Beki Grinter

Why I Follow Heathrow Airport

In social media on October 11, 2010 at 8:15 am

I follow Heathrow Airport on twitter. I live in Atlanta, and while I am English and do fly home to the UK, I don’t make that much use of Heathrow Airport. For a long time, Delta (the biggest carrier at Atlanta) did not fly to Heathrow, only Gatwick, but I don’t follow Gatwick Airport on Twitter, just Heathrow.

I started following Heathrow Airport because of that unpronounceable volcano in Iceland. We’d hosted a conference here in Atlanta and people were stuck afterwards trying to get home. Heathrow Airport’s twitter stream was useful information about decisions being made about when various air routes would be open. I decided not to unfollow Heathrow afterwards.

So, why do I still follow their stream. Because I like it. Why do I like it. I just find it fascinating to get smaller glimmers into the world of an airport. Sometimes HA tells me that someone famous has passed through the airport. I’m only human so of course I’m interested in a 140 character soundbite about David Beckham. It’s way cheaper than spending $4 on a magazine that would tell me the same thing in a week’s time with a fuzzy picture. In this same vain, I enjoyed their links to stories about Anita the Greeter who greets people at Heathrow who arrive there on a State Visit to the United Kingdom. I enjoyed their series on measures that they are taking to make the airport more green.

Heathrow Airport is also funny. Heathrow Airport likes to wish it’s travellers a good day where ever they are headed. And it also likes to find and retweet pictures of people wearing chicken suits while waiting for their baggage. Heathrow Airport knows how to have a bit of fun. And I appreciate that especially as I know that Heathrow Airport is the voice of the corporation that is the airport and that part of the work it is doing is to appropriately promote and gain business for the airport. At least Heathrow Airport knows how to have fun while doing that.

What I wish they would do more of is introduce us to people at the airport who make the airport run. What’s it like behind the scenes for the myriad of staff who I am sure work incredibly hard to make Heathrow what it is. There was a series Airport that featured people at the airport and difficult customer encounters, I guess I mean something in the same vain but perhaps featuring the people who say for example, keep terminal 3 clean.

I know that Heathrow is not the world’s most well laid out airport. Believe me, each time I am am there I wonder precisely what the most direct route among any of the terminals is, and I am reminded of the much more organized Atlanta Hartsfield airport. But, there’s a new disfunction in Atlanta, which is that if you arrive from a foreign destination you have to clear security screening inside the airport, even if your final destination is Atlanta. Why? Because you have access to the entire airport, and that’s something that compromises security, so they’ve added a new screening process. And it’s this, like the beautiful area in Denver’s airport that had to be repurposed for the dramatic post-9/11 changes to security, that helps to explain Heathrow. Heathrow’s an old airport. There’s a reason you fly down through central London when landing at Heathrow, it’s a reminder of how much London has grown since the airport was initially built, and now what a challenge it presents to evolve an airport with an industry that has dramatically grown and transformed in the history of it’s lifetime. (Although that does not explain the carpet which I think Heathrow Airport could also do a series on, who picked it and why being my two pressing questions).

I also chose to support Heathrow Airport when just prior to a State Visit to Britain, one of the Pope’s advisors said

“When you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country,” — Cardinal Walter Kasper.

And apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a racist remark. But, some also interpreted it as a remark about Heathrow Airport, and in that interpretation I thought it was a bit of a bloody cheek to say the least. I said that in my tweet stream, and that’s when I heard back from Heathrow Airport who thanked me for the tweet. I’ve never had an interaction with an airport via twitter… and never had an interaction to lend support (as opposed to, say, calling customer service to try and get some support). And I see that Heathrow Airport responds to and retweets other people’s comments. And that’s why I will continue to follow Heathrow Airport, to understand this type of dialog between people and institutions, and because Heathrow Airport is fun and listening.

  1. Are you familiar with Alain de Botton’s book based on his week as resident writer at Heathrow. I haven’t read it but it was excerpted in Harper’s.

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