort of foot hold in the market.

Once landed, on time, at Belfast I went to the hire car desk only to find out my car was at the City Airport, that is the second time they have done that I made a point when I booked this time to stress International Airport, but the message was obviously lost. My colleague in the queue behind me had the correct booking. Apart from a short delay due to and accident I was in the office in good time to get my name on the sandwich list which has a strict closing time.

Belfast International Airport Tarmac

My day at the office was long, mainly due to a conference call at 17:00, a time when really I want to be going back to my hotel room given the early start. Any way after a chat about phone systems and then budgets with a colleague I was sat eating by 19:30. Roast Monk fish with coconut rice, stir fry Pak Choi, and curry oil was light and tasty, just the ticket. Then it was off early to bed for an early night then back to work to fight another day.

Compared to yesterday today was one meeting followed by another ranging from project updates through project launches to important “go live” decisions. We also wished a colleague luck on his wedding after the weekend in foreign parts, combined with farewell as he was leaving the team for pastures new. He will be sorely missed but we wished him well in his new challenge.

I left a little bit later than usual as we were celebrating G’s departure with tea and cakes. Even if though I left at 15:10 I was still in time to pass through security with time to spare. Gate 18 was the chosen parking spot for EZY186 today, and it departed a little bit late but nothing that could not be made up on route.

I returned to a very hot mainland where the temperatures had been 28 degrees during the day.

How I saved someone’s weekend at Luton airport

Belfast International view

Friday would not be my day of choice to fly out of Luton, particularly in the morning, but needs must and I had a face to face meeting with my boss in our Belfast offices. Apparently I read somewhere that 40% of flights out of Luton leave before 08:00. Luckily I was up before the alarm and out of the house earlier than planned at 05:40, because when I got to the airport the signs were not good, the check in hall was packed and the escalators to security were stopped for safety reasons to stop a car crash of people at the top as the travellers were dumped in the area where people were queuing.

I had splashed out the £3 to use the priority lane for which there is not normally a queue, but today there was. A few people tried to push in and in true irritated travel fashion they were told in no uncertain terms that there was a queue which they needed to get to the back of. Not a beep was heard as I passed through the metal detectors. In the lounge I had the time to check the over night system emails to check all the processes had run successfully.

Worryingly the Belfast flight had no indication of when the gate would open, which was unusual. My fears were soon allayed when we were ordered to board at gate 9, about as far from the departure lounge as you can get. I grabbed a coffee from Pret and headed on down, my delay getting coffee was about to save someone’s day. I was stood in the queue behind two young lads with Irish accents, one of them was using the Easyjet app. I commented that it is a brave person that uses the app, for two reasons: one apps can be unreliable (as I have learnt to my expense) and two what if you run out of batteries? One of them explained that he had run out of batteries!

Waiting on the tarmac

I had the app but had also printed my boarding card, so I offered to let him see if he could use my phone to get his boarding card. It did not work as the app and the phone and the Easyjet account seem to be somehow tied together. Things were looking unfortunate for the poor guy who was probably on his way home for the weekend.

Then I remembered I had a USB battery pack with me, you charge it up and then can use it to change up phones and the likes. He plugged in his Galaxy Note II and it sprung in to life. Things were looking up, but the battery was so low it refused to start. We waited as we inched forward in the queue and the desk got closer for the battery to get enough juice. When we got to the desk it still was not on so we stood aside for a while and waited.

Eventually it turned on and after a long boot and a wait for the mobile signal to lock in he got the app open and his boarding card was displayed. He quickly shoved it under the bar code reader just before the batteries died again, but he was checked in that is all that mattered to him. We were one of the last to board the bus to the plane which was clearly running late.

The flight made up time and arrived on time at Belfast. Some tourists were grabbing their car from the Enterprise queue but also wanted to discuss the best way to get somewhere, they were on holiday and had all the time in the world. I was already behind schedule and thought to myself we need queues for tourists and queues for business people. When I got to the front of the queue they had made a mistake with my booking the car was waiting for me at the other Belfast airport, so it took a bit longer to transfer the booking to International, but I was grateful and soon on my way.

