1. Non EU passengers are required to show their passports, although it is not entirely clear what purpose that accomplishes. The line for doing so took about half an hour to get through. My rough estimate, based on two different calculations (one from the number of people in the line, one from the rate at which they were being processed), was that the line used up about fifty person hours per hour. Assuming that’s the average for twenty hours or so a day, it comes to a thousand person hours a day. Valuing the average traveler’s time at ten dollars an hour, that is ten thousand dollars a day worth of waiting time. To be fair, many of those people, including us, have checked luggage, so some of the time would be spent waiting for luggage if it was not spent waiting to have someone glance at their passports, so call it five thousand dollars a day of wasted time. The airport functions 365 days a year, so upwards of a million and a half dollars a year.
Eliminating that waste would not require more person hours of checking, since in any case they have to check everyone’s passport. It would require the airport to put more people on at busy times, fewer when not many passengers are coming through. I find it hard to believe that the cost of such an arrangement would come to anything close to the value of the time saved.
2. There are three ways of getting from Heathrow to Paddington station. The very slow (and inexpensive) way is by tube and takes an hour or so. The very fast (and expensive) way is the Heathrow Express. The intermediate solution is Heathrow Connect, which takes about half an hour to make the trip—fifteen minutes longer than the express—and costs about ten pounds less. No doubt there are passengers who are happy to pay ten pounds to save fifteen minutes, but I suspect they are in the minority.
Coming through the airport, there are lots of signs for the Heathrow Express, none or almost none for the Connect. The ticket machines that sell tickets for both are labelled “Heathrow Express,” although when you use them they give you a choice. Only by speaking to an airport staff person did we discover that in order to get to the Connect from Terminal 5, where we came in, we had to take the Express (at no cost) to Terminals 1-3 and transfer there to the Connect.
The Express was about one tenth full when it departed for Paddington. I think it is pretty clear that those responsible are doing their best to get people to use it instead of the much less expensive and only slightly slower alternative. The Express runs more frequently than the Connect, every fifteen minutes instead of every half hour, which saves some additional time—but that is a decision made by those running it, and presumably part of the reason it runs mostly empty.
My calculations on the passport line assumed that passengers valued their time at ten dollars an hour. If we figure that the Express saves fifteen minutes of travel time and, on average, seven and a half minutes of waiting, the total saving is worth about four dollars and costs about sixteen. One could make the tradeoff look better by assuming a higher value for time, but that would make the passport line look correspondingly worse.
The common element that explains both observations is that decisions on running the airport are being made by people who put very little value on either the time or the money of the airport’s customers.
To close a negative post with a little sunshine, Barcelona was well worth visiting. Our hotel was somewhat less expensive than the one we are going to in London and somewhat nicer. The food was reasonable and tasty. The old cathedral is a lovely medieval building; the adjacent cloister has been crossbred with a cathedral interior and the combination works. Much of the city architecture is nineteenth century gothic, obviously inspired by surviving real gothic buildings and very attractive. The weather was pleasant. The one disappointment was that the permanent exhibit of the Maritime Museum was closed—it’s apparently being redone—so I didn’t get to see the replica of the galley in which Don John of Austria won the battle of Lepanto.
Obviously I will have to come back.