One strange consequence of the Heathrow airport paralysis

When a grandfather set out to drive his wife to London's Heathrow airport on 23 December he did not realise that his return home would turn into a marathon. There is a useful moral to his sad tale, which is ...

... don't forget your mobile phone!

His wife's flight, to Morocco on 23 December, was switched to Gatwick because of the snow problems at Heathrow, so he found his way from Heathrow to Gatwick airport in time for his wife to catch her flight. He then set off at 8pm to go back to his home in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, about 150 kilometres west of Gatwick airport. Unfortunately, he got lost, so he returned to the airport, via the M25 motorway, to try again.

In total, he went back to the airport three times in the next three days and two nights (spent sleeping in his car!). Each time he lost his way. Meanwhile, his family got worried and contacted the police. They asked all the local radio stations to put out an appeal for motorists to look for his car, and also consulted the many automatic number-plate recognition (ANPR) computers which examine the data from cameras. These sometimes did show where he had been (very many places), but not where he was going next.

Finally he was spotted, at 2pm on Christmas Day, when his car number plate activated an ANPR camera in a patrol car in Oxford.

As part of his explanations, he said that he had asked many times for directions, but people either did not know or did not particularly want to help him (sad, if true). He also tried, and failed, to use successfully the sat-nav in his car. His final words were that he ought to have taken his mobile phone with him.

I can sympathise a little on the occasional difficulties of using a sat-nav system. The first time that I tried to use one of these systems I got quite used to the message "if possible, make a U-turn"! My system also had a software glitch such that every so often it would wrongly tell me to turn right (sometimes into a cul-de-sac, at other times onto a road under the bridge over which I was crossing!).

The moral of the story is that one should always travel with one's mobile phone, to which I would add that a portable charger operating off the car's cigarette lighter is an essential complement.

Happy New Year, folks.

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