Waiting on the tarmac

I arrived at the offices slightly later than anticipated at 10:15, I had time to catch up with a few people before my face to face with BF at 11:00. The meeting went well and reminded me that phones and video conferencing is all very well but sometimes it works much better face to face, and this was one of those occasions. That meeting was followed by another one which took me up to the time I needed to leave to get to the airport with enough margin to ensure getting the flight. The traffic was a bit heavier than usual and I had time to fill up the rental car on the way.

At the airport I handed back the keys and then sped up as I got into the building to get in front of the two Hen parties and a Stag do that were heading towards security, I did not want to have to queue up behind them if I could help it. As it happened I was in the lounge with plenty of time for a coffee before the gate was called. I passed the time catching up on my emails and making a few phone calls which I had not been able to do whilst in meetings at the office.

The flight was called at gate 17, not one of the usual gates for EZY186 to Luton. It has a strange herding system I have not seen elsewhere, after they have checked your boarding pass you are send to a pen made up of rows of seats bolted together, where you stand and wait while the plane is prepared. The flight left slightly early and we were back in Luton before the scheduled time of 18:15. Traffic was light and I was home just after 19:00, it had been a long day but I had the weekend to look forward to.

Heathrow airport

Sunset over Heathrow

For reasons I won’t go into I find myself at Heathrow airport terminal 1 late Sunday afternoon waiting for a flight to Belfast, so as is traditional I thought I world share my thoughts worth you, in a compare and contrast with the experience I am used to from using Luton airport, sorry that’s London (Luton) airport. The journey to Heathrow involves a slightly longer drive but by motorway, compared to a country route, but at the time of day that I would normally travel I am not at the that it would make much of a difference. I for of the M25 at junction 14 because my satnav told me to but it was a bit tricky funding the car park from that direction, next time I will take the M4 spur route as the route is simpler. There were plenty ofs parking spaces and the bus pick up was prompt. The cost to park was very much more costly than Luton but I could not get in the parkway hotel parking as they were booked out.

Next step security it seemed packed but they run a very slick operation and the queues just move constantly forward and in no time I was scanned and sent on my way. At Luton I would have done priority lane through security, so I guess they are both different but I would not choose one over the other. The security is for more sophisticated at LHR as security take a photo then when your gate is called they take you to another security section before you are allowed towards the departure gate and they check you against the photo they took earlier. Strangely they had not up to that point actually checked my ID but having said that would it have made any difference if they had checked who I was. I guess the airline will check my identity checker as I board the plane. Thinking about it that is also the car at Luton, it is only Easyjet who check that you are who you say you are, all security want to know is do you have a valid boarding card. Although I missed the flight being called and did my best to wander and amble along to the gate to kill time I was one of the first to reach the gate area. They were free newpapers, mail and independent but they had run out of independent then I noticed that the dispenser had a display copy under plastic on the front, result I had a paper to read on the plane. And need it I did.

Fire engines and aircraft

Once on board and seated the captain explained the 15 minute delay because the deck was delayed from terminal 5. During the announcement he also mentioned that traffic control had informed him of an indeterminate delay due to an event. 10 minutes later the plane next to us was surrounded by fire engines with blue lights flashing. The passengers were disembarked on to a coach and firemen went the steps. I saw no smoke and we eventually taxied off the stands a bit late then the plane seemed to take ages to find its place in the queue to take off. Finally we took off about an hour and twenty minutes late, not very encouraging.

One of the benefits of flying BA is that you get complimentary drinks, I had a Tiger beer and a packet of crisps, although the packet of crisps only had about 8 crisps in it as it was a very small packet. The cabin staff really had their work for out serving up drinks then clearing them away, they literally serve up the drinks from two trolleys with two staff on each trolley working flat out, then start clearing up straight away. It is a good job they serve small drinks and crisps we would not have been able to finish them otherwise.

