Hell at Heathrow; Hafa Adai Guam

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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When you don’t see me Blog for a while, you just know I am very, very busy…

I’ve been in Guam – still am in fact – initially attending and co-moderating the excellent ACI Asia-Pacific Small & Emergent Airports Seminar, while simultaneously working with my tremendous team in London finalising our monster Cannes print edition. This was the biggest magazine I have produced in 26 years of publishing – a sort of travel retail War & Peace minus the Russians – but it was also accompanied by a commemorative book that celebrates Dubai Duty Free’s 30th anniversary (to be marked on 20 December this year), and a hefty brand supplement.

small airports 2

Guam 1 small airports

It’s been day & night stuff for all the team. One of the simultaneous advantages and disadvantages of being so far ahead of the London time zone here (we’re eight hours in front) is that your night is their day, great for getting a head-start, less great for ever getting to bed.

Guam Patti and Martin

[ACI-Asia Pacific Regional Director Patti Chau with Martin Moodie]

Guam 1 crop out finger and zero in

[A touch of Chamorro culture at ACI Asia-Pacific’s Guam conference]

This culminated in a 26-hour stint on Thursday, starting with early-morning preparation for the seminar, followed by an all-nighter on the print publications, that day’s e-Zine and of course our website.

Fortunately, my team is the best on the planet. Since 1 October we have run one conference (FAB in Dubai); co-moderated another in Guam; published two e-Zines; three print publications for Cannes; two weekly html e-Newsletters, several big-breaking VIP alerts and never allowed a slow day on the website that (like us) ‘never sleeps’. It seems the only thing that has fallen behind is this Blog and the main contributor has been given a sharp reminder of the need to maintain standards by his boss who’s been an absolute tyrant to him over the past 11 years…

Guam ACI rainbow over Guam

[Spot the beautiful rainbow. And, yes, Guam is the pot of gold at the end of it.]

But hey, who’s complaining when you can look out the window of The Moodie Report’s Interim Tumon Bay Bureau and see the view of the majestic Pacific shown above? The sea is a gorgeous aqua-blue, the sand golden, and the view of the famous Puntan Dos Amantes (more famously known as Two Lovers Point) awe-inspiring.

After the rigours of the past few months (I think I may be in serious trouble with the green movement thanks to my carbon footprint), it’s time to simply come to a stop, walk along the beach, eat some of the great local seafood and smoke a good Partagas No 4 on my balcony, before heading back to London – and three days later to the freneticism of Cannes.

But in terms of stress levels, the recent workload doesn’t even begin to approach that I put myself through in actually getting here. I have cut many flights close, but never that close.

The easiest way to get from London to Guam is via Incheon, South Korea. As is my occasional want, I left things a little tight in leaving home, en route to the airport for my 19.35 departing, 19-hour journey, including a four-hour layover at Incheon. Alas in my rush, I discovered on London Underground that I had left behind my travel details. I therefore neither knew what airline I was flying on or from which terminal. And it was already around 18.20.

No worries, I thought, I’ll pick it up the details on my Blackberry. Ah, small problem, out of battery. Never mind, using my iPhone, I texted my trusty travel agent Phil Burdekin (of the wonderful Flight Centre, Wimbledon) and my long-suffering Personal Assistant Rebecca Earley (we’re perfect foils, I’m always late whereas she is always Earley), they would know for sure. A good plan except for one thing – just as I got the texts away the signal was lost as the train went underground.

Problem. This was getting seriously tight and I knew from experience that I would not get a signal again until I got into the terminal. Heathrow T5 for British Airways, or Korean Air at Terminal…. 3? 4? I couldn’t remember. Getting it wrong could cost me the flight, and that meant missing my first speaking and moderating slot on day in one. Our new partners in The Trinity Forum, ACI Asia-Pacific, would not be best pleased. On the basis that I have run up 995,000 Avios points (air miles) on British Airways, I figured that was the more likely bet to have been the airline chosen.

After a seeming eternity, we pulled in at T5. Hallelujah, a phone signal! Despite the fact that he was sitting at home on a Sunday night nursing his young twins on either knee, Phil took the call and uttered the very five words I feared more in my life than any other at that point: “Korean Air Martin! Terminal 4!”

Now, as regular users of Heathrow will know, getting back from T5 to T4 is not straightforward. One has to go back two stops to somewhere called Hatton Cross and then wait for a T4 train. And tonight the operative word was ‘wait’. ‘Next train 12 minutes’ flashed up the signal. This was starting to feel like the movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles, starring Steve Martin and John Candy (with me cast as Steve Martin, of course) or a scene out of Clockwise (featuring John Cleese), when everything that could happen to an already highly frazzled headmaster to stop him reaching a crucial meeting, did.

“12 minutes!” I cried out loud, startling a newly arrived Chinese family who had no doubt been warned about meeting people like me on London Underground. I waited, fretted, paced, and fretted some more. Seriously, seriously late.

Finally it arrived. The stress levels had now reached boiling point. At Hatton Cross I burst out of the train doors to cross the platform for the T4 train.

Except there wasn’t one…

First train, T1,3,5…3 minutes; second train, T1, 3, 5… 8 minutes; third train T,1,3, 4.. 12 minutes

“12 minutes!” For the second time in short succession, I let out a howl of anguish. I felt the spirit of John Cleese possessing me again, this time from the famous scene in Fawlty Towers when he beat his broken down Mini with a tree branch. But I had no branch, and no train to beat it with.

There was only one chance left. I flew up the stairs with my suitcase and briefcase on each arm and raced for the taxi rank. “Please, please, let there be a cab,” I prayed, probably audibly.

My first lucky break of the night. A full taxi rank.

