When I announced why I would be taking the following day off, my colleagues’ faces greeted me with a mixture of consternation, incredulity and severe judgy-ness. There was a lot of ‘You’re going to do what at Heathrow? So…you’re not actually flying anywhere? So…they’re not actually paying you anything?’
I forgave them because I wasn’t entirely sure myself how I had been convinced to reserve an entire day’s holiday for the purpose of taking part in a trial of Heathrow’s soon-to-be-unveiled Terminal 2. I did know it had something to do with the infectious enthusiasm of my aviation-loving significant other…and I had heard that there’d be free lunch, which probably tipped the scales a bit.
Thus it was that on the Wednesday of a 3-day tube strike we shlepped our way to Terminal 2 – the Queen’s Terminal – to simulate the departure and arrival segments of a fictional journey.
The first thing I noticed was that we were very clearly not the only airport nerds around. A line of volunteers stretched out the back of the registration tent (I later read that more than 14,000 have taken part in all the trials leading up to next week’s soft opening!)
The mood was festive (hilariously, given that no one was actually on their way to sunny foreign lands), and we were all given our ‘passenger scripts’. I became Tom Robinson, an American traveling to Cleveland (gender specifics didn’t seem to be a thing, leaving you free to REALLY use your imagination). I was a bit disappointed I wasn’t assigned the canoe as baggage that kept being mentioned in our introductory presentation, but the business class designation made that easy to get over.
We grabbed our normal-sized luggage and made our way to business class check-in – where chaos ensued!! Several passengers very clearly missed the cut off time for bag drop (pity the guy with the canoe at that point) and it seemed like a real possibility that Tom Robinson wouldn’t make it to Cleveland. From what I could see, this had more to do with the organization of the trial than the actual airline crew checking people in, but good practice nonetheless, right?!
Now, I knew all of this was fake, but this didn’t stop Mike from rushing us through the waiting area where our free bagged lunches were ready to be leisurely enjoyed. Instead of sitting down and eating while NOT MOVING like civilized folk, I was forced to grab my lunch without breaking stride and rush to security. Mike had obviously become one with his alter-traveling-ego and refused to listen to reason (ie me pointing out that we didn’t have an actual flight to catch).
After a couple of hitches at security (again, this was more the system not being able to check volunteers’ badges as opposed to the actual security set up or anything) we ran (yes, ran – right by the free KitKat bars) to our departure gate. In real life, we probably wouldn’t have made it, but as it was A TRIAL (*cough cough*) the plane was still ‘boarding’, whew.
Finally, I thought to myself, sandwich time! But it wasn’t to be, because as soon as we passed through the above gate, it was time to switch into passenger arrival gear. My hunger was soon forgotten as I was given the BEST alter-ego: Flavius Keller from the United Kingdom, arriving from Stockholm. I imagined myself with long flowing blonde locks (ok, I Imagined myself as Legolas), and had a very pleasant re-entry experience (customs was a breeze!)
After our safe arrival, we were asked to give feedback on one of the many ipads propped up by the exit (we should’ve done this at some point during the departures simulation but again, we had to run). All in all I was very impressed – everything was clearly sign-posted, I saw multiple washrooms and the terminal was sleek and shiny with a good flow of direction.
We were sent on our way with a thank you gift, and I was finally able to tuck into my sandwich on the coach back to Victoria. Terminal 2 opens with its soft launch this week, and will be periodically adding more airlines over the next few months. I think with all the preparation (and thousands of crazy volunteers like us!) they’re looking at a smooth unveiling – but only time will tell!