Letter from the editor: Consider the difference

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The Independent Online

I have just returned to London from Los Angeles, and my early reflection is this: it’s nice to be in a place where the sun shines all day, where the transport systems work, and where the people are generally friendly and helpful.

That’s London I’m talking about, by the way. We have a tendency, we Brits, of returning from abroad and lauding the way they do things, their restaurants, how nice the people are there, how much we could learn from them.

In that process, of course, we write off our own institutions and customs, and are very slow to recognise some of the things which make this country great. A small example of this is Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Do you remember the stories when it launched? What a fiasco! (Which it was.) We couldn’t organise a stag night in a brewery! The television news was full of interviews with passengers who had lost their luggage and, as a result, their patience.

You don’t see or hear much about it now, largely because it’s one of those things deemed un-newsworthy: a great success story. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it is one of the wonders of the modern world, and if a country is to be judged by its main airport (which is, after all, many people’s first impression), then Britain is right up there with the world’s most go-ahead nations.

Consider the difference. I arrived at LA airport and left the terminal almost three hours later after passing through immigration and then a chaotic queue (or line, as it is in America). It was a scene that would have shamed a Third World country. On my return to Terminal 5, I was on my way half an hour after my plane landed.

BA may not be the world’s favourite airline any more, and Willie Walsh may not be the most popular chief exec, but they’ve pulled off a triumph, and it ought to be recognised as such. And yes, thanks for asking, it’s good to be back. More reflections from my break tomorrow. Bet you can’t wait!