Sunday, 24 November 2013

Dear Heathrow Terminal 5 Customer Service...

I love Heathrow Terminal 5.  I do.  The open spaces, the tranquil atmosphere (pre-check in, anyway), the cleanliness, the still-bright-as-a-new-penny surfaces everywhere.  Travelling through it should be a pleasure, really it should.

Funnily enough however, (although I can tell you, I'm not laughing that much), it isn't.  Not for the Potski family, anyway.  Long term readers of this site may be aware that both my sons are highly allergic to nuts.  We're fortunate that Boys #1 and #2 don't have atmospheric allergies - which would preclude air travel - but they can't eat or touch nuts and if they do, we have to resort firstly to anti-histamine and secondly, if that doesn't work and their airways start to close up, to epi-pens to give them a shot of adrenaline.  Thankfully, because the Piriton (our anti-histamine of choice) works, I've never had to use the latter, but I carry one with me always, just in case.  I know it's just a matter of time before we need to use it on one or other of my children - we've been lucky so far, but that can't last for ever.

For now, though, I am never - NEVER - without either form of medication in my handbag.  Well - not unless I've just come through Security at Heathrow Terminal 5, anyway.

I think I may have form with the bods who work at Security in this terminal.  I certainly never seem to have the same problem at any other terminal or airport.  At Heathrow T5, however,  I have had the bottle of Piriton in my handbag confiscated no less than 3 times so far.  It's almost as if they're looking out for me as I queue up with my children, juggling bags, coats, rucksacks and sweatshirts whilst trying to maintain some semblance of dignity as I hunt through my pockets for the paper clip I'm currently using to undo the zip on my boots.  (The pull came off.  What can I say?  They're my favourite boots, and no-one notices as long as I remember to take the paper clip out once I've done them up...)

However, it seems as if every time we reach the other side of the x-ray machine, there is one of our trays on the other side of the glass, just out of reach.  So near and yet so far.  My heart sinks - and the Boys look up at me worriedly; they know what's coming next as the person on duty sighs heavily and extracts the battered but still clear plastic bag from the tray, tutting at me disappointedly.  'It's antihistamine for my children' I explain.  'They're highly allergic to nuts.  I've tried to buy it in bottles of 100ml or less, but they don't sell it in that format.'  'I'm sorry madam.  I can't let it through.  The bottle size is 150ml, see?  Those are the rules...'

And no matter how much I point out that it is accompanied by a prescribed epi-pen so is clearly part of an approved medical procedure, and that it's almost half empty with what is obviously less than 100ml of liquid even in the bottle, they won't be moved.  'Don't worry madam' they say placatingly.  'There's a Boots just over there.  You can replace it straight away.'

Which is, I think you would agree, hardly the point when a) you have a perfectly good partly-used bottle right in front of you,  b) aren't we supposed to be taking care of our resources and c) you're catching a flight with two children so the chances you have an extra few minutes to spare to pop into Boots are quite slim...

So I decided to try and box clever this time.  I went into a pharmacy and bought a 100ml medicine bottle into which I decanted my half bottle of Piriton before going anywhere near the airport.  Then, this morning the Boys and I travelled to Heathrow T5 to head back to Moscow.

This is what happened after we came through the metal detector.

Boy #2:  "Mum - is that our tray over there?  On the belt we can't reach?"

My heart sank.  "Yes, it is.  OK, let's get everything together - Boy #1, can you hold my bag whilst I fish out the paper clip to do my boot up - and go and wait at the end."

We gathered our kit and caboodle and stood at the end of the of the Conveyor Belt of Shame.  I fixed my friendly but firm face on - because I KNEW, for god's sake, that the bottle of Piriton was less than 100ml, the chemist in the pharmacy had told me that - and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Finally, just as the technician in charge of the x-ray machine was getting up to come and talk to us, a cross-looking female officer stomped over.

Her:  "Is this your tray, madam?"

Me:  "Yes, it is.  Is the piriton the problem?  Because if it is -"

Her:  "No.  Do you have any electronics in this rucksack?  Because you're really supposed to take them out, you know."

Me:  "I don't think so, no.  Oh wait - it could be my son's DS - would that do it?"

Her, sighing heavily:  "Yes.  May I open the bag?"  She proceeded to unzip the front pocket.

Me:  "Sorry about that.  I thought it was just computers and suchlike.  It's not in the front pocket, by the way, it's -"

Her: "IF you don't mind madam, I will just do my job."

Me:  "Of course.... I was just trying to be helpful and -"

Her:  "We DO have procedure to follow, you know."

Me (at this stage thinking it might be wise to stay quiet about the other DS and my Kindle, both of which had gone through undetected and lay in bags that had escaped the slash and burn approach now being applied to Boy #2's rucksack):  "OK."  After a few moments of prodding around, and checking the little cloth on the stick in her special detector thingy (this is a technical term) she looked at me.

