Impressions of Heathrow.
The place is grimy. The walkways to immigration and customs had walls of corrugated steel with mismatched paint where they’d been touched up. There are CCTV signs everywhere and the ceiling tiles are old, ill-fitting and covered with greasy fingerprints. It’s like being in a dystopian movie; perhaps that’s why Brits are so good at making those! The sole concessions to décor were the occasional fake potted tropical plant and large panoramic photos of London. There were also windows in the walkways which looked out over various parts of the airport and in some places over the outside of the stairwell you’d just walked down; I’m thinking artificial lighting would have been a better option than the view of corrugated steel and a grease-encrusted air vent.
Heathrow is an old airport which is constrained by the surrounding suburbs of London and which has grown piecemeal over the years. Ugly does not even get close. Everything is covered in logos; HSBC on the jetways, oddly named companies providing niche services. Everything is also covered in grime; rain and soot from incompletely burned jet fuel don’t help. Outside the terminal the sidewalks were wet with the dampness that seems to seep out of the asphalt itself and includes an oily sheen. Lots of white splotches too; discarded chewing gum and the ever-present odor of cigarette smoke. The drive to the rental car lot was brisk, passing around the immediate outside of the airport. Brand new artistically designed buildings(new terminal?), next to mid 1980’s bland redbrick box (BAA Aviation House), next to 1940’s asbestos-roofed long narrow single storey institutional prefabs still being used for sub-contract companies, all in a warren of small roads and limited parking.
The personnel on the other hand…I’ve said it before, but the difference between the US TSA and Border Protection/Customs/Immigration and the British equivalent is night and day. Smart, attentive intelligent, almost like a good private company’s customer service employees. The rental car company was just like the USA but with a different accent.