There was no queue at Avis hire car, so I grabbed the keys to a black Audi A3 and hit the road. Apart from some confusing junctions in the centre of Belfast my journey is all on the motorway till I get to the other end, and by 21:00 I was booked into my room at the hotel. It was too late to eat so I went to the bar and had a quick bottle of beer and a packet of peanuts.

I slept well (unusual for me in a strange bed) and was up and having breakfast by 07:30, then it was off to work for a series of meetings. The most important being catching up with colleagues who are working on the project to merge 3 different Sage Line 500 databases, into one trading database. Sometimes it really helps to meet up with people in person things seem to actually get done, there and then rather than agreeing to do something after a phone call has finished.

Back at the hotel I had the cauliflower, chickpea, and spinach curry with pilau rice, then retired to my room to watch Eastenders then got to sleep early for another day at the office. I left the office at 15:30 to get the 18:05 to Heathrow. The traffic in Belfast was quite heavy so compared to getting to International it was more tedious, but this must be weighted against the frequency of the flights. BA and Aer Lingus fly to Heathrow from City airport so again there are pro and cons. On the way I needed to fill the hire car the easiest way to do that is to go past the airport to the local Sainsbury’s or Tesco then double back it probably adds about 10 minutes to the journey.

I grabbed a cheese and tomato toastie from the Lavazza Expression coffee/food establishment and settled in for a 30 minute wait for the flight to be called. We taxied out to the runway then sat around for a while the captain announced that the washout was for to them waiting for a download from head office regarding those balance and trim, bit eventually we took off. As we approached London the captain further announced that we had mace good time bit for top traffic we would have to circle for a while but expected us to land at 19:25 which I believe was on time, with a fair wind I would be home by 20:30 which is a reasonable time given that I was travelling.

Tomorrow I would be back again at terminal 1 to pick up a colleague flying in to join me visiting a potential supplier!

(Note from Ed: I wish we could have left the original text, I have never heard a panther being disembarked from a BA passenger flight before)

Priority boarding queue

Arrived at the priority boarding queue only to find that there was a queue of about 20 people, not good news. I guess the school holidays have started and the Olympics start at the end of the week, so there are more than the usual quantity of people trying to get away and others trying to arrive. The queue caused all but a minor delay.

View of Belfast International Airport run way

The queue for a newspaper was equally bigger too, but at W H Smith’s there was something that could bigger some about it. The self help tills are just crap, they ask stupid questions about whether you bought a bag or require a large slab of chocolate, but in a way that it is easy to press the wrong button, then the user gives up and a member of staff is required to enter a password to reset the machine before someone else can have a go. So that was five minutes of my life I won’t get back!

You see some strange and interesting people at airports, I guess it is not often these days that you get a chance to just sit and watch the world go about its business. I spotted a hamster with big gold sovereign rings on, a family on the Belfast flight dressed for the beach, complete with flip flops, to mention a few.

I had a bit of luck at the Avis car rental queue they have a deal where if you are a registered Avis customer and you have to wait more than 2 minutes you get a Marks and Spencer voucher worth £20. There was a long queue so I went to the counter to get my stopwatch to start the timer, but before I had a chance one of the employees was asking my name and handing me the car keys. Result.

The weather n Belfast was awful, when I got off the plane it was drizzling, and the rain continued and become heavier as the day went on. Considering that the weather in Aylesbury was cloudless skies and 30 degrees centigrade was predicted. In a way I am am probably better off in Northern Ireland and it will be difficult to sleep at such temperatures.

I checked the statistics on the blog earlier and noticed that the number of visits in July  is over 1,000 a new record and the month is not over yet. This is a result of posting on the Raspberry Pi forum on how to do the temperature logging.

I ate with a colleague fairly early on, and I had a new meal from the menu, Pale Smoked Haddock on a bed of spinach and curried sauté potatoes, which I enjoyed. I had and early night and was up early for the usual breakfast, then it was back to the off for more of the same.

