Fixing ourselves - Lessons from Heathrow

BY: Vicky Wireko

Frustrating immigration queues at London Heathrow Airport’s (LHR) Terminal 5 for British Airways (BA) arrivals from Ghana is tiring and needless.

Yes, COVID-19 checks are necessary for entry into any country but to wait in an oppressive queue for two hours or more with just three immigration officers attending is a punishment.

For compassionate reasons, LHR may need to consider increasing the number of immigration officers to speed up these arrival checks while admitting, however, that a lot depends on arriving passengers.

Last Saturday, as one waited in the snail-paced queue and watched unfolding events in front of duty officers at LHR, one could only come to some conclusions.

I found it a clear case of fixing oneself to save others from unwarranted inconveniences. When one learns to conform and apply the rules, life becomes much easier for all. A single disobedience or misapplication affects others.

British Airways

I am not always in agreement with BA but this time around, I could not do otherwise. They sought out their passengers’ welfare. Two clear weeks before the flight, BA sent messages to passengers providing a checklist of COVID-19 documents for entry into the United Kingdom.

On account of the COVID-19 season, they also dished out reminders on face masks and hand sanitisers. There was even a dedicated website for passengers to check on necessary items.

The checklist included a negative COVID-19 PCR test 72 hours before flight time. They also advised travellers to complete a passenger locator form and day two and day eight COVID-19 tests on arrival. They even gave a website where one could go and select from over 100 providers for the day 2 and 8 PCR tests.

Three days before flight time, there was another reminder to assemble the documents for entry into the UK and a site to upload and also carry proofs.

Come the day of travel, confusion, long queues, arguments and delays reared their ugly heads at the BA check-in area at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA).

Some passengers argued with ground staff checking passenger documents prior to check-in; a clear facilitation process to aid faster check-in.

Some had the completed set of documents saved on their phones and also had them printed out for convenience. Those who were arguing and delaying check-in obviously did not have printed copies of their documents.

Problem

Their problem was that they were having difficulties accessing their saved documents on their phones. Did they think they had every right to check in whether they provided full evidence of mandatory COVID-19 related pre-boarding and arrival documents?

Eventually, as the flight was delaying, evidence of boarding passes was used to hasten the check-in process.

That was the beginning of the woes awaiting all of us on board and arriving at Heathrow the following day.

If only those argumentative passengers had had the patience to locate their documents on their phones before boarding, perhaps life would have been a bit easier for the many on board. This left me with lessons worthy of note.

Lessons

My first lesson was that there are no shortcuts in life and beware the one who thinks he/she is clever and smarter than the system. It is like drivers who overtake everyone in the traffic jam by using the shoulders of the road. Their shortfalls unfold when they meet a policeman who would slow them down by sending them back to join the traffic.

Our nightmare began on arrival at Heathrow as we joined the queue for immigration. As one waited in the nightmarish queue that early morning, tired and sleepy, one realised how we all could be dragged into and infected when others in one’s community failed to do the right things by fixing themselves.

My first lesson to never bully one’s way through life with shortcuts began to play back in my mind.

Those of us who chose to print out copies of our documents in addition to ready locations on our phones spent fewer minutes with immigration officers while those who took the shortcut right at KIA check-in had longer time sweating it out, searching endlessly through their phones for their COVID-19-related entry documents.

Some, with crestfallen faces, were sent to go and wait at a holding space. Who was the smartest here?

My second lesson in this whole episode was that it pays to be patient, understand life’s expectancies, follow procedures and as one fixes oneself, the path ahead will look better for others.

My first travel outside the country since coronavirus infected the world in 2020 has reinforced the lesson that when we do not literally fix ourselves, we drag others in, affect and infect others with the undesired consequences of one’s infringement.

Waiting for two hours in a needless immigration queue at LHR arrivals can be avoided if passengers take pains to go through the needed information and checklist shared by the airline.

Shortcuts in life have painful consequences and implications. My lessons learnt.

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