Her:  "Alright."

Me:  "So, is it OK for us to go?"

Her:  "I just need to check this bottle with my supervisor."

Me:  "I thought it was the DS that was the problem?"

Her:  "No, now I need to check to the bottle.  I don't hold out much hope, though."

Me:  "But the bottle size is 100ml."

Her:  "Doesn't say that, though, does it?"

Me:  "That's because I bought an empty bottle from the pharmacy.  It doesn't have a label on it because it had nothing in it when I bought it at Boots in Smalltown, Somerset."

Her:  "It's made of glass.  Boots don't sell un-labelled glass bottles."

Me:  "Actually, they do - when you can't find 100ml bottles anywhere else and they're trying to be helpful..."

She looked at me, eyebrows raised.  "Well, I'll check with the supervisor.  But I don't think he'll say yes."

Two minutes later she returned.  "Sorry madam.  I can't let you take it."

Our departure time was getting closer by now; I should have just left it but as you can imagine, I found it hard to walk away.  "Seriously?  Because this is vital for my sons' well-being and I really thought I'd done it all right this time.  I mean, this will be the fourth time I've had a bottle of Piriton confiscated at Terminal 5."

There is only way to describe the smile she gave me at that point; nasty.  "Well then, next time I suggest you buy a bottle that is clearly labelled '100ml'.  I would think you would have learned that by now.  Don't worry though - you can pick up a new bottle in the Boots just over there..."


  1. Ooooooh. Grrrr.

    *throws fictitious punch*

    Particularly like it when they say, "We're very busy!" as if that should explain why there is a crowd of thousands and only five x-ray machines (out of some twenty) working. And you have been waiting FORTY minutes to have your confiscated bag examined.

    Have been known to answer (under my breath, of course) , "No shit? Really? I just thought you were lazy f*ckers!"

    LCM x

  2. I still can't work out why they serve peanuts on aeroplanes - in the US, it's a choice of pretzels or peanuts. Why? Must make it a nightmare for people with nut allergies.

    So it has to not just be less than 100ml. It has to say it is too?

  3. This actually made me angry enough to fight through the stupid enraging verification nonsense which normally precludes me from ever leaving a comment. Absolutely fucking ridiculous. The arrogant stupidity of these idiots is totally unsupportable on any level.
    (This is Milla/camillacollier by the way, not properly anonymous)

  4. I got into trouble for saying this last week but they often hire people of questionable erm, IQ. The stuff they make you "Leave behind" is ridiculous. We've been told off for yoghurts (clearly marked and a smudge over the 3oz limit), prescription creams (with a bloody great prescription sticker on the side - but the woman had never heard of the cream so was dubious) and a plastic water pistol. Ooh, did I get told off for not "knowing better" at Terminal 1. Flaming cheek.

  5. Ooh, that is infuriating. I would have been shouting. It's so ridiculous, isn't it? I'm trying to think now of a way round it for you (not that you should have to find one). What about putting piriton in baby milk bottle? They might think you're a terrible parent but at least they'd let you through!

  6. How annoying!
    Just a thought - are the boys old enough for the piriton tablets you can get? that might be worth looking into so then you'd have no liquids to deal with, just a packet of piriton tablets. Worthwhile asking the doctor...? x

  7. LCM, oh so tempting...

    Iota, apparently so.

    Milla - thanks for persevering!

    EPM - we once had a 6 inch long rubber snake (Boy #1's much loved souvenir of Australia Zoo) confiscated at Brisbane airport because it might scare other passengers. Even though we promised to keep it at the bottom of a bag, hidden away. Could I be forgiven for suspecting it had more to do with my British accent than it did with a safety risk?

    Actually NVG, that is not a bad idea...

    Thing is, Caroline, I would love to use them but I don't think the tablets act quickly enough in the event of an allergic reaction to something they eat. Liquid is digested more readily and also gets through the problem area - the throat, which starts to close up if they eat nuts - more easily than a tablet that has to be chewed and swallowed. So not a goer, I'm afraid.

  8. Aaarrgghh. I would have lost it. I love the boot paper clip device by the way - we have a few coats that could benefit from that.

  9. Ah yes the delightful Heathrow security people - the ones who confiscated my 100ml frozen ice packs so I could bring home expressed milk because I wasn't travelling with a baby and the breast milk exemption is only applicable when traveling with a baby (when I mentioned I was traveling with my breasts they didn't think I was being funny... or when I pointed out I wouldn't be expressing if I had the baby with me...)

    Such lovely helpful people

  10. Annoying. I don't know how I would have reacted in that situation.


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