Travel Advice

Heathrow Airport For Beginners

Heathrow Airport At Sunrise

Heathrow airport is busy! Although not the biggest in the world it still deals with over 78 million international passengers per year. Unlike the purpose-built airports popping up all over Asia, with their seemingly unlimited space, Heathrow grew from a little 1929 airfield, 14 miles west of central London.

Heathrow airport only has two runways but these deal with an amazing 1,300 combined take-offs and landings each day.

Getting To And From Heathrow

As mentioned, Heathrow is 14 miles to the west of London near the very busy M4 and M25 junction so traffic congestion can be an issue.

Train – One of the quickest ways is by train, in particular, the Heathrow Express from London Paddington to the airport, although it’s not cheap starting from £22 per person. The cheapest rail option is the tube, the Piccadilly line runs from all terminals to central London although the journey time is longer taking about an hour.

Taxi – A black cab can cost between £50 to £100 and can take from 30 mins to an hour depending on the traffic. If you haven’t been in a London cab they are quite spacious and the drivers actually know where they are going. All black cabs now accept card payments.

Coaches – National Express have routes from Heathrow to more than 500 destinations around the UK, useful if you are not travelling to central London.

Cars – Driving to Heathrow can be congested so allow plenty of time. Also, there are very strict passenger pickup and set down rules. Parking is expensive if you just turn up so try to pre-book if you can. It may be worth considering an overnight stay with long-term parking at one of the local airport hotels.

When flying from Terminal 5 we use the business car park so we get to ride the automated airport PODS, we always enjoy a driverless ride around the end of the runway to the terminal building. Unfortunately, these PODS are only available at T5.

Here’s the full range of Heathrow travel options.

At The Airport

Heathrow has four passenger terminals numbered 2 to 5, Terminal 1 closed in 2015. Terminal 2 was redeveloped in 2014 so is still relatively new. Terminal 3 is within walking distance of Terminal 2 and is the home to Virgin Atlantic and many Oneworld airline members.

Heathrow Airport Terminals

The Heathrow Airport terminals

Terminal 4 is an outpost on the south side of the airport, it was the home to British Airways but wasn’t the best and a bit awkward to get to. Since BA moved, the terminal has received a much-needed upgrade. It is now used by 45 airlines including Etihad and Qatar Airways.

T3 Heathrow

Arriving at Terminal 3 Heathrow

Terminal 5 is the most recent addition to Heathrow Airport opening in 2008. T5 lies at the western end of the two runways and it is now the main hub for British Airways.

If you want to know where to go to catch your flight then check out Heathrow’s Which Terminal Guide.

British Airways T5

Terminal 5 – The British Airways base

Departures And Arrivals

We have found the departure process to be straightforward and the security staff through departure to be relatively polite. The only delay we saw was over the Christmas holidays where we actually saw a queue at BA first class check-in. I wouldn’t have been that pleased if I ended up queuing after paying £8000 for a ticket.

Remember, if the unfortunate delay does happen as we are still currently in the EU you may be entitled to compensation, you can find out more here.

Once you clear security you end up running the gauntlet of Duty-Free where sales staff are ready to spray you in the eyes with the latest ‘celebrity smell’.

We often criticise US airports for their long queues at immigration but as UK residents we don’t have the same issues when we arrive back home. At Heathrow, the target time for non-EU citizens passing through immigration is 45 minutes however recently, due to a number of problems there have been reports of long queues with one day having a delay of 2 hours 30 mins. Apparently, the Home Office is addressing the issues and are going to provide 200 additional staff. We will wait to see if this improves the situation.

BA Heathrow

Boarding BA under grey overcast London skies

Transfer Between Terminals

Terminal 2 and 3 are within easy walking distance.
There is a free shuttle train between the Heathrow central station (which serves T2 and T3) to T4 and T5. Although it is free, from 20th May 2018 you need to get a free Inter-Terminal Transfer ticket from the machines at the station. There are about 4 shuttles an hour and the transfer time is approx 20 minutes.

Connecting Flights – If you have a connecting flight and are officially in transit so not actually “in the country” then follow the purple line, there is an airport coach service between terminals. For more information on this check out the following video.

Heathrow Plane Landing

A plane landing on the northern runway

So that’s our brief beginner’s guide to Heathrow airport, one of the busiest in the world and all squashed into 4.6 square miles. If you have the chance take a look at the lights of the landing aircraft all lined up behind each other stretching up to the clouds.

Do you have a favourite airport or is there any airport you try to avoid like the plague? Please let us know below.

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