Airport engineer describes 30mph underground ‘rollercoaster’ between terminals
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If you're at an airport, chances are your mind is in one of two places. Either, "Have I definitely got the passports?", "What gate is it at?", "What time does it depart again?", or, more simply, "Time for an airport pint!"
Either way, you're probably not thinking too much about the inner workings of the airport - how it copes with all of those people, suitcases and different journeys and, for the most part, gets it right.
Travellers have the luxury of not having to worry about things like this, because people like Mohammad Taher do it for us.
Since he was a kid, Mohammed has been fascinated by the question we've all asked at one time or another: "How do planes fly?"
Rather than accepting a basic explanation or deciding it was better not to ask, Mohammad threw himself into the subject by studying aerospace engineering, after which he got a job at Heathrow through a graduate programme.
Five years later he's still there, now with a full-time job and a fancy job title of 'aerodromes system specialist'. It sounds complicated, but Mohammad explained the 'aerodrome' refers to the airfield, where the planes are, so he's a specialist for all of the systems necessary to keep things running smoothly out there.
As part of his job, Mohammad gets to see everything that goes on behind the scenes. That's why he thinks that getting to the airport to drop off your suitcases earlier than recommended doesn't actually really help anyone. There's one to tell your stressed-out travel companion.
The engineer explained: "You don't want bags to just be sat there, so you have to park them up somewhere."
As it turns out, behind those little flaps that suitcases disappear through at check-in is what Mohammad described as a 'massive car park depot for bags'.
"We don't have them just going round and round the system constantly... And people think that the earlier they come to the airport, the better. If anything, you're adding an extra complicated process that could potentially go wrong. So you're adding more complications."
'But what about security!', I hear you cry.
Well, Mohammad has learned a thing or two there, too.
Even staff at the airport have to go through the checks, so Mohammad has come up with three top tips to get through the scanners quickly and efficiently.
One: "Load all your liquids in the bag from home, and then keep them in a pocket that's accessible. So the moment you rock up, you can just put it on the tray and you don't have to worry about it."
Two: "Empty out your water bottles - they're either going to make you down it, or they'll make you throw it away."
And three: "Don't wear a belt. If you're going to travel, wear something that doesn't need a belt. I live and die by that."
When it does actually come time to get the bags from their holding bay and load them onto the plane, Mohammad revealed that robots have a big part to play as they're tasked with doing the 'heavy lifting' and using codes on the bags to make sure they get to where they need to go.
And if you're changing terminals, there's another piece of equipment altogether.
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Mohammad told LADbible: "If you're transferring from terminal three to terminal five, we have something called the 'tub track system', which is a 30mph underground rollercoaster for bags.
"Literally, when you look at it, it's like the bags are on of a rollercoaster. It's a gravity-fed system. So literally gravity will get them up to 30mph down these tunnels underground... They're just so cool to see."
While Mohammad - who's made clear that his views are his own, rather than the airport's - has admitted that robots might 'take over a lot' of jobs at the airport in the future, there will 'always be human beings supervising', like the 'lost bag team' who are in charge of tracking down any belongings the robots might have misplaced.
And it's these humans that make Mohammad so fond of his job at Heathrow, where he's fallen in love with the 'buzz' of coming into work.
"It gives you that same feeling of when you go on holiday, and I love doing it with the people who work here. I work with amazing people who are like family," he said.
"No one person is insignificant at the airport. No one job is too small. At the airport, every single thing you see happening needs to be done in order for this airport to function. Which means that when you see somebody cleaning, their job is just as important as the person managing the airport. We all rely on each other."
Mohammad's love for the job has made him want to make it more accessible for others, which is why he started a TikTok page to share insights into his life at the airport.
Stressing that 'you don't have to be a genius' to work in the aviation field, Mohammad said: "A lot of people dream of working at the airport, but don't feel like they can... A lot of young people grew up with this aviation bug, that life seems to tell them is an itch they can't scratch. I just want to remind people [that] you can do it."
Mohammad said a starting salary for a graduate is around £28-£30k, with the salary increasing as employees rise through the ranks, and there are all sorts of jobs available - you don't have to be an aerodrome system specialist, if that's not your cup of tea.
"We have HR, we have IT systems, we have people creating training programmes, psychologists - we have people in every realm of society with every interest working at the airport," the engineer said, before adding 'doctors, ambulances, fire service and finance' to the list.
"There's no set type of person. You can be a data person, you can be the most creative, outgoing, outspoken type of person... The most important thing I'd say is that you need to be able to work with people."
Noting that 'the robots haven't taken over yet', Mohammad said that enjoying people is a must, because everyone works 'hand in hand'.
If it does sound like the place for you, Mohammad made clear that 'no experience is insignificant', and once you've got your foot in the door you can continue to level up.
Expecting that he'll be working with 'things that fly' for a long time to come, Mohammad is hopeful that other people will see just how amazing it can be to work at the airport.
"Part of the reason why I started sharing stuff on social media is because I realised there's no one talking about it," he said. "My mission is to try and bridge the gap with people who want to get into the industry, or may not even realise there's a career for them in the industry.
"I think in the years to come, we're gonna get flying cars, jetpacks, drones - everything's gonna fly. And I will be the guy who teaches the world about things that fly."