Rather like a toddler who repeatedly pushes beads up its nose and wonders why they get stuck, we keep going on holiday with two small children and wondering why it’s not the relaxed experience of yesteryear. You may well recall that my lucky-mushroominess doesn’t extend to airports.
This time it was a mere six hours at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 (fog). Compared with our eleven hours at Alicante back in January, this was child’s play, although the crummy situation was greatly exacerbated by the fact that there was no... child’s play.
Which brings me to my point: where are the playgrounds in airports?
Even without two cancelled flights, everybody - every single body - at an airport is waiting. That’s the point - an airport is merely an agreed place where all the passengers assemble to wait for the plane. Otherwise, the plane would have to go to all our houses individually and that would take ages (actually we could probably have taxied from Terminal Five along the M20 and through the Channel Tunnel and then down the length of France into Switzerland at Basel and then up the autobahn to Zürich, in the same time we spent waiting for British Airways last week, but that’s beside the point).
So, if an airport’s basic nature is to allow people to conveniently wait, why don’t they make it more pleasant for people to do that? In the shops, they make it possible for you to pay. In the restaurants, they make it possible for you to eat. So why not make it possible for you to wait without a) having a bored, screaming child or b) listening to someone else’s bored, screaming child?
Mysteriously, Heathrow’s website trumpets on its Play Areas page the fact that, and I quote (honestly I do), “Children’s soft play areas are available between 29 March and 15 April”. Wha?
Under Entertainment it says “WHSmith stocks a wide range of magazines, comics and puzzle books to keep children entertained in the departure lounge and in the air”. Seriously, that’s what it says. They may have well as written, “Got kids? Then you brung it on yerself”.
While I have an enormous amount of respect (and cash) for WHSmith and its broad range of Usborne sticker books, Peppa Pig figurines and reassuringly middle-class Charlie and Lola merchandise, my kids need a bit more stimulation if we’re going to get through six whole hours without them spinning out of control and instigating a toddler rebellion complete with looting Dixons and torching the baby changing facilities.
Later on the same page, Heathrow kindly informs parents to “Allow Extra Time”: frankly, Heathrow, the six hours was quite enough.
And then, my personal favourite: “The trick with toys: bring them, but don't hand them all out at once – keep surprising children throughout the journey.” Presumably, BAA (which runs Heathrow) similarly advises its staff of “The trick with airport management: don’t hand out all the fuck-ups at once - keep surprising passengers throughout the airport”.
Look - we need a playground. It doesn’t seem that difficult: in each terminal, shift one rack of some BO-ridden B-list perfume-pusher’s latest stinking bottles and put a slide and some swings there instead. Job done: kids happy, passengers happy.
Naturally, there are a small number of airports that get it salt-rubbingly right. Singapore’s Changi, for example, of which I was already a massive fan, having lived there (in the country, not the airport) pre-kids. By contrast to the Heathrow wilderness, Changi offers: a free cinema, soft play areas (and not just in months starting with A), a butterfly garden, a nature trail, a swimming pool, an aviation gallery, an art room, an arcade and the longest slide in Singapore. "All very impressive", I hear you cry, “but where’s WHSmith’s?”
*** Can you recommend any other airports with reasonable facilities for kids? You could just decide my next holiday.