I had a couple of meetings arranged, one of which was had been put back to late in the afternoon so I had had to book another later flight at 21:10. The cost of changing my existing flight was more than booking a new one so I kept the existing flight. It turned out to be a wise choice, as at about 14:30 I found out that another meeting was over running and so the 16:00 was likely to be cancelled. I thanked my lucky stars and left for the airport, I would be able to get the 17:15 and be back home at a reasonable time.

This blog is turning out to be a record of the the queues I have been in recently, today’s entry will be no exception. The electronic fuel gauge in the Fiat 500 I had hired registered petrol usage so I was going to have to fill out the hire car, which I did at the first opportunity. Trouble is it was a filling station with an attached independent supermarket, and everyone was out doing their shopping only one till was in use so I had to queue up with shoppers with trolleys full of goods, when all I wanted to do was pay for £8 worth of unleaded.

Finally at the airport there was little or no queue to get through security. I grabbed a coffee and got on with a blog post while I looked for things to photo to add some content. This posted is being typed whilst tethered to my Android phone. As you can see from the image I have got reasonable speeds. My mobile phone operator is Giff Gaff and I get unlimited data and texts for £10 per month.

The plane arrived back on time and the weather in Luton was as if someone had turned the heating up just in time for the Olympics.

Business trip part deux

Flight board Belfast airport

Just when you thought it was all over, here is the second part to my business trip. I usually try to make two days of it because there and back in one day means getting up at 05:00 and returning home at 23:00 which is a good 18 hour day.I woke up by my phone alarm at 06:55 and so quickly check the BBC news with it, not much to note except on the technology page. Seems Samsung and Apple have been told to meet up and resolve their differences in the presence of a magistrate. About time too the whole patent war thing is stifling innovation, and competition, and it is only the consumer who is losing out.

For breakfast I had a bowl of fruit, mushrooms and eggs complete with some toast. I skipped the coffee because it never tastes good, and I can get one at work soon enough. The usual eclectic mix of elevator music from many eras was being played in the back ground. It is a long time since I have heard Alan Parsons Project “when I’m old and wise?”

Weather was typical April shows when I left the hotel after checking out. The day could turn out to be a busy day we are rolling out Office 2010 to all our users, mostly citrix. Despite everyone attending a refresher conversion course there is bound to be some carnage for our helpdesk.

As expected there were some teething problems but a couple of hours most things were fixed or under stood, things had settled by lunch time. I was on the 17:15 flight to Luton so left the office at 15:15, everything is an hour later now the clocks are on summer time.

Aeroplanes Belfast

Airport security was busier I guess because it is later and a more convenient time to fly and because we are heading into spring. I distracted myself by typing the blog entry and the wait seemed trivial. I was through with an hour before the flight was due to take off.Being busier I skipped the queue in Starbucks and for went a coffee. Whilst queuing to pay for a paper in W H Smith I spoke to a young guy trying to decide whether to go for an additional white chocolate truffle bar, I warned him about the damage it might do to his teeth, he agreed. Turns out he was on a day trip from Edinburgh to the Titanic exhibition in Belfast, in my time a school a day trip never involved a flight. I wished him well.

Someone was maintaining the flight information board and I was able to get a sneak peek (see picture). Seems they use Danware to remote control the devices which run Windows Embedded.

Cockpit easyjet flight

Unusually the flight was called at departure gate 26 new for me and the end furthest gate in the airport, so I was again able to get to the front of the cattle class queue. The flight looked like it would take off on time.

There is a sign at the departure gate which list some of the things you can’t take on a flight, these include fireworks, and gas cylinders, as you would expect, but what about poison, what does that cover? There is probably chemicals in the electronic kit you can take on aircraft such as laptops and mobiles, that contain poison. What about the lithium in the batteries and the exotic chemicals in the chips they contain?

We boarded at 16:51 there were loads of speedy boarders, and looking at the cattle class queue it looked like the flight would be quite busy. Then I had a stroke of luck the front boarding steps were closed but opened as I got level, I managed to get a front row seat. Who needs speedy boarding!