The phone rang.
“Are you free tomorrow?” Phil asked.
You have to be careful about how you answer that question when Phil asks it. He’s a sort of any-thing-could-happen-in-the-next-half-hour kind of guy.
“The usual. Why?”
“I wondered if you could do a little job for me.”
The mission: to turn up at Arrivals, Heathrow Terminal Five, with my camera. The inaugural flight of his airline’s Airbus A380 was coming in from Frankfurt at 11:50am and on it was one of Phil’s reporter/editors. He was tasked with interviewing passengers about their experiences of the new plane; and I was tasked to meet him at arrivals and take photographs of the interviewees.
The A380: brand new, and the largest passenger plane in the world. Double decker, wide body, four engines and a vast 480 square metres of cabin space. An upper deck which extends the entire length of the fuselage. Seated economically, it could hold just over 850 people for a range of 15,700 km – that’s New York to Hong Kong.
I turned up early, and the plane was delayed. But delays at airports like Heathrow are always opportunities to sit, with a pot of tea, and watch the world go by. There cannot be many more exciting places than an international airport: people jetting in from all over the world and arriving in London. There were the inevitable chauffeurs who stood there with someone’s name, waiting to carry them off to some luxury hotel or high-powered board room; I notice some are beginning to use iPads these days to display their client’s name.
I watched, and waited, and the flight arrived. And I lined up at the stainless steel rail which separates travellers from meeters and greeters. Next to me was a little family, the two youngsters jiggling with excitement because Daddy was coming home. The little girl had prepared a name card to hold up. It said: ‘Daddy’.
Everyone seemed to be grinning happily. Anticipation laced the air, a palpable party feeling.
And then my contact appeared, and he said, you’d better come across to this side of the rail.
The reporter filled me in. The plane was packed, not just with families and travellers but with the plane enthusiasts who collect inaugural flights like this. The reporter himself had flown out at 7am to catch this plane back. It was a geeky treat.
We caught everyone we needed to, and I snapped for Britain, and then it was time to ditch the crystal slippers board the bus back to my humble pumpkin, and traipse home to the kids.