Each night, scores of London's homeless men and women take advantage of modern travel delays by posing as stranded passengers in order to sleep in a warm and safe place. They play a cat-and-mouse game with police, often donning floral shirts, fanny packs and other travel accessories to blend in. And their increasing creativity — and ability to disappear in Heathrow's swelling crowds of delayed passengers — has prompted the airport to try a new approach.
"Rough sleepers," as homeless people are known in Britain, disguise themselves at all major airports, says Sandie Cox of Heathrow Travel Care, the social care organization overseeing the one-year pilot scheme. Indeed, Chicago's O'Hare airport instituted a homeless outreach in the 1990s. But while the problem may not be unique to Heathrow, several factors make it easier for rough sleepers to blend in. It is the busiest airport in Europe, has more delays than other major hubs, and while it doesn't serve Europe's low-cost carriers, it has still seen the effects of the democratization of air travel: gone are the days when you could identify a British air passenger by their suit and shiny shoes. Indeed, on Wednesday, the two scruffy passengers curled in the corner of a remote bathroom turned out to be holding tickets to LAX; they had chosen their spot because it was the only place they could find an outlet to charge their hand-held video game console.
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