“Please get me to T4 at the speed of light,” I pleaded to the cabbie. “There’s a good tip in it for you. I’m about to miss my plane.”

“No worries Guv, it’ll take us less than 5 minutes,” he said in a reassuringly relaxed Cockney accent. “What time’s your plane?”

“7.35,” I replied, it was now gone 7pm.

“We’ll get you there, don’t worry Guv.”

And then…

“What’s ‘appenin ‘ere then? It was all clear a few minutes ago…”

That was then, this is now… the road to T4 had become the road to perdition. Log-jammed. “It’s all over,” I thought. “Start thinking up your excuses now.”

“Tell you what Guv… I’ll take you to arrivals. You can run in and take the lift up to departures.”

“Great, whatever you say, let’s do it.”

We got to arrivals in what seemed like seconds. “Here, keep the change,” I said, throwing a note through the gap in the partition to the cabbie. Given my travel schedule it could have been UAE Dirhams, Korean Won, Euros or the Uzbekistani Som. Whatever, he looked happy.

Leaping out of the taxi I flew, almost literally, through arrivals, my suitcase and Tumi ‘mobile Moodie’ briefcase acting as stabilisers. It was around 7.10. I got to the Korean Air check-in desk. Empty, barren, desolate.

John Cleese remerged in my head, this time in his Monty Python ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch form.

“This check-in counter has passed on! This check-in counter is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s bereft of life, it rests in peace! THIS IS AN EX-CHECK-IN COUNTER!!”

I raced to the ticket desk. A stern Korean man looked up and said “Yes?”

“I’m on the 19.35 to Incheon, I must get on it.”

“Closed.”

“I know but you’ve got to get me on this plane, I have to give a major speech tomorrow,” I said desperately, toying only partly with the truth.

“Closed.”

“I know it’s closed but I HAVE to get there.”

“I told you it’s closed. If you need to be there, why did you not turn up on time like everyone else?”

“I know, I know, I should have. But please. Please, I’ll pay you… I must get on that plane.”

He just looked at me like a man who’s seen it all before, and shook his head wearily. “How many bags to check-in?”

“Oh thank you, thank you!” I said, like a man walking out of two weeks in the Sahara and being offered an ice-cold Heineken, leaning over and placing a wad of notes on his desk.

“Never mind, go, go, go!” he said.

As I turned to go, an Aussie passenger turned up alongside me. “I’m on the Korean Air flight to Seoul,” he said to the ticket desk manager. “You too?” he asked looking at me.

“Not another one,” muttered my new best Korean friend…

To cut what is now a very long story short, I made my plane. In airline parlance I’ve had many ‘near misses’ in my life. This was the nearest of all

And here’s a nice footnote to that part of the story. A day or two after I arrived in Guam, I received an e-mail from a certain Mr Youngsoo Do, from Korean Air. It read

Dear Moodie

I am a check-in manager of Korean Air who checked in you to make a travel this evening. After sending your baggage I found 100 pound cash when I returned from the baggage belt.

I should have returned it before you left from the desk but too many things to sort out at that moment. I would be very grateful if you let me have your bank details and I will return it.

I hope you have a safe journey and good luck with your important speech.

Best Regards

Korean Air

도영수

Youngsoo Do

That man deserves a) a medal; b) a bonus; and c) a letter of thanks from me, which he will receive when I get back to London together with my request that he donates the sum to charity.

And so, finally, to Guam. A.B. Won Pat International Airport Authority, Guam gave us the warmest of welcomes and the Westin Resort was an excellent venue for the occasion. It was good to step outside the traditional travel retail loop and hear about other aspects of airport operations, such as boosting tourism through destination marketing; harnessing the power of social and digital media and even managing wildlife at small island airports.

But interestingly, despite probably the majority of delegates being in operational rather than commercial roles, the session that caused the most buzz and audience engagement was that dedicated to non-aeronautical revenues.

It featured a top-class panel of LS travel retail Pacific General Manager Ivo Favotto, Lotte Guam Transition Director Gerry Perez and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Aviation Deputy General Manager Miguel Southwell, with me moderating proceedings. Really good stuff, and congratulations to all involved in this and all the other sessions for making it such an enjoyable and enlightening event.

I’ve just returned from a whistlestop tour of DFS Guam Galleria (below) courtesy of Market Development Director Joann Camacho, and what a top-class operation it is too (more of that in my next Blog). I got there from my hotel via a superbly slick free bus service that ensures nobody but nobody misses the chance to do a spot of upscale shopping on the island. My hotel is full of Japanese and Korean tourists and it’s a fair bet that almost of them will spend some time at DFS, as well as, at the other end of the scale, a Kmart that seemed half the size of the island and was packed with tourists.

DFS Tumon Bay

DFS buses

Guam is a beautiful place. Yesterday I visited (see below) the famed, unforgettable Puntan Dos Amantes (Two Lovers Point), that I referred to earlier, a spectacular jutting peak above a sheer cliff overlooking Tumon Bay.  The two lovers refers to a beautiful young woman (the offspring of a wealthy Spanish aristocrat and the daughter of a great Chamorro chief).  Rather than be forced to marry a Spanish ship’s captain, she, together with her handsome Chamorro warrior lover, looked deeply into each other’s eyes, kissed for the final time, then leapt over the cliff into the roaring Pacific waters below.

Guam two lovers point guam

Guam Two lovers point distance

[Two Lovers Point from afar, below, and at the site itself, above]

It’s also splendidly laid-back here. The pace is the perfect antidote to the stress of publishing and after a few days of just walking the beach and enjoying the island, I’m about ready to hit the accelerator again. One thing’s for sure, though. I won’t be late for check-in tonight at the airport.

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