The Long Trip Home

Hey, way to be organized, Heathrow.

Hey, way to be organized, Heathrow.

The worst part about traveling is the part where I travel. I love being someplace new, just not getting there. Being there is time to relax, sightsee, and get drunk on whatever the locals get drunk on. Getting there is as miserable as sitting through a relative’s wedding; the one where the doves got loose and started pecking people’s eyes.

Sitting in Heathrow, waiting for my flight back to the States, I realized how much more pleasant Heathrow is than O’Hare International Airport. It’s not the fact that Britons are more polite than anyone I ever met from Chicago, or that even if British people were rude their accents are so pleasant it wouldn’t sound rude. It was the organization that made the difference.

Nice try, O'Hare.

Nice try, O’Hare.

People who wanted passengers to get where they needed to go designed Heathrow. Every station the passenger needs to queue through is well marked and in a logical order. In comparison, O’Hare seems more like the Winchester Ghost House in California. Endless corridors and stairs seem to lead nowhere, and doors open to nothing in particular. The Winchester Mystery House was expanded upon by Sarah Winchester to confuse the ghosts off all the people her husband’s rifles killed (yeah, that Winchester). I suspect the people behind designing O’Hare were equally as mad.

A month ago on my way to London, I walked through the O’Hare terminal where I deplaned from my Kansas City flight, took a bus to a second terminal, walked through two more terminals, and had to ask an off-duty Applebee’s waitress how to get to the fifth. “You should have flown into Midway,” she said. “It’s more like an airport and less like its own city.” How right she was. I got to Terminal Five by train. Where was Terminal Four? I don’t know. Given O’Hare, it may have been in an alternate dimension.

I also didn’t find strange people in Heathrow like I found at O’Hare. Such as the young man with one carryon backpack crying in the fetal position clutching Rosary beads like he was going to die, and the hacking lady from New Jersey who may have been spreading SARS around the globe. I suspect they don’t let those types of people into Heathrow; that behavior isn’t proper.

My flight from London took off exactly as promised, unlike Chicago where a piece of equipment left at the gate by a different airline delayed my flight to London by 45 minutes. This was sort of like a college student spitting on the last piece of pizza so no one else would take it (American students have been known to do this).

I’m not saying British airports are superior to American airports. I’m simply saying this British Airport, and every other American airport I’ve been to, is superior to O’Hare. O’Hare is what you get when you let the actions of people from Chicago go unfettered. An American airport that comes close to the M.C. Escher layout of O’Hare is DFW. Whatever I said about Chicagoans goes double for Texans.

The flight between London and Chicago is around eight hours, depending on the weather, and perhaps UFO activity. I paid attention to the stewardess’s pre-flight “oh shit, we’re going down” speech because unlike flights from Austin to Denver or Kansas City, Missouri, to Washington, D.C., going over the Atlantic Ocean there’s actually a chance I’d need to use my seat as a flotation device.

Hmm. We haven’t begun to taxi and someone’s already asked for a drink. I’m surprised it wasn’t me.

The 4,000-mile flight to London took us over northern Canada, Greenland, and a snippet of Scotland, none of which are in a direct route between Point A and Point B on a linear map. I’d never really thought about it before, but given the shape of the Earth, going east in a north/south direction is the shortest route. The flight home, on which I am now, is currently over Newfoundland. Of course, I can’t see Canada. Too many clouds.

I already feel the plane starting to change altitude. This is the last part of my journey, folks. I’m glad you joined me for “An American Offutt in London.” Of course I have to sit in O’Hare for three hours to catch my flight home (where I’ll post this), then hope my family remembers to come get me. I also have about two hours in this flight before I get to Chicago, but it’s nearly 5 p.m. London time (11 a.m. CST) and we were promised little cheese sandwiches and scones for teatime.  I’m not going to miss my last taste of the U.K. That wouldn’t be proper.


About sjasonoffutt

Jason Offutt is a syndicated columnist, author, and college journalism instructor. His books are available at Jason is available for interviews, speaking engagements and beer festivals. E-mail all serious inquiries to:
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